2023 Season Speakers, Topics, and Biographies

Week 1
Joseph Kraus

Joseph Kraus

Joseph Kraus is an historian of Jewish gangster lore, whose research and writing focuses on Chicago's Jewish history.


The Kosher Capones

Dr. Kraus will focus on the larger story of the Jewish gangsters in Chicago – a story that stretches for most of the 20th Century.

Breaking the Frame: The Jewish Gangster’s Perpetual Invisibility

The talk will focus on the historical narrative that produced the stereotype of the gangster as predominantly Italian or Italian-American – a narrative founded in fiction, film, journalism and mid-century politics. This culturally-embedded narrative makes it difficult, and sometimes impossible, to recognize the many competing gangster narratives that feature the Jewish gangster.

Week 2
Zalmen Mlotek

Zalman Mlotek

Zalmen Mlotek is an American conductor, pianist, musical arranger, accompanist, composer, and the Artistic Director of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (NYTF), the longest continuous running Yiddish theatre in the world.


The Yiddish Theater; Past Present and Future

From the origins of Yiddish theatre in Yass, Rumania to Broadway stages, Mlotek will explore the journey of Yiddish theatre, past, present and future. The operettas of Abraham Goldfaden, the beginning of the American Yiddish Theatre including the heydey of the Jewish Rialto on Second Avenue will be visited along with more recent NTYF Drama Desk nominated productions.

Yiddish Songs of Spiritual Resistance

Songs have often inspired and come to define political movements. Learn the Yiddish songs of Spiritual Resistance, their origins and histories.


Week 3
Robert Kolker

This lecture is sponsored by Norman Ornstein and Judith Harris in loving memory of their son Matthew Ornstein

Robert Kolker

Robert Kolker is the author of Hidden Valley Road, an instant #1 New York Times nonfiction best-seller about an extraordinary family that became science’s great hope in the quest to conquer severe mental illness.


Hidden Valley Road: A Story of Family, Trauma, and Hope

This talk is based on the book by Robert Kolker Hidden Valley Road in which he writes about the Galvins - a family of twelve children, six of whom were diagnosed with schizophrenia - Kolker focuses on this story of deep struggle and trauma.

The Mental Health Revolving Door — and How to Stop It

Robert Kolker will discuss how he has face to face with the bureaucratic Catch-22’s that have created and perpetuated the endless cycle of mental illness, incarceration, and homelessness.


Week 4
Rabbi Sid Schwarz

Rabbi Sid Schwarz

Rabbi Sid Schwarz is a social entrepreneur, author and teacher. He is currently a Senior Fellow at Adamah: People, Planet, Purpose (formerly, Hazon). The author of several books about American Jewish life, Rabbi Sid directs the Clergy Leadership Incubator (CLI), a program that trains rabbis to be visionary spiritual leaders.  He also created and directs the Kenissa: Communities of Meaning Network which is identifying, convening and building the capacity of emerging spiritual communities across the country.  Sid is the founding rabbi of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda, MD where he continues to teach and lead services.


The New Face(s) of American Life

In a pioneering national project called Kenissa (entrance-way): Communities of Meaning Network, Rabbi Sid will discuss how he and his team have uncovered an array of organizations across North America that are literally re-inventing conceptions of Jewish identity and Jewish life.

Me and Jewish Supremacy

Virtually all religious and national groups have their own “supremacy narratives”, including the Jewish people. Such narratives have been used for generations as a way to build group pride, loyalty and identity. But in a world that is increasingly multi-cultural and in which inter-group tensions and intolerance are on the rise, Rabbi Sid will tackle the question, how might such narratives require re-thinking.


Week 5
Heather Booth

Heather Booth

Heather Booth is one of the country's leading strategists about progressive issue campaigns and driving issues in elections. She started organizing in the civil rights, anti-Vietnam war and women's movements of the 1960s. She started JANE, an underground abortion service in 1965, before Roe. (Photograph by K.K.Ottesen)


If we organize, we can change the world! (and we need to!)

Speaking from personal history, Heather will recount various struggles that have led to victories, often against the odds. From the civil rights movement - when terror reigned in many areas from women’s reproductive freedom struggle - organizing the underground women’s network called JANE, from engaging in a variety of other issues from health care, marriage equality, immigration, financial reform, tax fairness, to negotiating on prescription drug prices and preserving Social Security.

The Precious Legacy of Jewish Social Justice: a personal story

Heather Booth will describe the social forces at work in the flourishing of social justice activities and her own involvement in this transformation. She will underscore what a precious legacy this is, not to be taken for granted and how it must be cultivated.

Week 6
Dr. Rebecca Erbelding

Rebecca Erbelding

Dr. Rebecca Erbelding is a historian of the U.S. and the Holocaust, and the author of the authoritative history of the War Refugee Board, Rescue Board: The Untold Story of America’s Efforts to Save the Jews of Europe winner of the 2018 National Jewish Book Award for Writing Based on Archival Material.


