Celebrated scholar-author to be Rabbi Wall Lecturer

Professor Jonathan Sarna of Brandeis, author of 'American Judaism: A History," to speak on campus February 19

February 3, 2020
Mark Tarnacki
Staff Writer

Professor Jonathan Sarna

This year’s annual Rabbi Wall Lecture speaker at Saint Michael’s College on Wednesday, February 19 at 4:30 p.m. in the Dion Family Student Center Roy Room will be Jonathan Sarna, a Brandeis University professor and prominent international author and scholar widely recognized as a leading commentator on American Jewish history, religion and life.

“In this era of increased Antisemitism and other identity-based strife and violence, we’re most honored to have Professor Sarna come to Saint Michael’s to shed historical light on these issues plaguing our society,” said Jeff Trumbower, the College’s interim vice president for academic affairs/professor of religious studies.

This annual lecture honors the memory of Rabbi Max Wall (1915-2009), long-time rabbi of Ohavi Zedek synagogue, and part-time professor at Saint Michael’s College. Besides being the spiritual leader at Ohavi Zedek for decades, Rabbi Wall took ground-breaking initiative in the early 1960s to forge a lasting relationship with Saint Michael’s College, including teaching courses, initiating a Judaica collection in the library and establishing this lecture series.

As an author, Sarna is best known for the acclaimed American Judaism: A History, recently published in a second edition. Winner of the Jewish Book Council’s “Jewish Book of the Year Award” in 2004, it has been praised as being “the single best description of American Judaism during its 350 years on American soil.” The speaker was dubbed by the Forward newspaper in 2004 as one of America’s 50 most influential American Jews.

He is University Professor and the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History and Director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University near Boston. He is also past president of the Association for Jewish Studies and Chief Historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. He was Chief Historian for the 350th commemoration of the American Jewish community and is in 2009, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He holds four honorary degrees.

Born in Philadelphia, and raised in New York and Boston, Sarna attended Brandeis University, the Boston Hebrew College, Merkaz HaRav Kook in Jerusalem, and Yale University, where he obtained his doctorate in 1979. From 1979-1990, he taught at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, where he rose to become Professor of American Jewish history and Director of the Center for the Study of the American Jewish Experience. He has also taught at Harvard, Yale, the University of Cincinnati, and at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Sarna came back to Brandeis in 1990 to teach American Jewish history in its Department of Near Eastern & Judaic Studies. He chaired that department three different times, chaired Brandeis’ Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program twice, and now directs its Schusterman Center for Israel Studies. He also chairs the Academic Advisory and Editorial Board of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati.

He is married to Professor Ruth Langer, and they have two married children, Aaron and Leah.

Selected Publications

Including American Judaism: A History, Jonathan Sarna has written, edited, or co-edited more than thirty books, including Lincoln and the Jews: A History (with Benjamin Shapell) and When General Grant Expelled the Jews.

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