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Constellations of Atlantic Jewish History, 1555-1890

The Arnold and Deanne Kaplan Collection of Early American Judaica
  • Symposium Schedule
Modifed trade card of a combination steam and sail boat, Kaplan Collection

On exhibit February 18 - June 9, 2014

The Kaplan Collection, donated to Penn in November 2012, is considered the most important private collection of its kind. It consists of over 11,000 individual items that document an astonishingly broad range of commercial, social, religious, political, and cultural ties that connected Jews and the general public from the colonial era through the onset of mass migration at the end of the nineteenth century. This exhibition, mounted in partnership with the National Museum of American Jewish History, features a treasure trove of representative examples of Jewish life around the Atlantic. Tour the virtual exhibition.
Symposium - February 18, 2014, 9:30 AM-5:45 PM
Please join us for a one day symposium, inspired by the Arnold and Deanne Kaplan Collection of Early American Judaica, being held at the Penn Libraries. This symposium is free and open to the public and while reservations are not required, they are always appreciated.

Companion Volume to the Exhibition
A companion to the 2014 exhibition of highlights from the Kaplan Collection, including five scholarly essays that respond to and illuminate the selections of curator and editor Arthur Kiron. With a prologue by the collector, an introduction by the curator, an exhibition checklist, and a bibliography, it is a valuable introduction to the collection. Edited by Arthur Kiron; preface by Beth S. Wenger; prologue by Arnold H. Kaplan; and essays by Dianne Ashton, Aviva Ben-Ur, Arthur Kiron, Adam Mendelsohn, and Jonathan D. Sarna. 192 pages, full color. Available for purchase here.

2014 winner of the MARAC Arline Custer Memorial Award book award

Installation views of Constellations of Atlantic Jewish History

Symposium Program

  • February 18, 2014

    9:30 - 10:00 am: Breakfast and exhibition browsing

    10:00 am: Greetings and Introduction:

    Arthur Kiron, Schottenstein-Jesselson Curator of Judaica Collections, Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania

    10:15 am – 12:15 pm: Session One: Space and Time in the Atlantic Jewish World

    Chair: David Ruderman, Joseph Meyerhoff Professor of Modern Jewish History and Ella Darivoff Director of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania
    Aviva Ben-Ur, Associate Professor in the Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, “Atlantic Jewish History: A Conceptual Reorientation”
    Jonathan D. Sarna, Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, Brandeis University, “Marking Time: Notes from the Arnold and Deanne Kaplan Collection of Early American Judaica on How Nineteenth-Century American Jews Lived Their Religion”

    12:00 – 1:30 pm: Break for lunch and exhibition browsing

    1:30 – 3:30 pm: Session Two: Making a Living - The Business of Being Jewish in America

    Chair: Lila Corwin Berman, Associate Professor of History, Murray Friedman Professor and Director of the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History, Temple University
    Adam Mendelsohn, Associate Professor of Jewish Studies, College of Charleston, “A Covenant of Commerce: The Business of Jews in America”
    Dianne Ashton, Professor in the Philosophy and Religion Department at Rowan University, “The Kaplan Collection of Victorian Trade Cards”

    3:30 – 3:45 pm: Coffee break and exhibition browsing

    3:45 - 5:45 pm: Session Three (roundtable): Atlantic Jewish History and Future Research

    Chair: Michael Zuckerman, Professor of History, University of Pennsylvania
    Melissa R. Klapper, Professor of History, Rowan University
    Josh Perelman, Chief Curator and Director of Exhibitions and Collections at the National Museum of American Jewish History
    Lance Sussman, Senior Rabbi, Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel Congregation and Professor of American Jewish History

    5:45 – 7:00 pm: Reception and Exhibition tour with Arnold Kaplan (by invitation)




Dianne Ashton

Dianne Ashton is professor of religious studies at Rowan University and editor of the journal American Jewish History. She is the author of Hanukkah in America: A History (2013), of the first modern biography of the American Jewish education trailblazer Rebecca Gratz (1997) and of Jewish Life in Pennsylvania (1998). She is also coeditor of the widely read Four Centuries of Jewish Women’s Spirituality: A Source Book (1992; revised 2009) and former director of the American Studies Program at Rowan University. She received her PhD from Temple University in the Department of Religion.

