One of Carolina’s unique academic strengths is its
expertise in the history of the Jewish South, and how, over
time, Jewish southerners have blended their regional southern
identities with their religious and cultural identities.
Professor Marcie Cohen Ferris offers a compelling, and very popular, course to Carolina students who want to learn more about “the braided identity” of Jewish Southerners. In her American Studies “Shalom Y’all” course this fall, 30 students are learning how Jewish settlers forged relationships with white and black gentile southerners, their loyalty
to the South as a region, and their embrace of southern culture.
“By tracing the history of Jewish southerners from the colonial era to the present, we’re exploring Jewish contributions to the intellectual, political, economic, artistic and religious cultures,” explained Ferris. “Using archival resources from the Southern Historical Collection, we can better understand what it means to be Jewish in this unique
Topics for the course range from Colonial Era Savannah and Georgia Jewry and Birth of the Reform Movement in Charleston, to Southern Jews and Slavery, Jewish Confederates, Antisemitism: Southern Style (the Leo Frank story), and Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the
Jewish South. Readings for the course include personal stories such
as Emma Mordecai’s diary (1864-65); Alfred Uhry’s play“Driving Miss Daisy;” and “The Provincials,” a personal history of Jews in the South written by the Center’s founding chair, Eli N. Evans, ’58.
“I created this course to enrich the academic offerings in both Jewish Studies and American Studies, and to provide undergraduates with unique opportunities for scholarship and research,” added Ferris. This semester, her students are exploring topics from family history to southern Jewish fiction to the Hollywood and New York Jewish songwriters and producers who mythologized the “Old South” in popular
music and film in the 1920s.
Other courses and events held throughout the year bring the topic of the Jewish South to our students and the greater community. The Center hosts a popular public event each year that focuses exclusively on this topic. This year’s Sylvia and Irving Margolis Lecture on the Jewish Experience in the American South event was a film screening of “Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina” followed by a panel discussion. Held in October, the event was part of the Southern Jewish Historical Society’s 2010 conference hosted at UNC, titled “Coming to Carolina:
Jewish Life in an Evolving South.” In addition to the film screening, the four-day conference included presentations by several of the Center’s faculty and brought many other experts to campus.
T. Fielder Valone, Jr., ’11
In 1998, at age 10, T. Fielder Valone, Jr. was on a family trip that changed his life forever. While visiting Belize, the family decided to take a quick trip into neighboring Guatemala, despite the political unrest in that country at the time. The sightseeing trip took an unpleasant turn, when their van was surrounded on a remote mountain road and the family was held at gunpoint. Their dramatic escape, made while driving in reverse down the twisty, narrow road, introduced Valone to the feeling of terror and the experience of being a victim.
Nearly 10 years later, while doing late-night research for his Holocaust course with Professor Christopher Browning, Valone suddenly connected with the reports of other victims, who realized terror as a constant reality, not just for a few minutes while traveling.
“I suddenly understood the wider implications of facing terror, of being a victim,” said Valone. “As I worked on my paper for the Holocaust course, I developed an intellectual passion to really delve into the subject.”
Valone, a History and American Studies major, is the first recipient of the Elsie Kaplan “Mother Shapiro” ZBT Undergraduate Research and Travel grant in Jewish Studies. He used the funding to help cover expenses for a month-long research trip in New York City this past July. There, he averaged six hours a day examining eyewitness testimonies
of Lithuanian-Jewish survivors of genocide, collected immediately after World War II and now archived at YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. As an interesting twist, he was only able to pursue his research project because Professor Jonathan Boyarin, associate director of the Center,
had translated the documents from Yiddish to English a few years ago. There are 2,000 pages of handwritten testimonies in total, but Valone
decided to focus on those from three rural counties on what was then the Lithuanian-German border. The testimonials were recorded by a Holocaust survivor who visited displaced person campus between 1946 and 1948.
“The records are very detailed and organized, exploring pre-war and post-war life in addition to the victims’ experiences during the war years,” explained Valone. “A couple weeks after starting work, I was able to meet with Professor Boyarin and really talk through everything I was learning about. It was difficult to get through the testimonials, the accounts were very brutal, they told about neighbor against neighbor, and it was large scale. I really couldn’t chat about it with friends.”
Back in Chapel Hill for his last year, he is busy turning his numerous legal pads worth of notes and hundreds of pages of photocopies into his
senior honors thesis.
“This fall, I have about 3,000 pages of additional background reading to do, and then I need to finish the first draft of my paper by January,” Valone explained. “I figure this project is good practice for graduate school, to see if I really enjoy doing sustained intellectual research and to see if writing a dissertation is something I’d like to do.”
