AJHS Academic Awards
The American Jewish Historical Society encourages interested students and scholars to apply for the following prizes and fellowships. Please note that the AJHS Academic Council is responsible for all selections.
Fein & Lapidus Fellowship
Goal: The Fein & Lapidus Fellowships are intended to support substantive academic research utilizing the archival collections held by the American Jewish Historical Society, at the Center for Jewish History in New York City.
Eligibility: Fellowships may be awarded to graduate students pursuing dissertation research, postdocs, contingent faculty, and tenure-track faculty who do not have access to other research funds. The selection committee particularly encourages graduate students to apply and is open to all researchers, whether their primary field of study is American Jewish history or not, who have reason to use AJHS collections.
Saul Viener Book Prize
The Saul Viener Book Prize is awarded biannually by the American Jewish Historical Society Academic Council to honor outstanding books focused on the history of Jews in the Americas. This year’s Viener prize committee was privileged to review a wide array of books that dug deep into American Jewish experience, moving often overlooked subjects to the center of the field.
Two of the books chosen for recognition focus on Satmar Hasidim in New York state. They show how this group – defined for most by its rigid resistance to American culture — responded dynamically in very American ways to ensure their cultural autonomy and separation. In the process, the Satmar have been crucial actors in shaping the urban and suburban settings in which they live. The third book traces the transformation of two siblings from Christian mixed-race enslaved subjects in Barbados to wealthy progenitors of some of early America’s white Jewish aristocracy, challenging long-established assumptions regarding geography, race, and religion in defining mainstream American Jewish experience.
The Viener Prize recipient for 2021/22 is Nathaniel Deutsch and Michael Casper’s A Fortress in Brooklyn: Race, Real Estate, and the Making of Hasidic Williamsburg. This study offers fresh analysis of the Satmar Hasidic sect’s engagement with urban politics in New York City. Led by their charismatic rabbi, Joel Teitelbaum, these newcomers to New York City succeeded in qualifying for federally supported public assistance programs and maintaining their community and culture against competing group interests in Williamsburg and beyond. Delving into Williamsburg’s Yiddish language press, local newspapers, community board records, and other municipal sources, Casper and Deutsch have produced a rich and fascinating contribution to urban political history by showing how this group of postwar immigrant Jews became the quintessential Americans, continually shaping this greatest of American cities, as they carved out their place in it. . Starting in the 1960s and spanning practically to the present, the authors show how the Satmar Jewish population of Williamsburg addressed crime, housing shortages, gentrification and a host of other local issues that defined New York City life over the past six decades. Showing the Satmar to be savvy and strategic, Deutsch and Casper avoid romanticizing or fetishizing their subjects, placing them firmly within both American Jewish history and the history of New York City.
This year, the committee has selected two additional books as worthy of honorable mention.
American Shtetl, The Making of Kiryas Joel, a Hasidic Village in Upstate New York combines history, ethnography, and legal analysis to deliver a revelatory account of law and religion in late modern American life. Seizing on the most exceptional of cases – the Hasidic enclave of Kiryas Joel in upstate New York – David Myers and Nomi Stolzenberg show how an anti-liberal Jewish community sought and found in American liberalism a means to secure its collective autonomy. With nuance and precision, the authors explore how a shtetl, notably different than its Eastern European antecedents, was reborn in America, and how American law was remade in the process.
Laura Leibman’s exquisitely rendered Once We Were Slaves: The Extraordinary Journey of a Multiracial Jewish Family builds upon seemingly slender archival resources. Despite that, she is able to offer a rich account of the transformation of two siblings, Isaac Lopez Brandon and Sarah Brandon Moses, from their births in the 1790s as mixed-race enslaved subjects of Jewish enslavers in the West Indies to, at their deaths in New York in 1828 and 1855, members of the white upper-class Sephardic Jewish elite. Placing them firmly within the varied social and cultural contexts they inhabited, Leibman shows the Brandons navigating fluid lines of religion, race, class, and nationality as they traveled between Barbados, Surinam, London, Philadelphia, and New York. Liebman brings faultless research, a deep cultural understanding, and an expansive historical imagination to create a highly readable work that uproots assumptions about the workings of race and the origins of American Jewish community. In the process, she opens the way to a more nuanced understanding of American Jewish history and the complexity of “white” American Jewish identities.
Karla Goldman (chair), Bruce Haynes, Rebecca Kobrin, James Loeffler
Saul Veiner Book Prize Committee 2023
Wasserman Essay Prize
The Wasserman Essay Prize is awarded the best article published in a one of the four annual issues of our journal, American Jewish History (published quarterly). The 2022 Wasserman Prize winner is Britt P. Tevis for her 2021 article, “Trends in the Study of Antisemitism in United States History.”
Lee Max Friedman Award Medal
The Lee Max Friedman Award Medal was established in memory of past AJHS President, Lee Max Friedman. AJHS awards it 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 mass communication. It is awarded on a biennial basis.
We are pleased to announce that our 2022 award recipient is Dr. Beth Wenger, the Moritz and Josephine Berg Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies, School of Arts and Sciences.
Dr. Wenger ranks among the leading historians of American Jewry in both the United States and Israel. Among her lengthy list of publications, Wenger has written such pathbreaking books as New York Jews and the Great Depression: Uncertain Promise; The Jewish Americans: Three Centuries of Jewish Voices in America; and History Lessons: The Creation of American Jewish Heritage.
Wenger has displayed an almost peerless commitment to building and diversifying the field of American Jewish history. She developed thematic fellowship years at Penn’s Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies and at the University of Michigan’s Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies, and has served as the chair of the Center for Jewish History’s Academic Advisory Council. Finally, Dr. Wenger has contributed to the vitality of AJHS, serving as the chair of its Academic Council from 2010-2014 and organizing two of its biennial conferences.
The Lee Max Friedman medal was presented to Wenger at the 2022 Biennial Scholars Conference at Tulane University on Sunday, May 15, 2022.