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.

Special Issue of Holocaust and Genocide Studies: Focus on Refugees

Refugees at the Fort Ontario Refugee Camp, Oswego, New York, August 1944

Looking for more historical precedents to contextualize the current refugee crisis? Check out the special issue of Holocaust and Genocide Studies on refugees – made available free from Oxford University Press.

These essays help “narrow the gap between historical facts and rhetoric” and in a year of so much fear mongering, a little history can go a long way.

“People frequently ask whether the study of history can help in managing humanitarian crises. This question is particularly timely given the massive outflow of refugees from Syria and the problems of admitting large numbers of refugees to other countries, including the United States…. Those who speak confidently of a single lesson of the past often mislead their audiences.” – Historian Richard Breitman, in his introduction to this collection of articles

Originally posted on memoriesmotifs.tumblr.com

Memories of Violence and Dreams of the Future

DRAWING BY Ehsan, 10, from Afghanistan. His drawing “is in the future. My father works. The car is yellow since it’s a cab. That’s the cab my father will drive in Austria,” he says.

fromMigrant Children’s Drawings From Hungary Train Station” By Margit Feher via @wallstreetjournal

Children among the hundreds of asylum seekers crammed into a bleak passageway under Budapest’s Keleti train station, the scene of migrant protests, draw to pass the time before their families travel on­—if the Hungarian authorities allow it—to the richer countries of Northern and Western Europe to settle. With markers, crayons and colored pencils donated by volunteers, they work quietly in small groups, squatting or sitting on the ground.


Their pictures show homes left behind, the often horrible experiences they endured and some of their dreams of a better, peaceful future.

These images so naturally evoke another set of children’s drawings made at a time of violence, uncertainty, and desperation. The children’s drawings from Terezin, now housed at the Jewish Museum of Prague, and collected in, I Never Saw Another Butterfly, similarly reflect memories of violence with dreams of peace.

From:  Vaclav Havel, Chaim Potok, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, I Never Saw Another Butterfly: Children’s Drawings and Poems from the Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-1944, ed. Hana Volavkova, 2nd edition (New York: Schocken, 1994).


These images have served as documents of life in the Terezin Ghetto and symbols of innocence lost over the last 70 years. They have also acted as hopeful reminders that even in the darkest of times, our dreams and imagination can help us escape the horror and sustain our sense of humanity.

Hopefully the children’s drawings from the Budapest Train station, shared around the world by the Wall Street Journal, will inspire individuals and governments around the world to alleviate the ongoing refugee crisis across Europe and the Middle East. Hopefully these images will mark a moment of changing policy rather than one of lost hope.


Originally posted on memoriesmotifs.tumblr.com >

A History of Jewish Displacement & American Refuge

HIAS has organized a campaign asking people to Stand up for Refugee Resettlement. You can (and should) TAKE ACTION NOW >

In the wake of the Holocaust, when thousands of Jewish survivors and other refugees remained in camps, the United States and other countries around the world delayed action on immigration. Between 1945 and 1948, US policy denied access to most Displaced Persons based on the country of their birth. The 1948 Displaced Persons Act and the 1950 corrective of that act finally allowed Jewish DPs access to legal immigration to the United States, where they settled and found new lives. The U.S. Refugee Resettlement program that grew as a result of this initial legislation has allowed hundreds of thousands of refugees the same opportunity.

Around the world, there are now more refugees and displaced persons in the world than at any time since World War II. We should all be aware of this crisis and ask our government to take a lead in providing refuge for those fleeing from violence and oppression. As President Truman said in 1952 about the ongoing Refugee Crisis in Europe:

This problem is of great practical importance to us because it affects the peace and security of the free world. It is also of great concern to us, because of our long-established humanitarian traditions.

Today, congress seeks to end the U.S. Refugee Resettlement program, it is even more important than ever to remember this history and demand that our leaders act according to our best past.

Stand with HIAS in support of refugees.


Image via HIAS

Originally posted on memoriesmotifs.tumblr.com >

70 Years After Hiroshima: Remembering the power of personal narrative

On August 6, 1946, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, killing 80,000 people died immediately and thousands more in the aftermath. On that day, the world learned the devastating power of nuclear weaponry.

As we mark the 70th anniversary of that event, it’s worth reading (or rereading) Jon Hershey’s essay Hiroshima, published in the August 31st, 1946 issue of The New Yorker and digitally republished today.

The essay offers a way to look back on the shock of that event and to reflect on the still felt repercussions of that decision – on an individual scale and a global one. It is also an opportunity to consider the unprecedented rupture caused by the nuclear bomb as we imagine a world without the knowledge of that kind of destruction.


Story via The Verge | Image via BBC

Originally posted on memoriesmotifs.tumblr.com >

A Jewish mandate to act: 60 million refugees around the world

World Refugee Day is tomorrow (June 20). In recognition, HIAS has released this video that calls on Jews to remember their history as refugees and to help those still displaced. The video is powerful and compelling.

In particular, I am struck by two connected through lines that position HIAS within a history of Jewish displacement and the contemporary refugee crisis:

(1) The connection between Jewish values and the work of rescuing and resettling refugees around the world today. Their mission is no longer to save Jews, but they are still informed by their roots as a Jewish organization. As they define their goals:

Guided by Jewish values and experience, HIAS is working to address the global refugee crisis.

(2) That the organization chose to tell the history of Jewish displacement as part of a long history of displacement is inspiring. They empower Jews to act today not because Jews are in danger, but because we were once refugees and HIAS was there. In telling this connected history, the video jumps from Nazi concentration camps to the Jewish exile in North Africa to Darfur and Refugee Camps across the world. In each case, HIAS was there:

We were the ones at the docks…and we are still at the docks, in the deserts, and in the cities and camps and lands where people no longer have a home in their homeland.

The argument that Jews should care because it is a Jewish mandate is powerful and speaks beyond World Refugee Day – it speaks to how Jewish values can be part of political concerns that are not just about Israel or just about antisemitism.

This history is at the heart of the Memories/Motifs project and I am proud to be a supporter of HIAS today.


Reposted from Memories/Motifs in honor of World Refugee Day