Why Study American Jewish History?

By Jonathan D. Sarna

Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), Fall 2003

American Jewish history, when it entered the school curriculum, fell heir to all these various goals. It sought to instill pride, promote loyalty, and create effective Jewish role models. Notwithstanding all these high-minded aims, history over the ensuing decades gave way to other subjects in the competition for space within the Jewish school curriculum. Elsewhere, I have spelled out a somewhat different set of reasons for teaching American Jewish history, placing less emphasis on identity and more on tensions and continuities within the American Jewish experience as a whole. In rethinking the issue now, I am inclined to believe there is yet another theme that deserves emphasis, one that those of us engaged in the study and teaching of American Jewish history too often take for granted, not realizing how much of an impression it can make upon our students. The theme is human potential, in our case, the ability of American Jews-young and old, men and women alike-to change the course of history and transform a piece of the world. American Jewish history is, after all, not just a record of events; it is the story of how people shaped events-establishing and maintaining communities, responding to challenges, working for change. Perhaps that is the greatest lesson American Jewish history can offer our students: that they too can make a difference- that the future is theirs to create.

Topic: Curriculum, History, Pedagogy, Education, Identity

Name of Publication: Torah at the Center

Volume/Issue: Vol.7

Page Number(s): 2-4

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Genre: Article

Coverage: United States

Language: English

Copyright Holder: Author

Copyright Information: Download for personal use, freely distribute link

Bibliographic Information:
Sarna, Jonathan D. Why Study American Jewish History?. Torah at the Center. Union for Reform Judaism (URJ). Fall 2003: 2-4. http://www.bjpa.org/Publications/details.cfm?PublicationID=12094


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