A Sampling of Past Events

Integrating Sephardi & Mizrachi Studies: Research and Practice

This three-day academic conference was dedicated to reviewing the current state of Sephardic Studies within the academy. For over a century Jewish Studies as a discipline has tended to focus on Ashkenazic history, culture and experiences. In the last few decades the study of Sephardi and Mizrachi culture has increased significantly but Judaic Studies as a field has not integrated a wider perspective on the diversity of Jewish experiences in the Modern Period. This conference focused on the integration of Sephardic Studies in the academy and in the broader field of Jewish education highlighting the Sephardic Studies project at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, current research, and new areas of study.

Leading scholars from Israel, the United States and elsewhere presented research on the diversity of Sephardi & Mizrachi experiences and traditions. Presentations also focused on the role of Sephardi & Mizrachi studies in educational settings offering perspective and insights from a range of educators. Two evening programs included a concert and a discussion on the rise of Los Angeles’ Persian Jewish Community.

Politics of Health: When Jewish Ideals Meet American Economic Realities

USC’s Casden Institute and Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion’s Kalsman Institute on Judaism and Health presented a forum entitled “The Politics of Health: When Jewish Ideals Meet American Economic Realities”. The featured speakers were Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital Medical Director Alexandra M. Levine, M.D., and Hebrew Union College’s School of Jewish Communal Service Director Steven F. Windmueller, Ph.D.

This forum addressed the questions:

  • Can we provide medical coverage for all?
  • Are the “haves” willing to sacrifice for the “have-nots”?
  • Does preventive medicine save money?
  • Is home healthcare cost-effective?

5th Annual Jewish Student Film Festival at USC

In partnership with the USC School of Cinema-Television, celebrating its 75th anniversary, the Jewish Student Film festival featured films from campuses across the nation.

Can Israel be both Jewish and Democratic?

Ruth Gavison, Professor of Law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Senior Fellow Emeritus of the Israel Democracy Institute

The Merchant: by William Shakespeare

USC’s Casden Institute and the L’Chaim Theater Ensemble presented a production of “The Merchant” by William Shakespeare. Directed by Alan Blumenfeld and produced by Cindy Chanin, “The Merchant” was a professional collaboration between USC Performing Arts students and Equity theater professionals.

Set in 1932 Berlin to make it more timely and accessible to a modern audience, the production explored the theme of political chaos and condemnation of “the other,” equally as pertinent and provocative to audiences today as it was in the 16th century.

Ruth Weisberg: On the Journey

Featuring a video documentary written, produced, and directed by Laura Vazquez, this event explored the dynamic breadth of Weisberg’s art as we saw Weisberg working in her studio while discussing her artistic processes. Through the lens of her most recently commissioned work, The Open Door Haggadah, viewers explored her relationship to Judaism. A discussion with the artist and filmmaker followed the screening. A related exhibition of paintings, monotypes, and drawings entitled Ruth Weisberg: Love, Sacred, and Profane was on display at Jack Rutberg Gallery, and will continue through April 30th, 2003.

A widely admired and much honored American artist, Ruth Weisberg is also Dean of the School of Fine Arts at USC.

Henry’s Harmonica: Memory and History in a Genocidal World

Featuring Douglas Greenberg, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, this provocative and moving lecture used video testimony of a single survivor to explore the differences between the way in which historians portray the Holocaust and other genocides and the way in which survivors remember them. It also described the work of Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation and discussed longer term implications of video sources for teaching and research in the humanities.

Caring for Our Nation: Jews and America’s Healthcare Crisis

USC’s Casden Institute and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Kalsman Institute on Judaism and Health presented a lively discussion on Jews and America’s Healthcare Crisis in cooperation with the Stephen S. Wise Temple. Featuring Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the forum addressed the health crisis facing all Americans, the Jewish responsibility to attend to the crisis, and the impediments to Jewish involvement and action. Remarks were also given by Alexandra M. Levine, M.D., Medical Director of USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital.

New Yiddish Songs for the 21st Century

Featuring Josh Waletzky with Jeff Warschauer, Debra Strauss and the Adat Ari El Adult Chorus. Presented by the Casden Institute, Skirball Cultural Center and Yiddishkayt.

