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Jewish Studies Program

Study Jewish history, culture, and traditions.

Jewish Studies at AU

Do you want to know more about antisemitism, the Holocaust and its film and literature, Jewish comedy, Fiddler on the Roof, politics (American, Jewish, and Israeli), the Bible, Jesus, and how to order a falafel in Hebrew? If so, then American University’s Jewish Studies Program has courses for you.

Our prize-winning faculty explore these topics and many others in our classrooms. Our students pursue internships at the world-class US Holocaust Memorial Museum, at the many Jewish communal agencies headquartered in the nation’s capital, and on the Hill. Our campus hosts outstanding guest scholars and artists to deepen our understanding of Jewish life and culture. Our majors and minors graduate with a deeper understanding of the civilizations of the Jewish people and go on to careers in public service and the for-profit sector.

Student News

Congratulations to our 2022-2023 Estelle Seldowitz scholarship winners!

  • Ruby Coleman
  • Macy Klus
  • Stephanie Rahtz
  • Eliza Schloss
  • Hannah Tell
  • Macy Ward

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Courses

HIST 412/612: Germany’s Jews: From Enlightenment to Destruction to Revival

M/Th 4:05pm-5:20pm
Michael Brenner, Director, Center for Israeli Studies

German-speaking Jews produced Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud, Germany was the cradle of both the Jewish Reform movement and modern Orthodoxy, and it was the birthplace of modern Jewish Studies. Of course, Germany was also the home of the Nazi movement that brought most of Jewish life in Europe to a brutal end in the mid-twentieth century. This class will look at the ups and downs of German-Jewish history from the late eighteenth century until our own time. It deals with enlightenment and emancipation, with discrimination and extermination, and with renewal and modern antisemitism. It concludes with the new Jewish life in Germany after the Holocaust and its challenges today.

HIST 419/619: Holocaust

T/F 9:45am-11:00am
Dr. Julie Keresztes, Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies Postdoctoral Fellow

Traces the history of anti-Semitism and the development of racism that led to the Holocaust. Examines the historical development of the Final Solution. Considers the variety of responses to Jewish persecution by the Nazi perpetrators, the Jews, and the nations of the world.

HIST 443/643: History of Israel

M/Th 11:20am-12:35pm
Michael Brenner, Director, Center for Israel Studies

Traces the development of modern political Zionism in nineteenth-century Europe; the historical background leading to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948; and the history of Israel since then.

HIST 473/673: American Jewish History

M/Th 12:55pm-2:10pm
Pamela Nadell, Director, Jewish Studies Program

This course traces its historical development by examining the waves of Jewish immigration to the United States and the institutions that American Jews created to sustain their community.

HIST 479/679: Intertwined Narratives: African-Americans and Jews in America

W 5:30pm-8:00pm
Lauren Strauss, Scholar in Residence

This course tackles the complex history of two dynamic groups and their encounters with each other and with American society. African-Americans and American Jews have strong mutual ties based on religious texts, communal traditions, common living spaces, and shared experiences of marginality and persecution. And growing numbers of African-American and biracial Jews challenge the homogeneity of both communities. But they have also experienced America in different ways, which have sometimes caused friction. The racial tensions roiling the nation in recent years and the simultaneous rise of antisemitism have brought negative issues to the fore, but they also offer an opportunity for study, reflection, and greater understanding.

JWST 205: Ancient & Medieval Jewish Civilization

T/F 9:45am-11:00am
Lauren Strauss, Scholar in Residence

Examines the independent Jewish states that flourished in Palestine, the rise of the most important Jewish communities outside the ancient Jewish homeland, and the foreign influences that shaped not only the political life of the Jews but also their internal organization and their creativity. AU Core Habits of Mind: Socio-Historical Inquiry. Usually Offered: fall.

CORE 105: Antisemitism: Enduring Hatred

M/Th 9:45am-11:00am
Pamela Nadell, Director Jewish Studies Program

Hatred of the Jewish people and Judaism appeared in antiquity and continues to this very day. The phenomenon puzzles scholars, pundits, politicians, Jews, and people around the world. This course studies this complex problem, focusing on specific episodes of this hatred in the past and present, emphasizing its long history in the United States. Students read different genres of literature--history (secondary and primary sources), fiction, and nonfiction--to grapple with the multifarious dimensions of antisemitism, the world's oldest and longest hatred.

CORE 107: Jerusalem: Myth Hist Modernity

T/F 11:20am-12:35pm
Martyn Oliver, Director, Arab World Studies

The course proceeds thematically, beginning with the role of Jerusalem in the mythic imagination of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Students then turn to writings reflecting the history of Jerusalem as a physical place and a source of contention for the Assyrians and Babylonians, the Persians, the Romans, the empires of medieval Europe and the Ottomans, the British, the Arabs and the modern State of Israel. Finally, the course turns to the modern era and examines Jerusalem as a modern city and a proxy for disputes over identity, culture, language, and religion. Students visit different places of worship in Washington, DC and invite guest speakers representing a diversity of cultures to class.

