Jews & Empires

A lecture series featuring visiting fellows of the University of Michigan’s Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies

Throughout history, the relationship between Jews and imperial powers has been intense and ambivalent — and often determined the course of Jewish religious, ethnic and national identity. The Exodus from Egypt, the Holocaust and the creation of Israel are all connected in diverse ways to empires — as are Jewish communities today.

This series, presented by scholars from throughout the United States and Israel, will consider the complex and often surprising relationship between Jews and empires, from the leaders who sought to advance or destroy their Jewish communities to the Jewish scholars, financiers and military leaders without whom imperial powers would not have survived.

Thursday, February 5, 2015, 7 p.m.

“Pogroms and Anti-Jewish Violence in Ukraine’s (Other) Civil War”

Professor Jeffrey Veidlinger, University of Michigan

In 1919, The New York Times warned “Six Million Are in Peril” in an article about the murder of 127,000 Jews in a spate of ethnic violence in Ukraine. Twenty-two years later, Hitler’s army, together with local collaborators, began fulfilling the prophecy. For decades, Jews had been targets of hatred — and many predicted an even darker future. Yet early warning signs of the Holocaust have been largely expunged from history. Why is this the case, and what were the connections between the violence of the early 20th century and the “Final Solution”?

Jeffrey Veidlinger is Joseph Brodsky Collegiate Professor of History and Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan. He is the author of numerous books including, most recently, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine.

Thursday, February 12, 2015, 7 p.m.

“Jewish Constantinople at the End of Empires”

Professor Devi Mays, University of Michigan

In 1918 the Ottoman Empire was in limbo. The empire had just ended its involvement in WWI, and the area was teeming with citizens unsure of the future. The capital, Constantinople, was home to more than 90,000 Jews who were soon joined by hundreds of Jewish refugees fleeing Russian pogroms. So begins a complicated, tragic and surprising story of how Jewish and Ottoman Empire leaders collided and coalesced, and of a Jewish community at battle with itself.

Devi Mays is an assistant professor of Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan. She is the author of numerous publications and is at work on a new book that traces the history of the modern Sephardic Diaspora.

Thursday, February 19, 2015, 7 p.m.

“The African Journey in Israeli Literature and Culture”

Professor Eitan Bar-Yosef, Ben-Gurion University

From the early idea of establishing a Jewish state in Africa to Golda Meir’s concept for Israel’s African “adventure” to the growing visibility of African workers in Israel today, “Black Africa” has played an important role in Zionist history, culture, visions and projects. This lecture will consider the fascinating ways in which Africa, as both place and image, has profoundly shaped both Israel and its citizens.

Eitan Bar-Yosef is associate professor in the Department of Foreign Literatures and Linguistics at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He is the author of two books and editor of the Israeli journal Theory and Criticism.

Thursday, February 26, 2015, 7 p.m.

“Jews in France and the Legacy of the French Empire”

Professor Joshua Cole, University of Michigan

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, France was a melting pot. Artists, writers, intellectuals and immigrants simply looking for a decent job came from throughout the world, all hoping to call France home. But did this melting pot have adverse consequences for France’s Jewish population? And in what ways did the country’s long history of colonialism, decolonization and immigration influence French attitudes toward Jews?

Joshua Cole is professor of history at the University of Michigan. His new book, A Riot in France: Violence and Colonial Reform in Algeria, 1919-1940, will be an archival investigation of an episode of anti-Jewish violence in French Algeria in 1934.

SAJE (Seminars for Adult Jewish Enrichment)

SAJE (Seminars for Adult Jewish Enrichment) is a program of the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit that provides year-round, community-wide learning opportunities of the highest quality that connect people to Judaism. For information, e-mail or call director Adina Pergament, 248.432.5470.

Upcoming Programs:

For tickets, visit or call 248.661.1900