Weekend Activism

This weekend, my commitment to action continued. But, I am also committed to my family and being together. Could I turn away from Twitter, from the news? Could I put my toddler to bed without hearing the cries of other children going to bed without the comfort of their mothers and fathers? Here’s what I came up with.


DAY 4:

I collected goods from our house today – toys and blankets and toiletries (both new and gently used) – and sent them to a Reform Synagogue in McAllen, TX. It was a way to contribute tangible goods to detainees and separated families and also to demonstrate to my daughter how we can act in the service of others. She helped me fold blankets and pack them in a box. (To be fair, she did more unpacking of boxes than packing.) And, we got to talk – in whatever way she could understand – about sharing with others.

Thank you to Temple Emanuel and their Social Action Committee for organizing this effort and to the Religious Action Committee for spreading the word.

But still: donating goods can be a problematic action. Often, it causes more difficulty for the organization collecting and distributing – large in-kind gifts or donations could be more helpful for everyone. One historical example from my research stays with me: in the wake of World War II as Jewish (and other) organization collected used good, collection depots became overwhelmed with materials and European depots became frustrated by goods that were inappropriate for Displaced Persons camps or so beat up that they could only be used as rags. Some additional context: The Joint Distribution Committee ran a collection project called Supplies for Overseas Survivors (SOS) for 3 years. Communities across the United States collected nearly 26,000,000 pounds of relief goods between January 1946 and December 1949 – all of which was sent to Displaced Persons camps and other postwar sites across Europe. The scale of aid was immense – and yet, memos from the European distribution sites repeatedly note that high-heeled shoes, gowns, and fur coats were unsuitable for the conditions of postwar Europe. In 1948, SOS stopped collecting used goods all together and worked to provide new goods – donated directly from suppliers – to the DP camps of Europe.

As I think about donating goods, I think about these logistical intricacies. And, I also think about this details: Adele Levy, chairman of the UJA National Women’s Division, reported that, upon visiting one JDC sponsored children’s home in Paris, there were “long rows of tiny fur coats. They were coats which the furriers guild of Paris had contributed…it was somewhat incongruous to see these tiny tots running around in fur coats and shoes that were full of holes.”[1] FUR COATS! Fur coats for children who had lost everything.

And, yet, I think of this too: when nine-year old Irene Guttman was living in a children’s home in France after World War II, she received a pair of red sandals from a JDC delivery – perhaps a direct result of SOS activity in the U.S.. 50 years later, in an interview by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Irene vividly remembers those red shoes. In the interview, she recalls how badly she wanted those shoes and even though they were too small, she wore them. Irene said:

“I had to have the red shoes.  I remembered sandals. I remember these were with little holes in them, like a shoe sandal.  I had to have them. So, when the children tried on the shoes I said, “I want those shoes.” They were too small for me but I said, “They fit great.  I like them, I love them, they’re my shoes.” And because of this, very shortly after that, we took a long walk into Paris, or went for a really long walk, and of course, you can imagine what happened to my feet.  I had blisters. My feet were bleeding. I was in so much pain that the head mistress had to actually take me in Paris to buy me a pair of bigger shoes. I got white. I got white. They weren’t red, but okay, but they weren’t brown.  I hated brown, and that’s all that I had had before.”[2]

Gold baby shoesIt is with Irene’s memory in mind that I packed a pair of gold sandals into one of the boxes I sent out this weekend. I know they are “unsuitable” for almost any conditions. I know they are not what children separated from their parents or even children still with their parents, but trapped in the labyrinth of US immigration law need. And yet, perhaps they can provide some joy to a child who is seeking happiness in a world of brown. It is also in the spirit of Irene’s memory that I packed those boxes at all. Because seeing those red shoes was not only a jolt of color, it was a sign that people somewhere were thinking of her and working to help.


Day 5:

I was looking for inspiration today, so I donated to Al Otro Lado to support their work assisting asylum seekers at the Tijuana Port of Entry. After reading this exploration into their work, I’m amazed and in awe of the sacrifices individuals are making to fight against the inhumane immigration policies of our country. [3] What stood out to me most was the repeated action of immigration officers to deny asylum seekers entry. The sustained attention and commitment of immigration lawyers and advocates to aid people seeking protection and opportunity in the US is yet another reminder that the work of supporting refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers has been and will continue to be urgent even after our current attention fades.