Valone serves as the student representative on the Center’s Advisory Board this year. After graduation this May, he plans to pursue a Ph.D. in
Modern German History and further his research efforts after taking a year off. He is hoping to spend his gap year in Germany, doing the mirror
image of his senior thesis research—reviewing the testimonials of war criminals who were in Lithuania.
Private support for undergraduate research initiatives and graduate student fellowships helps nurture young scholars, create relevant scholarly works, and further Carolina’s commitment to student-focused research. For more information, contact Margaret Costley at the Arts and Sciences Foundation at (919) 843-0345 or at margaret.costley@
As the first semester of our academic
year comes to a close and I think back over
these last few months, I am reminded of the
things that make Carolina great—our engaged
and enthusiastic students, our talented and
dedicated faculty, and our committed alumni. Each of these groups is critical to making Carolina the best it can be.
I want to thank each of you for your commitment to the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies, which continues to grow and expand its reach. We have a first-rate faculty, a wonderful speakers series that brings great minds to campus to help us broaden our understanding, and students eager to learn. This year we were fortunate to hire David Lambert, a scholar of Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Judaism. This fall he is teaching Introduction to the Hebrew Bible.
As friends of the Carolina Center for Jewish Studies, your support has made the difference in the success of this program and will continue to be the critical factor in how well we progress into the future. We all know
that these are tough economic times. Despite this, you have stepped up and continued to support this Center, making it possible for us to hire additional faculty at a time when very few faculty hires were authorized, to add courses, and to offer outreach to the community. Annual support for the Center for Jewish Studies makes the difference between a successful year in which we grow and advance our program, versus one
in which we tread water or even fall behind. I hope that you agree with me that this is a worthy investment of your money and your energies,
and that you will renew your annual support for the Center this year. You may use the enclosed envelope to make your gift or make a
secure gift online at ccjs.unc.edu.
If you have questions about how to make a gift, how to use appreciated securities to make your gift, or how to establish a permanent
endowment for Jewish Studies, please contact Margaret Costley at the Arts and Sciences Foundation at (919) 843-0345 or at
Carolina and the Center for Jewish Studies will always endeavor to be worthy of your support.
Karen M. Gil
Dean, College of Arts and Sciences
The primary mission of the Carolina Center
for Jewish Studies is to integrate the study of
Jewish history and culture into the more general
academic mission of the College of Arts and Sciences. Over the course of the past seven years, we’ve sought to accomplish this mission in a
variety of ways. We’ve hired new faculty in several academic
departments. We’ve developed a slate of course offerings in
Jewish Studies that reaches more than 1,000 students each
year. For students wishing to specialize, we’ve developed an
undergraduate minor, and we are hard at work on getting an
undergraduate major on the books.
Private support has been crucial for all these efforts. And private support has enabled us not just to educate our own students. It’s made it possible for us create a vibrant public events program that helps fulfill Carolina’s mission as one of the nation’s premier public universities. Through our public outreach efforts we send our own faculty to lecture throughout the state, and we enrich our own community in Chapel Hill through a dynamic lecture series on campus.
We kicked off our public events program in late September with a captivating lecture by Richard Elliott Friedman exploring the end of
polytheism and the emergence of monotheism in ancient Israel. Friedman, one of our generation’s leading authorities on the Hebrew Bible, is a scholar whose works are widely read both inside and outside the academy. Not surprisingly, hundreds came out for the event —students, faculty, and members of the broader community. Just two weeks after Friedman’s visit to campus, we were proud to cosponsor the moving lecture that Elie Wiesel gave to a packed house in Memorial Hall.
Later in October, we presented a screening of the new documentary
film, Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina, followed by a panel discussion. This event coincided with the annual meetings of the Southern Jewish Historical Society in Chapel Hill, and it was an honor for us to have leading scholars of the Jewish experience in the American South gather in Chapel Hill.
If you’ll be in Chapel Hill on December 6, let me invite you to come join us for Hasia Diner’s community lecture. Diner, one of the most distinguished American Jewish historians working today, will be discussing how American Jewry dealt with the tragedy of the Holocaust in the immediate aftermath of World War II. Diner’s topic derives from a
recently published book that seeks to debunk the myth that American Jews in the 1950s were silent about the Holocaust. We expect a full
house for this event, and we hope to see you there!
As always, let me thank all of you who’ve supported us in the past for your tremendous generosity. Please know how much your support
is appreciated by all of us here on campus.