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"Being Jewish in France" Series Will Feature Film and Lecture Oct. 7&26 University News
For release: October 2, 2009

For press information, contact Jonathan Judaken, 901-488-7475

Being Jewish in FranceThe Marcus W. Orr Center for the Humanities at University of Memphis, in conjunction with Rhodes College and the Memphis Jewish Community Center, will present a two-part series about Jews in France. The first is a screening of the film Comme un Juif en France (Being Jewish in France) on Wednesday, Oct. 7, at 6 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center. The second is a lecture by Lisa Moses Leff on Monday, Oct. 26, at 6:30 p.m. in Buckman Hall’s Blount Auditorium at Rhodes. Both events are free and open to the public.

For the past few years, a rumor has been spreading in the United States and Israel that France had become the most anti-Semitic country in Europe. At the start of the 20th century, an old Yiddish proverb went “Happy Like God in France.” Then came the Vichy period under Nazi occupation during World War II. Today, in the homeland of human rights and the emancipation of the Jews, threats, assaults, and torched synagogues have written a new page in this litany of hate.

From the time of the arrival of Jews from Eastern Europe (only the United States had more Yiddish immigrants than France) to the exodus of Jews from North Africa back to France, French Jews or Jewish Frenchmen have benefitted greatly from French hospitality. Today they comprise the third largest Jewish community in the world. This series aims to portray the experience of Jews in France in more complex terms.

It begins with a new documentary, recently released in France. Subtitled in English, Comme un Juif en France explores the history of Jews in France through rare footage and the testimony of leading intellectuals, historians, politicians, and community leaders. They describe their experiences, happy and sad, always with humor and emotion. This is a sensitive visual history of Jews in France, interwoven with rare documents and excerpts from movies, music, and songs.

The documentary will provide the background for the second event, the lecture by Leff, a leading scholar of French Jewish history and associate professor of modern Jewish and French history at American University in Washington, D.C. Leff is the author of numerous articles and the monograph Sacred Bonds of Solidarity: The Rise of Jewish Internationalism in Nineteenth-Century France. Her talk is titled “Rescue or Theft? The Postwar Transfer of French-Jewish Archives to the U.S. and the Creation of French Jewish History.”

Leff will tell the story of Zosa Szajkowski, historian and archive salvager, who recovered and then moved tens of thousands of documents about Jewish history from France to the United States between 1940 and 1961 and simultaneously used those documents to create the field of study about French-Jewish history. In telling this story, Leff will place it in the context of the postwar transfer of clout within world Jewry from Europe to America, talking about how knowledge, document collecting, and power are connected. She will discuss what it means to be a historian, as well as the relationship between archives, memory, and communal identity. The talk will end with a question-and-answer session.

More information about these events or any of the programs of the Marcus W. Orr Center is available online at

For details or answers to specific questions, call Jonathan Judaken at 901-488-7475.

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