[1] Adele Levy, Our Child Survivors, (New York: United Jewish Appeal, 1946), YIVO library.

[2] Interview with Irene Hizme and René Slotkin, April 24, 1995, USHMM RG-50.030*0320. Watch the interview online at the USHMM website.

[3] Daniel Duane, “City of Exiles,” The California Sunday Magazine, May 30, 2018.


Listening as an Act of Resistance

This is an academic place to start, I admit it. But, I’ve been thinking a lot about Giorgio Agamben’s Remnants of Auschwitz lately. In particular, this sentence: “We will not understand what Auschwitz is if we do not first understand who or what the Muselmann is – if we do not learn to gaze with him upon the Gorgon.”[1] It is not because Auschwitz serves as a direct historical reference for the detention centers and tent cities currently detaining children and migrants across the U.S. (although I do think the longer history of the Holocaust offers important historical analogues). Rather, Agamben’s urging to gaze upon the Gorgon serves as a reminder that we must look at what only the victim can see. We must look with intention; we must not turn away from the horror and cruelty. In the midst of the immigration crisis, I am ashamed and angry that this Gorgon is here, in my country. But, I cannot turn away.

Let me explain: in The Drowned and the Saved, Primo Levi writes at length about the Muselmann – the concentration camp inmate who had given up or lost his life force – who was no longer a “living being.” Levi says that those who were left to bear witness after the war could only bear partial witness, because “we are those who by their prevarications or abilities or good luck did not touch bottom.”[2] The Gorgon was what the victims saw, what those who were not as lucky faced. We can use David Boder’s 1949 title to see this more bluntly: “I did not interview the dead.”[3]

I’ve been thinking about this lately because there are many Gorgons and it is hard to look. And, of course, it is easy to turn away.  I am afraid to look at just how badly our government is treating people seeking shelter in our country. I read about the policy of separating children from their family, of babies ripped from their parents arms, of mothers and fathers being told that their children are just going to take a bath and never brought back. And, yet, I am still hesitant in the face of the real horror. I have been afraid to look too closely at the pictures coming out of Casa Padre; I have been afraid to see the eyes of children who do not know where their parents are or why they have been taken away.

Most of all, I have been afraid to listen to the cries of these children as they are separated from their parents. For the past week, I scrolled past the headline that ProPublica published an audio recording of children – including a 6 year old girl pleading to call her aunt and other children screaming mommy, mommy, mommy – but I didn’t listen. I couldn’t. Because I am a human being, with a heart, and what’s left of my emotional stability would be wrecked by knowing that this trauma was being done in my name, with my tax money, in my country.

But, of course, to be a person of conscious in this country today requires that we stare into the Gorgon; that we contend with the reality of this inhumane immigration policy. I must listen to those voices and those cries, because without doing so, how can I understand what is happening? And without understanding the cruelty and horror of this policy, how can I actively work against it? So, I listened and I wept. I also read the follow up with hope and horror: the 6 year old girl in the audio clip – Alison Jimena Valencia – has been connected (though not reunited) with her aunt and, through her, her mother. But, why should a 6 year old be responsible for her own salvation? And, what of the other children? What of those who don’t know their relatives names or numbers? What of those who cannot yet speak and advocate for themselves?

It is with these questions in mind that I will keep voicing opposition to the treatment of asylum seekers, migrants, and refugees in this country. To do so, I must listen and watch even though I am afraid and even though I am already angry, because to bear witness is the very least I can do.

So, today, on Day 3 of #30daysofaction, I’m donating to ProPublica, because a free and independent press is essential – now and always. Because we cannot fight what’s happening in our names unless we know what’s happening.


[1] Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive (New York: Zone Books, 2000) 52.

[2] Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved, First Vintage International edition (New York: Vintage International, 1989) 70.

[3] David P. Boder, I Did Not Interview the Dead (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1949).


