Academic journal article American Jewish History

Friedman Award to Jonathan D. Sarna at the AJHS Biennial Scholars' Conference June 21, 2016

Academic journal article American Jewish History

Friedman Award to Jonathan D. Sarna at the AJHS Biennial Scholars' Conference June 21, 2016

Article excerpt

The Lee Max Friedman Award Medal was established in memory of the fourth president of the American Jewish Historical Society. It is awarded biennially to honor his legacy by recognizing distinguished service in the field of American Jewish history, which is broadly defined to include exceptional research, teaching, support for Jewish public history, and publications for both a popular and professional readership. It is hard to imagine a colleague who has been more effective in every one of these areas than Professor Jonathan D. Sarna, to whom it is my honor to present the Lee Max Friedman Medal for 2016.

Professor Sarna is the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, and Chair of the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University. He was just appointed as University Professor at Brandeis, its highest recognition, and one bestowed on only four other faculty at the university.

Jonathan Sarna came of age as an historian when the field of American Jewish history itself was changing in important ways, and his work has been foundational in that transformation. He has made remarkable contributions that engaged social history, cultural history, and political history as well. He has worked across critical periods of American and Jewish American history, and his contributions to 19th century history are as important as they are to the 20th century, as are his reflections on the 21st century. He has changed and reformulated the scholarship about Jews, Jewish culture, American Judaism, and Jewish ideas of the last three centuries. The breadth and depth of his work are the true hallmarks of his distinction.

The thirty books that he has authored, co-authored, edited, and coedited reflect not only the breadth of his historical interests, but the many audiences for whom he writes. American Judaism: A History, that marked the 3 50th anniversary of Jewish immigration to the United States, was not only recognized for its importance, but it was very widely read as well. This powerfully synoptic work offered a history of American Jewish experience spanning three centuries that was unique for the extent to which it was grounded in American culture and history. American Jews and Judaism emerge from this work in their full complexity. The book is a contribution to religious history, ethnic history, and to the social sciences as well, all fields and methods on which Sarna drew. It received the National Jewish Book Council's Book of the Year award, among many other awards and recognition.

Jonathan's important works on Abraham Lincoln, published over the last three years, have similarly made critical interventions in the history of the Civil War and Lincoln's own life, and also have attracted a broad readership.

As exciting and far-reaching as his more recent works are, his earliest work remains fundamental to establishing the field of American Jewish history. From his work that challenged the assumption that eastern European Jewish migration created the most significant cultural institutions of Jewish life, to his research on antisemitism, to his work on Mordecai Noah and Moses Weinberger, to his coauthored studies on Boston and Cincinnati Jewry, to the study of American Jewish culture through the lens of the Jewish Publication Society, Sarna has illuminated how American Jewish life developed, evolved, took form and reformed through individuals, communities and cultures. His work has attended also to Jews and politics, and to the development of ethnicity and Jewish identities. …

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