HEBR 116: Hebrew, Elementary Modern I

M/Th 9:45am-11:00am
Sarit Lisogorsky, Adjunct Instructor

Focuses on the acquisition of basic vocabulary and grammatical structures in culturally authentic contexts through speaking, reading, writing, and listening comprehension. Designed for students with no prior experience with Hebrew.


HEBR 216: Hebrew, Intermediate Modern I

M/Th 11:20am-12:35pm
Sarit Lisogorsky, Adjunct Instructor

Refinement of basic language skills in a cultural context. Expansion of vocabulary and grammatical structures and development of communicative skills.

ISR 396/GOVT 317: Israeli Politics

T/F 11:20am-12:35pm
Dan Arbell, Scholar in Residence

This course is divided into two main sections: (1) an overview of the geopolitical history of Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict from the pre state era until today. (2) An analysis of the principles that guide Israel’s political system and the cleavages in Israeli society which greatly affect developments and trends in politics and policy.

RELG 486/686 (JWST 496/696/ISR 400): Religions of Israel

T 5:30pm-8:00pm
Gershon Greenberg, Professor

The land of Israel is a crucible for the religions of Judaism, Islam, Christianity, and Druze. This course examines how these religions, and their respective sects, encounter one another culturally and politically in the context of the Land’s sacred geography. The class also explores the development of the religious, scripture-based principles, rituals, and practices contextually: the “centripetal” dimension (how religions have gathered into this sacred space) and the “centrifugal” dimension (the impact of religions in the Land of Israel upon neighboring lands). Students additionally study the applications of religious thought and life in political and diplomatic arenas.

SISU 106-013: Complex Problems Seminar: Global Antisemitism

Th 11:20am-2:10pm
Keith Darden, Professor

SISU 330: US-Israel Relations

M/Th 2:30pm-3:45pm
Guy Ziv, Assistant Professor

This course explores the evolution of U.S. relations with Israel, from pre-1948 American Zionism to President Truman’s decision to recognize the Jewish state in 1948 to America’s role as Israel’s greatest supporter in the world today. Along the way, we will examine key milestones in U.S.-Israel relations, including the wartime American airlift in 1973; the U.S. role in Arab-Israeli peacemaking, from Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy to the two Camp David summits and beyond; and American military, economic, and diplomatic aid to the Jewish state. We will analyze throughout how a combination of sentimental, domestic political, and strategic factors have led to the formation of a wholly unique bilateral relationship characterized at once by both tight bonds and inherent tensions.

JWST 481: Senior Thesis Jewish Studies I


JWST 482—Senior Thesis Jewish Studies II


JWST 491—Internship in Jewish Studies

HIST 344/JWST 320: Israel and American Jews: A Complicated Relationship

W 2:30pm-5:20pm

Lauren Strauss, Senior Professorial Lecturer

This course explores many facets of Israel’s relationship with American Jewry, from political rhetoric to philanthropy, from pop music to hummus, from folk dance, summer camps and tourism to war heroes and Wonder Woman.   

HIST 418/618: Nazi Germany

T/F 11:20am-12:35pm

Julie Keresztes, Jack, Joseph, and Mandel Morton Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies Postdoctoral Fellow

This course explores the political, social, and economic conditions that made it possible for Hitler to take power. It also looks at the nature of Nazi rule with a particular emphasis on World War II and the Holocaust.  

HIST 419/619-001: Holocaust

W 11:20am- 2:10pm
Pamela Nadell, Director, Jewish Studies Program

Tracing the histories of antisemitism and racism that led to the Holocaust. Examines the historical development of the Final Solution. Considers the variety of responses to Jewish persecution by the Nazi perpetrators, the Jews, and the nations of the world.

HIST 245: Modern Jewish Civilization

M/Th 9:45-11:00am
Lauren Strauss, Senior Professorial Lecturer

Fulfills AU CORE Integrative Requirement: Diversity and Equality. This course explores Jewish political, social, cultural, religious, and intellectual history from the early modern period to the mid-twentieth century, covering Eastern and West/Central Europe, the Middle East, North Africa, and America. Students use primary documents and secondary literature to analyze such topics as religious reform, political emancipation, gender and class differences, the rise of Zionism, and antisemitism.