This is not the time to let up

Day 2, #30daysofaction

This is not the time to let up. The executive order signed yesterday does not alleviate the inhumane policy of detaining young children or of recognizing the legal right of migrants to claim asylum in our country. The evolving government policy of no longer prosecuting families seeking asylum is murky and unclear. And neither effort does anything at all to reunite the thousands of children separated from their parents. In fact – it became clear yesterday – that some children might never be reunited with their families.

Nonetheless, the executive order that ends the inhumane policy of separating children from their parents at the border reflects the power of collective action. It was the images of children behind cages and the heart-wrenching cries of babies stripped from their parents arms that created the viral urgency to end this policy. It was the voices of outraged Americans that led to a rare Trump administration reversal and it must be those same voices that continue to pressure this administration to seek humane approaches to immigration. It must be the collective action of us all that pressures congress to respond to this immigration crisis by living up to Americas best ideals.

I am reminded of Hitler’s April 1933 Boycott of Jewish businesses. Only 3 months after coming to power, Hitler directed Storm Troopers to stand in front of Jewish businesses around Germany actively discouraging Germans to shop there. Yellow stars of David were painted on the doors and windows of Jewish businesses and signs like “Don’t Buy from Jews” were posted in front. This early instance of public and dangerous Jewish othering is not a direct analog to the cruel policies of separating children from their parents. Rather, we can recognize an historical echo in the perceived failure of the boycott. Most Germans continued to shop at their local Jewish stores; some even made a point of shopping on that day to show support for their Jewish neighbors. Historians generally agree that Germans were not yet ready for this kind of action and Hitler learned from this.[1] A week after the boycott, the government passed a law restricting Jewish employment in the civil service. In practice, this meant that Jewish public school teachers, university professors, and government employees were fired. The action took many Jews out of direct contact with their neighbors, which distanced them from the policies that followed.   

The history of that Boycott resonates for me now. Our voices, our calls, our donations have pushed the administration to change course. But, we have not won. This is still a time for action.

So, today, I called my representatives. I called my Congressman and asked him to vote against Speaker Ryan’s proposed bill proposed that would continue the inhumane process of keeping asylum seekers detained indefinitely. I called my Senators and thanked them or being leading voices in opposition to this policy to far and asking them to keep up the pressure. I called the Office of Refugee Resettlement and asked them to work responsibly to reunite the children in their care with their families.

Let us all keep calling. Let us continue to make our voices heard.

[1] See Saul Friedlander, Nazi Germany and the Jews: Volume 1: The Years of Persecution 1933-1939 (Harper Perennial, 1998), chapter 1.

On World Refugee Day, I Pledge 30 Days of Activism

Today is World Refugee Day. And, Facebook just reminded me that last year on June 20, I posted this: “Today is World Refugee Day. A day to call attention to more than 65 million displaced people around the world: men, women, and children forced to leave their homes; men, women, and children looking for safe havens where they can raise their families, go to school, work, and live.”

I was in the middle of writing another similar post, but cannot bring myself to do it this year. Not when the fight feels so urgent and so close to home. Not when US policy is cruelly and unjustly separating small children from their parents, placing them in detention centers, and denying them the basic human need of comfort. Not when this policy is being enforced in my name and with my tax dollars.

Words matter and language matters. So, we must recognize that the more than 68 million refugees around the world are going through a different process than those seeking asylum in the US. The international laws and protocols responding to refugees and asylum are distinct – though both important. I hope we have enough compassion for all the people around the world seeking a better life for themselves and their children; for the people of all ages forced from their homes in search of peace and opportunity.

This year, instead of calling attention to the displaced people around the world, I am committing to 30 days of activism. I am committing myself to daily acts – large and small – that respond to the crisis of immigration around the world. So, I will begin documenting the actions I take, including donating to organization working at the US/Mexico Border as well as those responding to the Refugee crisis around the world; calling my representatives to support the Keep Families Together Act; calling government agencies to voice my opposition to the zero tolerance policy that is leading to family separations; and joining marches to End Family Separation. I will also be writing throughout – trying to bring my past decade of study on philanthropic responses to the Holocaust to bear on this current moral crisis. 

After all these years of research, I can recognize that some of this action is meant to make me feel better – to assuage the helplessness I feel when I read about toddlers and babies ripped from their mothers arms and put into cages. But, my goal is to do work that is meaningful to the communities experiencing this trauma and to push the needle (even the slightest bit) forward with whatever resources I have to give. 

