Lee Max Friedman Award Medal

Lee Max Friedman Award Medal

The Lee Max Friedman Award Medal was established in memory of a past Society president and is awarded by the American Jewish Historical Society to any individual, group or association deemed to have rendered distinguished service in the field of American Jewish history. Distinguished service includes special achievements in research, scientific or popular writing, teaching, encouragement and/or support of specific historical projects, or in the field of mass communication.  The Friedman Medal is awarded biennially.


The American Jewish Historical Society is pleased to award its 2020 Lee Max Friedman medal to Riv-Ellen Prell, Professor Emerita of American Studies at the University of Minnesota. Trained as an anthropologist and informed by feminist and historical approaches, Riv-Ellen Prell exemplifies a model of humanities scholarship devoted to sustaining community. Her interdisciplinary work has bridged social science and history, bringing together diverse fields and academic communities.

Prell’s scholarship includes two path-breaking books. Her Prayer and Community: The Havurah in American Judaism was awarded the 1990 National Jewish Book Award in Contemporary Jewish Life. This insightful study of the Havurah moved beyond the regnant categories of analysis into new arenas, introducing fresh terms and ethnographic models. In many respects, the book anticipated what contemporary cultural studies scholars recognize now as the meanings of Jewish ritual practice, and set a standard for social scientific inquiry in Jewish Studies.

Prell’s second book, Fighting to Become Americans: Jews, Gender and the Anxiety of Assimilation, a finalist for the Tuttleman Foundation Book Award in 1991, radically reconceptualized American Jewish history by placing gender at its heart. This book seamlessly weaves together historical methodologies and deep archival work with cultural analyses. Prell deftly charts the conflicting shifts in gender norms that placed acculturating Jewish women and Jewish men at odds with each other. She excavates the socioeconomic roots of representations of Jewish women and presented a compelling trajectory of twentieth-century American Jewish history.

In addition to authoring these monographs, Prell edited Women Remaking American Judaism (2007) and was co-editor of Interpreting Women's Lives: Personal Narratives and Feminist Theory (1989)—two volumes that advanced the academic study of gender in Jewish and American culture. She has also written a series of pioneering articles in the field, including “A Serious Man in Situ: ‘Fear and Loathing in St. Louis Park’” AJS Review (2011). In 2019, American Jewish History published a pathbreaking issue on Jews and the American Economy, which featured her article "The Economic Turn in American Jewish History: When Women (Mostly) Disappeared" as the centerpiece of a roundtable to which seven historians responded.

Most recently, she curated the powerful physical and web exhibit "A Campus Divided: Progressives, Anticommunists, Racism and Antisemitism at the University of Minnesota 1930-1942." It is to date the most widely viewed exhibit in the history of the University of Minnesota and sparked a student movement to address injustice at the University. The website has been viewed by 19,000 people worldwide. The University awarded her its Outstanding Service Award in recognition of the impact of this work.

In 2011, the Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry honored Riv-Ellen Prell with the Marshall Sklare Award for Distinguished Scholarship. Prell also served as Chair of the Academic Council of the American Jewish Historical Society, where she has been a long-time member of the Executive Committee and where she spearheaded the creation of an archival collection to document the Jewish Counter-Culture.