Beth Wenger

Andrew W. Mellon Penn Faculty Fellow in the Humanities

20082009 Forum on Change

Beth Wenger

Associate Professor of History

History Lessons: The Invention of American Jewish Heritage

American Jewish history has been fashioned virtually from whole cloth. The United States was tabula rasa in terms of Jewish history, an outpost far removed from the centers of Jewish culture, a country where Jews had no past. “History Lessons” examines the ways that American Jews created new historical narratives, uniquely suited to the American environment. On holidays and special occasions, in times of war, during national celebrations and moments of group reflection, Jews pieced together a new collective heritage, constructed with a comparative gaze toward Europe and replete with expectations for the possibilities of Jewish life in America. Never monolithic and always contested, American Jewish heritage helped to define what the United States meant for Jews as well as what Jews meant to the nation.