Join me in this #30daysofaction. Your actions can be big or small, but if we all commit to paying attention, bearing witness, and doing what we can, we will – at the very least – refrain from being silent in the face of despair and cruelty. Even as the details change, our voices remain essential.

So, today, in honor of World Refugee Day, I am donating to the International Rescue Committee as part of a pledge to stand #withrefugees.

Tools for Teaching (& Research)

More than a shiny new tool

I was invited to give a short presentation to a number of new graduate students today and because I frequently talk about the need to pair learning objectives with technology, I thought I’d share the slides here. I edited the presentation to minimize the local specificity – focusing, instead, on the central idea that using technology in the classroom should not be tool based. Instead of picking a tool, consider a methodology and think through what students will gain by using new technology.

Consider: asking students to use new digital tools invites them to engage directly with primary resources, to conduct the practice of research or curation, and to imagine writing for multiple audiences. (Podcasts, in particular, become scholarly products that students can share with friends, family, and home communities!) But, more, asking students to create with digital content forces them to think critically about where digital content comes from and how it is packaged. They likely interact with digital content every day and may not ever apply the same critical lens they bring to a book or an article. If you make digital content scholarly material and ask them to manipulate it or cite it, they may start to think differently.

A short anecdote: students in my Holocaust in the Digital Age class were building a website about Nazi Propaganda. They found a trove of visual materials on Pinterest, but could not find the origin of those materials and could not create citations for them. Because of this limitation, they could not use these images in their class project. They were frustrated, but started to question the nature of Pinterest and recognize the need for citations – even online.

Slides from the presentation below. Thinking about digital pedagogy continues.

Tools for Teaching_UCSC 2017

Why use Digital Tools in the Jewish Studies Classroom

Teaching with Digital Tools

Thanks to the Association for Jewish Studies for inviting Nathaniel Deutsch and I to share our experience teaching Jewish Studies with digital tools. It was an opportunity to reflect on all we’ve done in building a Digital Jewish Studies initiative and on the ways digital engagement can have particular meaning for Jewish history. The webinar also pushed me to organize some thoughts and best practices about how to approach developing new assignments and syllabi that feature digital tools.


The webinar was meant to explore the possibilities of using digital tools in the Jewish Studies classroom. We introduce the idea of a Digital Jewish Studies and offer practical advice to using digital tools to enhance learning objectives. Of particular interest is our focus on  common pitfalls for integrating new tools into your syllabi.

I’m happy to share the slides here.

Digital Tools in the Classroom

Magnes Pop Up Exhibition: Holocaust Memory, Walls, and Ephemerality

Thank you to the Magnes Museum for inviting me to speak at one of their weekly Pop Up Exhibitions. It was an honor to think about the ephemerality of Holocaust memory and the need to balance memory with activism. The slides from my talk are below. And, if you’re interested, you can join 11 other people (probably more like 9 because I checked out the video 2x) and watch the presentation here.

Deblinger_Magnes Pop Up



Come for the JDC Archives Blog, stay for Eddie Cantor on Sound Cloud

Eddie Cantor SOS Script, JDC Archives

I’m honored to be featured on the JDC Archives Blog today. I have explored the depths of their collection for many years and am thrilled that they invested so heavily in digitizing the whole of their archival materials. It’s a public assertion of the need for thoughtful engagement with digital objects and I’m thrilled that they see my work as a model for employing digital archives in the classroom and in research.

It’s rewarding for me to think about the many strings of my work – including historical research, Digital Humanities projects, and the daily work of building a DH community and Digital Scholarship center at UCSC – as interconnected. I feel very lucky to build space for Digital Jewish Studies at UC Santa Cruz – work that is made possible because Jewish communal groups and archives have recognized the value of digitization. Engaging students and the Jewish community at large in the practice of working with primary sources invites them into the process of writing history.