Exhibiting Jews: History, Controversy and Concepts

USC’s Casden Institute and the Autry Museum of Western Heritage presented docent-guided tours of the exhibition “Jewish Life in the American West: Generation to Generation.” A panel discussion followed with Nancy Berman, Director emeritus and Curator at large for the Skirball Cultural Center; John Gray, Executive Director and CEO of the Autry Museum of Western Heritage; and Constance Wolf, Director and CEO of the Jewish Museum of San Francisco. This lively discussion was lead by Selma Holo, Director of USC Galleries.

Secession: Its Impact on Jews and Other Minorities

USC’s Casden Institute and Community Advocates, Inc. presented a lively debate about the pros and cons of secession from the city of Los Angeles. Two representatives argued each position and the debate was moderated by Dr. Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, political commentator and senior scholar in the USC School of Policy, Planning and Development.

Jewish Comedy Then and Now

Featuring Shelley Berman, Schecky Greene, Jeffrey Ross, Jerry Stiller and Lawrence Epstein, author of The Haunted Smile. Moderated by USC’s Barry Glassner

In cooperation with the “Writer’s Bloc” series of events.

Jews and the American Public Square

A symposium featuring Erwin Chemerinsky, Professor of Law at USC; Marc Dollinger, Professor at Pasadena City College; Mickey Edwards, Professor at Harvard University; and Elliot Dorff, Rector of the University of Judaism. Co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Board of Rabbis and the Center for Jewish Community Studies/Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

In Search of American Jewish Culture: Competing Currents

An engaging keynote address was presented by Professor Stephen J. Whitfield, Professor of American Studies at Brandeis University. Professor Whitfield holds the Max Richter Chair in American Civilization at Brandeis and has taught at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Sorbonne in Paris. An engaging speaker and a renowned scholar, he is the author of eight books. Commentaries followed by Hasia Diner, Ph.D., Professor of American Jewish History, New York University and Michael Tolkin, Novelist and Screenwriter.

Jewish Values and Medicine
“Can It Happen Here? Secret State Experiments on Humans”

Jonathan Moreno, Ph.D., a renowned scholar and author spoke from his latest work, Undue Risk: Secret State Experiments on Humans. Professor Moreno has served as a senior staff member for two presidential commissions and as a consultant to the National Institutes of Health. Professor Moreno’s presentation was followed by commentaries from Philippa Levine, D.Phil., Professor of History from USC and Joel Geiderman, M.D., Co-chair of the emergency department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and an Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine at UCLA. This event was jointly sponsored by the USC Casden Institute and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

“The Sweetest Sound” by Alan Berliner

Everyone has a name – names are the opening words of the stories of our lives. With intimacy, humor and his own inimitable style, filmmaker Alan Berliner dives headfirst into the American name pool in search of the treasures and traps hidden in names – especially his own. In confronting the “same name syndrome” and his yearning to be unique, The Sweetest Sound starts out as a search for identity and slowly transforms into a meditation on mortality, leaving a keen sense of the power and mystery
embedded in all of our names.

Eye & Thou: Jewish Autobiography in Film and Video, Part II.

A film festival with discourse between filmmakers and scholars (co-sponsored by the NYU Center for Media, Culture and History with support provided by the Righteous Persons Foundation, Carol Brennglass Spinner, and the Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at New York University).
Film screenings and participants included:

Screening: Alan Berliner, The Sweetest Sound (60 min, 2001)
Commentary by Phillip Lopate, author, Totally, Tenderly, Tragically (1998)
Moderator: Stuart Klawans, critic and author, Film Follies (1999)
Alan Berliner is an Artists Fellowship recipient of the New York Foundation for the Arts. This presentation co-sponsored by Artists & Audiences Exchange, a public service program of the New York Foundation for the Arts.

Screening: Gregg Bordowitz, Fast Trip, Long Drop (54 minutes, 1993)
Commentary by Jonathan Boyarin, author, A Storm From Paradise: the Politics of Jewish Memory (1994)
Moderator: Jeffrey Shandler, Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life, Rutgers University

Screening: Lynn Hershman, The Electronic Diaries: First Person Plural (26 min, 1996)
Commentary by B. Ruby Rich, critic and author, Chick Flix (1999)
Moderator: Alisa Lebow, scholar/filmmaker, Treyf (1998)

Screening: Judith Helfand, A Healthy Baby Girl (57 minutes, 1997)
Commentary by Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Performance Studies, TSOA, NYU
Moderator: Faye Ginsburg, Center for Media, Culture and History, NYU

Screening: Peter Forgacs, The Maelstrom (60 min, 1998)
Commentary by Michael Renov, Professor of Cinema-Television, USC
Moderator: Barbara Abrash, Center for Media, Culture and History, NYU

An Evening with Mark Harris,

Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, journalist, novelist and film professor at USC.
Professor Harris screened and narrated clips from his stirring documentary, Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport, followed by a discussion of his work with Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan, director Jeremy Kagan and moderator Michael Renov, Professor of Cinema-Television at USC.

