Distinguished Lecturers
Deborah Dash Moore

Deborah Dash Moore

Deborah Dash Moore is the Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor of History and Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan. She is the author of a trilogy covering the history of American Jews in the twentieth century, beginning with the experience of Jews in New York City, then moving on to GI Jews: How World War II Changed a Generation (2004), and ending with histories of Jews in the postwar decades. Her books have regularly garnered awards, including a National Jewish Book Award for the edited work, City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York, With a Visual Essay by Diana L. Linden (2012). Her most recent book is Walkers in the City: Jewish Street Photographers of Midcentury New York (2023). She also serves as Editor in Chief of the ten-volume The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization

OAH Lectures by Deborah Dash Moore

Until Jews settled in the suburbs in the decades after World War II, most American Jews lived in cities. In fact, for several centuries, five cities with the largest Jewish populations accounted for 75% of American Jews. Urbanism and Judaism went hand in hand as Jews created new forms of religion rooted in their experiences of living in cities. This lecture explores key aspects of Judaism as it emerged from encounters with American cities.

Over half a million Jews entered the armed forces of the United States, joining every branch of the military and seeing action on all fronts of the war. Integrated into their units, American Jews not only discovered what it meant to be men but also learned what it meant to be Jews. Their experience in uniform made them unwilling to accept the insults and exclusions that had been standard issue for American Jews before the war. Few Jewish men sought to transform themselves. Most accepted military service as their duty to their nation. But irrespective of motivation, Jews underwent a sea change. They came to internalize their Jewishness as a private aspect of their personalities rather than a public dimension of their culture. The war intensified the interdependence of the men’s American and Jewish identities. Jews may have looked just like other American soldiers, and in important ways they were just like their comrades in arms. But beneath the uniforms, Jews struggled with a different reality, a Jewish reality.

Beginning in the 1930s, Jewish photographers established a new mode of American street photography, the origins of what would be called the New York School. Mostly working-class young people, some not yet out of high school, they produced a striking cultural efflorescence. Many were attracted by progressive politics. These neophytes rejected standard representations of New York as a vertical, inhumanly scaled Gotham. Despite their eagerness to join a burgeoning field of photography, they declined to portray city residents as ciphers defined by victimization. Instead they tried to capture the evanescent matrix of human interactions at street level. They set out to remake photography and the way New Yorkers were perceived. In the process, they changes how we understand America.

Why is the Jewish poet, Emma Lazarus' poem, "The New Colossus" on the Statue of Liberty? This lecture looks at the tangled history of Jewish immigration to the United States, at those who came, why they came, their attitudes toward other immigrants, their conflicts with other Jews.

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