JWST 210-001: Voices of Modern Jewish Lit

M/Th 12:55-2:10pm
Lauren Strauss, Senior Professorial Lecturer

Fulfills AU CORE Habits of Mind requirement: Creative-Aesthetic Inquiry. This course explores the development of modern Jewish literature from the late nineteenth century to the present. It moves in time and space from Eastern Europe to immigrant-era New York, to pre-State Palestine, Holocaust-era Europe, the dispersion of Jews from Arab lands, and back to present-day Israel and America. We encounter the most significant developments of modern Jewish history: the mass migration to the West, the Holocaust, modern Zionism and Israeli culture, and the challenges of living in America's diverse society. By reading works that were originally written in Yiddish, Hebrew, English, and other languages (all assigned readings are in English), we confront issues of identity, persecution, wandering, and belonging that characterize the Jewish encounter with modernity. We engage with literature - which includes short stories, poems, memoirs, songs, and novels - as a way for human beings to communicate the urgency of the times in which they live. 

HEBR 117: Hebrew Elementary Modern II

M/Th 9:45-11:00am
Sarit Lisogorksy, Adjunct Professor

This course is a continuation of Hebrew 116. Based on the skills learned in the first semester, this course continues to develop students’ skills in the areas of reading, listening, writing and speaking. You will learn more complex syntactic structures and vocabulary.  

SISU 319: Arab-Israeli Relations

M/Th 9:45-11:00am
Dan Arbell, Scholar-in-Residence

A survey of Arab-Israeli relations from their origins to the present. Includes an account of Zionism and Palestinian nationalism, the history of the British mandate, the Arab-Israeli wars, the involvement of external powers, and the quest for peace. The emphasis is on conflict resolution.

SISU 419-001: Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace

W 11:20am-2:10pm
Guy Ziv, Associate Professor

This senior capstone provides students with a deeper understanding of the problems that have confounded the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, in particular the "final status" issues: borders, Jerusalem, refugees, and security. Students then partake in a simulation in which they attempt to constructively address the final status issues as well as other sticking points, such as settlements and terrorism, in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

JWST 491: Internship in Jewish Studies

JWST 481: Senior Thesis Jewish Studies I

JWST 482: Senior Thesis Jewish Studies II

JWST 490/690: Independent Study

1987 Freedom Sunday for Soviet Jews photo courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society. Capital Jewish Museum photo courtesy of the Capital Jewish Museum.

News & Notes

Dr. Julie Keresztes joins the Jewish Studies Program as the 2022-2024 Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies Postdoctoral Fellow. Keresztes will teach HIST 419/619: The Holocaust, in Fall 2022. Read more about Dr. Keresztes and her academic work.

Pamela Nadell (Jewish Studies program director) joined Bret Stephens of the New York Times for AJC's Signature Global Forum session to debate whether the Golden Age of American Jewry is over. 

Alumna Meredith R. Weisel was recently named the Regional Director of the DC office of the Anti-Defamation League. Read more about Weisel's work with the ADL.

Andrew Sperling (history PhD student) won the 2021 Mark and Ruth Luckens International Prize in Jewish Thought and Culture for his essay "Living on a Sort of Island’: Jewish Refugee Farmers in the American South." 

Pamela Nadell (Jewish Studies program director) was featured in Set the World on Fire: How Antisemitism Fuels White Nationalism from PBS.

Pamela Nadell spoke to BYU Radio on antisemitism in the real world and online.

"Jews of Color: American Jews, Race and History" Event: If you missed it, check out this amazing virtual event held via Zoom! Thank you to Laura Leibman, Kelly Whitehead, Lewis Gordon, and Lauren Strauss for an amazing conversation about the American Jewish community's relationship to race.

Pamela Nadell (Jewish Studies program director) published America’s Jewish Women: A History From Colonial Times to Today, which won the Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year in the 2019 National Jewish Book Awards.

Michael Brenner (History, Israel Studies), published his new book in German on Munich's rise as the capital of antisemitism and the testing ground for Adolf Hitler after World War One. It will be published in English by Princeton University Press in 2020.

Lauren Strauss is a featured speaker in this fall’s Texts and Traditions series, along with faculty from the Department of Philosophy and Religion.

Lisa Leff has been appointed Director of the Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Geraldine Gudefin's latest publication, "Entre loi juive et loi française : le divorce et le droit de garde des enfants juifs russes au début du XXe siècle", appears in the French journal Archives Juives (2019/2 Vol. 52). 

Sarit Lisogorsky has joined the Jewish Studies program as our new Hebrew instructor.

See videos from the 2022 Israeli Writers Series.

View author/book details and watch past event videos of the 2022 Webinar Series: Europe's Jews before the Holocaust

Watch alumna Wendy Lower's book talk on her award-winning book, The Ravine: A Family, A Photograph, A Holocaust Massacre Revealed. 

Watch the 2020-21 Antisemitism Series, Antisemitism Since the Holocaust: Europe, Israel, and America