IHR’s second ‘Night at the Museum’ draws capacity crowd

From left: Institute for Humanities Research director Nathaniel Deutsch, UCSC alumnus Tony Michels, and assistant professor of history Alma Heckman (Photos by Crystal Birns)
Alma Heckman and Tony Michels onstage taking questions from the audience
The event was held at the Museum of Art and History in downtown Santa Cruz
A capacity crowd filled the atrium floor and lined the balcony stairs of the Museum of Art and History in downtown Santa Cruz for the latest public event presented by UCSC’s Institute for Humanities Research (IHR).

The occasion was Radical Jewish Politics: From Marx to Bernie, the second installment of the IHR’s new “UCSC Night at the Museum” series for the local community.

It offered a discussion of the history of radical Jewish politics--inspired by both the centennial of the Russian Revolution in 2017 and the stunning electoral success of Bernie Sanders, which has led to a renewed interest in socialism in the United States.

The evening featured a public conversation with UC Santa Cruz alumnus Tony Michels--professor of American Jewish History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, author of A Fire in Their Hearts: Yiddish Socialists in New York, and editor of Jewish Radicals: A Documentary History.

His talk was followed by a Q & A, moderated by UCSC assistant professor of history and Jewish studies, Alma Heckman.

“This is the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution,” Michels noted at the beginning of his presentation. “Vladimir Putin is not marking it, but that shouldn’t stop us in Santa Cruz from talking about it.”

A graduate of UC Santa Cruz in 1989 with a B.A. in politics (and also an avid surfer for four decades), Michels is currently finishing up a book about the relationship of American Jews to Soviet Russia between the 1920s and 1960s.

Later in the evening, he responded to a question about the effect of the recent presidential election on anti-Semitism.

“I’ve been surprised by the extent of anti-Semitism stirred up by the Trump campaign,” said Michels. “There’s been a resurgence, but I think it’s been a very traditional, far-right, often racist, anti-Semitism. What’s new is that it has been mobilized by a national figure. What we’re seeing in Trump may be more serious than a pendulum swing to the right.”

The IHR's Night at the Museum series was created because of the community’s positive response to previous IHR public events such as the Questions That Matter series held downtown at the Kuumbwa Jazz Center.

“One of our greater goals is to engage with the community on issues that are timely and important like the presidential election,” said IHR director Nathaniel Deutsch. “This event put the unprecedented success of Bernie Sanders in a wider historical perspective.”

But IHR managing director Irena Polić noted that community engagement is more than just renting a space for an event downtown.

“It’s about finding the right partner for the event,” said Polić. “We want to bring the humanities to interested audiences at our local cultural institutions. The idea is to bring events to different spaces and venues where different kinds of audiences are comfortable attending,” she added.