Aviva Ben-Ur

Aviva Ben-Ur is associate professor in the Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst. She is the author of Sephardic Jews in America: A Diasporic History (2009) and, with Rachel Frankel, Remnant Stones, a two-volume documentary and interpretive study of Suriname’s Jewish cemeteries and synagogues (2009; 2012). Her current book project is Jewish Autonomy in a Slave Society: Suriname, 1651–1825.

Lila Corwin Berman

Lila Corwin Berman is Associate Professor of History at Temple University. She holds the Murray Friedman Chair of American Jewish History and directs the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History. Berman received her B.A. from Amherst College and her Ph.D. from Yale. She is author of Speaking of Jews: Rabbis, Intellectuals, and the Creation of an American Public Identity (2009), a finalist for the Jewish Book Council’s Sami Rohr Prize. Berman is completing a new book titled Jewish Urban Journeys Through an American City and Beyond that has received support from the National Endowment of the Humanities and the American Council of Learned Societies. She has also published articles in the Journal of American History, Jewish Social Studies, American Jewish History, Religion and American Culture, the Forward, and Sh’ma.


Arnold H. Kaplan

Arnold H. Kaplan is retired from UnitedHealth Group, where he served as chief financial officer. Prior to joining UnitedHealth Group, Mr. Kaplan was senior vice-president and chief financial officer for Air Products and Chemicals, Inc. He is a native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Kaplan and his wife Deanne, who have two children and six grandchildren, currently reside in the Sarasota area of Florida. Kaplan received his bachelor of science degree in commerce and engineering from Drexel University in 1962. He received a master’s of science degree in industrial administration from Carnegie-Mellon University in 1964. Kaplan currently serves on the board of the American Jewish Historical Society and is a trustee of the UnitedHealth Group Charitable Remainder Trust. He has served on the boards of the Lehigh Valley Hospital & Health Network, the Allentown Art Museum, the Jewish Federation of Sarasota-Manatee, and the Baum School of Art. Kaplan is past chairman of the Alumni Board of Governors of Drexel University.

Arthur Kiron

Arthur Kiron is the Schottenstein-Jesselson Curator of Judaica Collections at the University of Pennsylvania Libraries and an adjunct assistant professor of history in Penn’s History Department. In his role as curator, he oversees public programs of education and outreach, such as exhibits, concerts, and workshops, as well as national and international partnerships to digitize significant collections of Judaica. He is the director of the Jesselson-Kaplan American Genizah Project, an international initiative based at Penn, which seeks to locate, scan, catalogue, and provide dynamic on-line access to early American Jewish historical documents.

Melissa R. Klapper

Melissa R. Klapper is professor of American, Jewish and Women’s history at Rowan University. She received her B.A. in history from Goucher College and her Ph.D. from Rutgers University. She is the author of Jewish Girls Coming of Age in America, 1860-1920 (NYU Press, 2005) and Small Strangers: The Experiences of Immigrant Children in the United States, 1880-1925 (Ivan R. Dee, Publisher, 2007). Her work has been awarded grants and fellowships from, among others, the American Jewish Archives Center, the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Schlesinger Library on the History of American Women at Harvard University, and the YIVO Institute of Jewish Research. Dr. Klapper is the book review editor of the scholarly journal American Jewish History and a frequent lecturer in the community. Her most recent book, Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace: American Jewish Women’s Activism, 1890-1940 (NYU Press, 2013) has just been awarded the 2013 National Jewish Book Award in Women’s Studies.

Adam Mendelsohn

Adam Mendelsohn is associate professor of Jewish studies at the College of Charleston. He specializes in the history of Anglophone Jewish communities in the period prior to eastern European mass migration. He is the author of The Rag Race, which will be published in 2014, about Jewish involvement in the clothing trade in the United States and England in the nineteenth century. The book argues that the nature and structure of this business played a determinative role in hastening Jewish upward mobility in both societies. He is also the coeditor of Transnational Traditions: New Perspectives on American Jewish History (2014). His book Jews and the Civil War: A Reader, co-edited with Jonathan D. Sarna, was published in 2010.