But, mostly, I’m excited to hear the Eddie Cantor ad for SOS from 1948 linked in the article. I vividly remember the day I found a set of ad scripts for SOS in the JDC archive. Before the collection was digitized, I sat for days with a pile of microfilm reels reading reports, memos, and newsletters from the SOS project. Supplies for Overseas Survivors (SOS) collected canned food, clothing, and other goods for three years and sent them directly to Jews in Displaced Persons camps across Europe. The project activated Jews and non-Jews around the country in direct support for the surviving Jews of Europe and the extensive public campaign supported my argument that American Jews learned about the Holocaust through their participation in American Jewish philanthropy. The scripts written for Eddie Cantor, Dick Powell, and Henry Fonda were a particularly rich find as they revealed how JDC transformed the needs of survivors in Europe into appeal narratives for American donors.

Hearing Eddie Cantor, as we can do now, is a thrill. Cantor was a passionate advocate for survivors after the war. He led campaigns for JDC, Hadassah, and UJA. He lent his name and his voice to numerous radio broadcasts and brought his famous friends along.

As I listen to this appeal, I wonder where I can send cans of milk today and how the history of refugee aid – so strongly documented in the JDC archive – should inform our response to today’s refugee crisis.


Alt-Ac Advocacy: Or, How to Search Beyond the Tenure Track

It started right after I’d finished my degree: my advisor asked me to participate in a panel about career possibilities for Jewish Studies graduate students to introduce and represent a non-traditional career path. I had just received my PhD from the UCLA History department and was about to start a CLIR Postdoctoral Fellowship at UC Santa Cruz, where I would work as the Digital Humanities Specialist. This position was the result of a yearlong job search that included applications and interviews for tenure-track positions, hybrid digital humanities positions within the academy, and positions outside the academy all together. The experience, although overwhelming at times, was empowering in the end—I was able to weigh multiple opportunities and consider what was best for me and my partner. I welcomed the opportunity to talk on the panel and reflect on the steps I took that that led to the CLIR Fellowship and my bona fides as an “alt-academic.”

In the two years since that first panel, I’ve sat on a number of similar panels, including three during my time as a postdoc at UC Santa Cruz, and had numerous conversations with individual graduate students who want to learn more about any number of issues involved with thinking beyond the tenure track: from writing a resume to talking to their advisors and where to look for opportunities. I’ve also been asked by senior scholars in my field of Jewish History to talk with their students about how I found my job and what’s it’s like to work in this hybrid space.

It’s been an unexpected joy of my post-doctoral career to have these particular conversations and challenge graduate students or recent grads to consider what they want to do be doing and what they want their life to look like.

Let me belabor this, because to me, it gets at why the academic job market can be so demoralizing and stressful: the track that leads directly from graduate school to any available tenure-track position is paved with a lot of instruction and expectation, but not a lot of personal reflection. This is not to say that many young academics don’t want to be faculty members or that they haven’t been working all these years exclusively to become faculty members. It’s only to say that the expectation that a PhD leads to and is validated by a faculty position does not centrally consider the personal interest, family commitments, or “happiness” of the individual scholar. The reduction in available positions has only heightened the sense that getting a tenure track position means sacrificing some element of personal interest – be it geographic comfort, financial security, or job satisfaction.

I’ll pause here to apologize for the generalizations. Perhaps this doesn’t ring true for you. But in repeatedly engaging in this conversation with anxious graduate students who have not considered alternate career paths and have no idea how to start looking for one, I have found again and again that so few people have started their job search by asking: WHAT DO I WANT?

It shouldn’t feel novel as fully grown adults to ask ourselves, what do I want my life to look like? What do I want my workday to feel like? Where do I find meaning and satisfaction and how can that kind of work be central to the next phase of my life? As highly (over?) educated young adults, trained to be critical thinkers, we should all have the impulse to ask ourselves these questions. And, yet, somehow the frenzy around an ever-reducing number of tenure track jobs has removed this kind of personal reflection from the process.

Of course many graduate students will work through these questions and still end up with the conclusion that they want to be tenure track faculty members. And, that’s great. But, for many young scholars, being given the opportunity to consider alternatives might open additional doors.

With that in mind, here are the 6 steps I recommend for starting an alt-ac job search. Or, perhaps more accurately, here are the 6 steps I would recommend for starting any job search—why limit your choices at all?