“Mothers, Daughters and the Crucible of Aging: The Story of a Jewish Family” by Lillian Rubin

Senior Research Fellow, Institute for the Study of Social Change, University of California Berkeley and practicing psychotherapist in San Francisco.

Bestselling author Lillian Rubin engaged the audience with an enriching discussion of her latest works. Booklist calls her new book, TANGLED LIVES, “powerful”, and dubs Rubin “the quintessential ‘wise woman’.” Publisher’s Weekly says, “With its intimate, conversational style, this insightful personal testament reveals how one woman has dealt with the changes of middle and old age.”

The Maelstrom: A Family Chronicle by P�ter Forg�cs.

WINNER, Best Documentary Film of the Jewish Experience, 1999 Jerusalem International Film Festival. Based on home movie footage from 1938-1942, the film shows us the everyday life of the Dutch Jewish Peereboom family, up to the very last moment — the evening before they were transported to Auschwitz. With a remarkable musical score by Tibor Szem�, the maelstrom: a family chronicle is a window onto a vanished world.

Following the screening, Getty Center fellow and filmmaker P�ter Forg�cs and USC Professor of Cinema-Television Michael Renov discussed the film with the audience.

The School Voucher Initiative: Should there be a Jewish position? Hebrew Union College — Institute of Religion and The USC Institute for the Study of Jews in American Life presented an exciting debate between renowned professors of law Erwin Chemerinsky from USC and Eugene Volokh of UCLA. Mrs. Carmen Warschaw moderated the event. A reception followed.

Tak for Alt: Survival of a Human Spirit.

Presented in honor of Joseph Roos, this documentary tells the remarkable story of educator Judy Meisel, a Holocaust survivor whose experiences during and after World War II inspired a life-long campaign against bigotry, intolerance and racism. The film follows her back to Eastern Europe and retraces her steps through the Kovno ghetto, the Stutthof concentration camp, and her liberation and recuperation in Denmark. Ultimately Judy’s path led to the United States, where, after witnessing race riots in 1963, she discovered that only unflinching vigilance against racism could safeguard the liberty of all peoples. She began to champion the cause of tolerance at schools across the country, a campaign that she carries to this day. The screening of the film was followed by a panel discussion featuring Ms. Meisel, Danish survivor, and the filmmakers, Laura Bialis, Broderick Fox and Sarah Levy.

The Reappearing American Jew: Identity and Continuity.

In collaboration with Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion, the USC Casden Institute for the Study of the Jewish Role in American Life presented a two-day conference to discuss the cultural and religious renaissance that marks so much of American Jewish life today as well as the personal and communal challenges that currently confront American Jews and their institutions. Participants included:



Rachel Adler
Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion
Deborah Dash Moore
Vassar College
Karen Brodkin
University of California at Los Angeles
David N. Meyers
University of California at Los Angeles
Steven M. Cohen
Melton Centre for Jewish Education of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Bruce A. Phillips
Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion
Arnold Eisen
Stanford University
Riv-Ellen Prell
University of Minnesota
David Ellenson
Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion
Marc Lee Raphael
The College of William and Mary
Rabbi Harvey J. Fields
Wilshire Boulevard Temple
Rabbi Joel Rembaum
Temple Beth Am
Barry Glassner
University of Southern California
Jonathan Rieder
Barnard College
Paula Hyman
Yale University
Rabbi Abner Weiss
Beth Jacob Congregation
Charles S. Liebman
Bar-Ilan University
Jack Wertheimer
Jewish Theological Seminary of America
Steven M. Lowenstein
University of Judaism
Steven F. Windmueller
Hebrew Union College — Jewish Institute of Religion
Richard Menkis
University of British Columbia

Holocaust Survivors’ Experiences Rebuilding Their Lives in Southern California.

A panel discussion featuring Sam Goetz, Mark Rubin and Sigi Ziering. Moderated by Mark Harris, Writer/Director of the Academy Award-winning documentary, “The Long Way Home,” and USC Professor of Cinema-Television.

Presented in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and its exhibition, “Remember the Children: Daniel’s Story.”