Rescue Board: The Untold Story of America's Efforts to Save the Jews of Europe

In her talk Dr. Erbelding will share the extraordinary story of the War Refugee Board, a US government effort late in World War II to save the remaining Jews of Europe during the Holocaust.

Fort Ontario and the Birth of American Refugee Policy

The Fort Ontario Emergency Refugee Shelter opened in Oswego, NY, in August 1944 to house nearly 1,000 mostly-Jewish refugees escaping war-torn Europe. It was the only shelter in the United States, and the people who lived there--representing 18 nationalities and a myriad of wartime traumas--were the only refugees brought into the United States outside of the immigration system and for humanitarian reasons. This lecture will describe the refugees and their experience.

Week 7
Ted Deutch

Ted Deutch

Ted Deutch, a lifelong Jewish and pro-Israel activist, assumed the role of CEO of American Jewish Committee (AJC) on October 1, 2022. He joined AJC following more than 12 years of service in the United States House of Representatives, representing Broward and Palm Beach Counties in Florida.


Why We Need A National Action Plan To Combat Antisemitism 

America is experiencing a disturbing rise in antisemitism. It comes from the far-right, the far-left, and from religious extremists. Deutch will argue that a national action plan is needed that coordinates government efforts, collects and analyzes data across the country, addresses anti-Jewish conspiracies online and on social media, and takes into account the disparate sources of antisemitism in America as well as the multiplicity of ways that it manifests in society.

"All Jews Are Responsible for One Another"- Global Advocacy for a Global People

While each Jewish community has its own unique stories of resilience, vibrancy, and struggle, they are all connected to one another through the deep bonds of Jewish peoplehood Ted Deutch will share stories of hope and joy, but also of fear and worry from his travels to Jewish communities around the globe.

Week 8
Jonathan Brent

Jonathan Brent

Jonathan Brent is a historian, publisher, translator, writer and teacher. He is currently writing a biographical study of the Russian writer, Isaac Babel, and finishing a novel.  In 2009, Brent became Executive Director and CEO of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research is dedicated to the preservation and study of the history and culture of East European Jewry worldwide.


Manuscripts Do Burn: The YIVO Institute and the Recovery of Jewish Culture of Eastern Europe and Russia

This lecture will tell the story of the founding of The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research (Yidisher Visnshaftlekhr Institut) in Vilna, Poland (now Vilnius, Lithuania), its collection efforts in pre-WWII Eastern Europe, the Nazi seizure with the destruction of much of its archives, and finally of the extraordinary survival of materials both in Frankfurt, Germany, and in Vilnius, Lithuania, and their recovery by YIVO in NYC. It is a story of what was lost and how we can build on what remained.

The Power of Archives and the Rebirth of Jewish Identity

The earliest instance in Western history of the discovery of a lost text is that of The Book of the Law by King Josiah in 2 Kings, 22. More well known is the discovery in 1415 of the writings of the Roman architect, Vitruvius, De architectura libri decem (Ten Books on Architecture). The discovery of The Book of the Law produced a restoration of Jewish law and observance in ancient Israel; the discovery of the writings of Vitruvius helped ignite the Italian Renaissance. The great discovery of YIVO’s pre-WW II archives and books has already led to a reawakening of Jewish life in Lithuania and throughout the Yiddish-speaking world. This lecture will discuss what YIVO is doing to broaden and deepen the impact of its discoveries and explain why these materials may indeed contain the kernels of the future rather than simply remnants of the past.

Week 9
Dr. Alan Kadish

Dr. Alan Kadish

Alan Kadish, M.D. is President of the Touro College and University System, the largest Jewish-sponsored educational institution in the United States.Before succeeding as Touro’s second president in March 2010, Dr. Kadish was a prominent cardiologist, dedicated teacher and researcher, and experienced administrator.


U.S. Education is Failing. Can the Jewish Intellectual Tradition Provide a Useful Model?

The Jewish Intellectual Tradition is well over 2,000 years old. It embodies a commitment to scholarship initially driven through religious texts. While that tradition has broadened in the last 250 years, a series of core principles that can provide useful insights into education can be described. These include academic inquiry with a purpose, a commitment to literacy and education, respect for precedent while encouraging creative [disruptive] thinking, and a commitment to the truth. We will discuss how a series of practical recommendations for education have emerged from the Jewish Intellectual Tradition.

Jewish Responses to the Covid-19 Pandemic: Practical, Legal and Theological

The Covid Pandemic engendered a series of challenges to people all over the world. There are three specific areas where the Jewish community faced unique difficulties.. First, Jewish law needed to be developed and modified to deal with Jewish legal questions originating from the pandemic. Second, a history of skepticism about government mandates and regulations created a resistance to some widely accepted recommendations. Third, for those who believe in a participatory G-d, the Covid pandemic reignited questions about why a tragedy of this magnitude happened.