For release: October 2, 2009
For press information, contact Jonathan Judaken, 901-488-7475
The 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
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
More information about these events or any of the programs of the Marcus W. Orr Center
is available online at http://memphis.edu/moch
For details or answers to specific questions, call Jonathan Judaken at 901-488-7475.