  1. Self Reflection: Ask yourself what you like about being a graduate student. What makes the work feel meaningful and what can you do without? Use these answers to identify positions and then ask for what you want. Knowing what you need in a position and what you’re willing to sacrifice can help make the job search an empowering one rather than a demoralizing one.
  2. Networking: Informational interviews help you gather information about jobs you are curious about and spread the word that you are (or will be) looking for a job. It’s never too early to start and it’s significantly easier to ask people about what they do when you are NOT in a position of needing a job. Reach out to friends, attend networking events, or work through your school’s career center. It sounds kind of scary, but it’s not. Most people are happy to talk about what they do and will be interested in talking to you.
  3. Write a resume: A resume is not a CV. You don’t have to trade one for the other, but if you intend to apply for multiple kinds of jobs, you’ll need multiple forms of representing yourself. Highlight skills and echo language from job ads and, remember, you are more than your research—so consider the work you do in graduate school beyond the content of your dissertation research.
  4. Skills: Think about scholarly work and graduate training as viable and valuable outside the academy: can you conduct research, write for various audiences, balance long term and short term goals? Yes, yes, yes. If there are skills you want to develop, take advantage of your university to learn new things. Take language classes, audit an Intro to Computer Science or GIS course, or attend a workshop on writing for a public audience.
  5. Go outside your field: Try to attend a conference you don’t normally go to—it’s a valuable way to learn new lingo, find new opportunities, and present your work to new audiences – they may help you see a different angle or bigger picture. Engaging with other forms of academic work also teaches you to take seriously other forms of scholarly ambitions, which can open up unheard of possibilities.
  6. Feedback and more networking: Send your new resume to people in multiple professional spheres and ask for feedback. Even if your academic advisors are 110% supportive, they are probably not the best editors for non-academic materials. Instead, circle back to people you met in informational interviews and ask them to look over any new materials, ask if it would it look good to a hiring director and what you might change to stand out.

When I started this process—about two years before completing my degree—none of these steps were directed by my advisor or my committee, but they were each things I had learned to do in graduate school: I could talk about my work, I could reach out to people I didn’t know to ask for help, and I could write effectively, reframing my pitch for different people and different jobs. I know that I have been incredibly lucky in my journey to alt-ac: I had an extremely supportive committee who encouraged me to explore all possible options and I found a position that values my continued research even as I work to support digital humanities on campus. But, I also did the work to create opportunities for myself and, as I hope to impart when I’m offering some guidance to other would-be alt-acs, I took myself, my work, and my ambitions seriously.

We have all been trained as scholars to ask hard questions and find complicated answers. My goal in engaging in alt-ac conversations is to bring that kind of complexity and open-ended possibility to the job search so that everyone feels empowered to make choices that best suit them, their family, and their long term goals.

Originally written for and posted on the CLIR Re:Thinking Blog

I remember with disorientation and confusion

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day – commemorated on January 27th in honor of the Russian Liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945. Museums and organizations around the world honor this day of memory with speeches by dignitaries and survivors, marking moments of silence, and providing space for reflection that can yield insight and memory.

When I think about remembering the Holocaust, I am most profoundly inspired by the Berlin Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe (pictured above). The testimonies of survivors, memoirs, and historical works help me better understand the historical reality of the events we understand as “the Holocaust” and the unbelievable experience of living through the years of Nazi oppression. But, it’s the disorienting structure of the memorial in Berlin that confounds me in a way I think appropriate for remembering these events. When walking through the uneven paths, it’s easy to feel lost. My sense of place and time was blurred as I found myself deeper in the maze than I had realized.

And that sense of disorientation is the one I want to hold on to as I remember the Holocaust, because everything about this history feels perplexing and mystifying. Not in a way that makes the events unreal, but in a way that makes them complex, compelling, and confusing. Even after years of study, as I learn more about individual experiences and historical conditions, I cling to the sense of confusion I feel, because I don’t want the murder of 6 million Jews and millions of others and the torture and displacement of millions more to feel understandable. I don’t want to reach a point where I can fathom the scale of devastation.

So, I remember today by remembering my quiet walk in the Berlin memorial. The sense of being in a city and yet removed. Of being connected to a particular past, but also to a particular present and yet disassociated from both.