Josh Perelman

Josh Perelman is the chief curator and director of exhibitions and collections at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. He is the co-curator of the Museum’s upcoming premier exhibition, Chasing Dreams: Baseball and Becoming American, which was awarded a substantial grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Josh oversaw the landmark core exhibition NMAJH opened in 2010 and founded the Museum’s education, public programming, and visitor services departments. Perelman has a joint PhD in Jewish Studies and American History as well as eighteen years of experience in museums and non-profit leadership. Perelman writes and lectures on topics of historical interpretation as well as the intersections of culture, politics, and art; serves on the board of directors for the Council of American Jewish Museums and Philadelphia’s University City Arts League and is a member of the American Jewish Historical Society’s academic council.

David B. Ruderman

David B. Ruderman is the Joseph Meyerhoff Professor of Modern Jewish History and Ella Darivoff Director of the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to coming to Pennsylvania, he taught at the University of Maryland [1974-83] and at Yale University [1983-94]. He is the author of many books and articles including Kabbalah, Magic, and Science (1988); A Valley of Vision (1990); Jewish Thought and Scientific Discovery in Early Modern Europe (1995, 2001); Jewish Enlightenment in an English Key: Anglo-Jewry’s Construction of Modern Jewish Thought (2000); Connecting the Covenants: Judaism and the Search for Christian Identity in Eighteenth Century England (2007); and Early Modern Jewry: A New Cultural History (2010). Three of these books, including the last, won national book awards in Jewish history. He has also edited or co-edited five other books and co-edited two popular textbooks. He is a past president of the American Academy for Jewish Research. The Teaching Company has produced two of his Jewish history courses, each in 24 lectures. In 2001, the National Foundation for Jewish Culture honored him with its lifetime achievement award for his work in Jewish history.

Jonathan D. Sarna

Jonathan D. Sarna is the Joseph Engel Visiting Professor of American Jewish Studies at Harvard University (Spring 2014), the 18th president of the Association for Jewish Studies, and the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University, where he chairs its Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program. He also chairs the Academic Advisory and Editorial Board of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati, serves as Chief Historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, and serves as an occasional columnist for the Jewish Forward in New York. Author or editor of more than thirty books on American Jewish history and life, his American Judaism: A History won six awards including the 2004 “Everett Jewish Book of the Year Award” from the Jewish Book Council. Sarna is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the American Academy of Jewish Research. His most recent book is entitled When General Grant Expelled the Jews.

Lance J. Sussman

Lance J. Sussman, Ph.D, is Senior Rabbi of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel (Elkins Park, PA). He is author of Isaac Leeser and the Making of American Judaism (1995) and a major historical study of Reform Rabbis and Mixed Marriage (2006) Sussman served as chair of the Judaic Studies Department at Binghamton University and has taught at Princeton and Hunter College. He is a Trustee of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Advanced Judaic Studies and was the national chair of the CCAR Press.

Beth S. Wenger

Beth S. Wenger is professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, where she currently serves as chair of the history department and recently completed her seventh and final year as director of the Jewish Studies Program. Wenger’s most recent book is History Lessons: The Creation of American Jewish Heritage (2010). She is also the author of The Jewish Americans: Three Centuries of Jewish Voices in America (2007), companion volume to the 2008 PBS series The Jewish Americans, and New York Jews and the Great Depression: Uncertain Promise (1996).

Michael W. Zuckerman

Michael W. Zuckerman is professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania. He did his B.A. (at Penn) and his Ph.D. (at Harvard) in American Studies. He is still incorrigibly committed to coming at History that way. He teaches courses in popular culture, national character, human nature, and religion. He has written on subjects from democracy to family life to business, from American identity to the Constitution to religion, from the university to children’s rights to race to the role of ideas in history, and on people from Thomas Jefferson to P. T. Barnum to Oliver North, from Horatio Alger to Lewis Mumford to Doctor Spock. He is now finishing the editing of a collaboration of historians and developmental psychologists on the history of childhood from the middle ages to the new millennium.