Jewish Studies conference set for UC Santa Cruz on May 22-24

Preview panel discussion to take place at Museo Italo-Americano in San Francisco

A conference designed to highlight the role women have played in the forging of Italian Jewish identity will take place May 22-24, on the UC Santa Cruz campus.

Titled “Women, Jews, Venetians,” the event is sponsored by the Center for Jewish Studies of the University of California, Santa Cruz, the UCSC Literature Department, the Museo Italo-Americano of San Francisco, and the Venice Center for International Jewish Studies.

Murray Baumgarten--co-director of UCSC’s Jewish Studies program--noted that many people are unaware of the intensive interaction that took place between the Jews of the Venice Ghetto with the larger Venetian population.

“An island set apart from and yet part of the city on the lagoon, the Ghetto became a political, social, and cultural locus of historical and symbolic status,” said Baumgarten. “Yet the roles women played in this forging of modern Jewish identity are often absent from the conversation.”

He added that the contribution of women has not been fully charted as to how--and to what extent—they were able to participate and take the lead in many spheres, from cultural practices and financial activities, to intellectual pursuits.

“Our gathering is directed to bringing women into the Venetian historical account,” said Baumgarten.

“We will focus on the ways in which Jewish women--in part through their connections to other Venetian and Italian women--helped to articulate what it was to be modern, and thus contributed in shaping the image and understanding of contemporary Venice and Venetian Jewish life.”

He noted that the conference will approach the topic through multiple disciplines, including literature, history, and art history.

Over the past several years, Baumgarten has directed three summer institutes about Italian Jewish life at the site of the first ghetto in Italy-in collaboration with the University of Venice and funded with grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

He also provided the academic expertise for a 2009 exhibition at the Museo Italo-Americano in San Francisco, Il Ghetto: Forging Italian Jewish Identities 1516-1870, that examined more than 350 years of Jewish life in Italy--the gateway through which Jewish culture in Europe was established.

“What I've tried to do with both the Venice Institute and the San Francisco exhibit is to create portals into history and culture,” said Baumgarten.

In addition to the conference at UCSC, there will also be a preview panel at the Museo Italo-Americano in Fort Mason, San Francisco, on Sunday morning, May 22, from 9:30 am to 12:30 p.m.--in conjunction with exhibited materials from Il Ghetto: Forging Italian Jewish Identities.

For more information, contact the UCSC Institute for Humanities Research at (831) 459-3527.