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Too Long, Too Foreign. . . Too Jewish
March 21 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pmFree
Sylvia and Irving Margolis Lecture on the Jewish Experience
This is currently planned as a hybrid event. No registration is required to attend in-person at the UNC Stone Center.
Too Long, Too Foreign. . . Too Jewish: Antisemitism, upward mobility, and name changing in New York City, 1917-1945
with Kirsten Fermaglich, Professor of History and Jewish Studies at Michigan State University
Our thinking about Jewish name changing tends to focus on clichés: ambitious movie stars who adopted glamorous new names or insensitive Ellis Island officials who changed immigrants’ names for them. But as Kirsten Fermaglich will describe, the real story is much more profound. Scratching below the surface, Fermaglich examines previously unexplored name change petitions to upend the clichés, revealing that in twentieth-century New York City, Jewish name changing was actually a broad-based and voluntary behavior: thousands of ordinary Jewish men, women, and children legally changed their names in order to respond to an upsurge of antisemitism. Rather than trying to escape their heritage or “pass” as non-Jewish, most name-changers remained active members of the Jewish community. While name changing allowed Jewish families to avoid antisemitism and achieve white middle-class status, the practice also created pain within families and became a stigmatized, forgotten aspect of American Jewish culture.
Kirsten Fermaglich is Professor of History and Jewish Studies at Michigan State University. Her most recent book, A Rosenberg By Any Other Name: A History of Jewish Name Changing in America (NYU, 2018) was awarded the Saul Viener Book Prize by the American Jewish Historical Society in June 2019. Fermaglich is also the author of American Dreams and Nazi Nightmares: Early Holocaust Consciousness and Liberal America, 1957-1965 (Brandeis University Press, 2006) and the co-editor of the Norton Critical Edition of Betty Friedan, The Feminine Mystique (2013), with Lisa Fine. From 2016 through 2021, she was co-editor of the journal, American Jewish History, along with Daniel Soyer and Adam Mendelsohn. Her current research focuses on the migration of Jewish academics to college towns throughout the South and Midwest in the years after World War II.