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Insiders and Outsiders: The Jews of Virginia

Hosted By: Haberman Institute

Jews have been both insiders and outsiders in America as antisemitism ebbs and flows, often in direct relationship to the virulence of white supremacy and racism. American Jews have been defined both as white and non-white, sometimes welcomed among the dominant elites and sometimes restricted and shunned both as non-white and religiously as outsiders. In Virginia and across the South, where the distinction of color has been the force for so much discrimination and differentiation, Jews were (and sadly today) are particularly vulnerable. Leffler’s talk focuses on the Jews of Virginia as a microcosm of Jewish experiences across the South, and in many cases, across the nation.

It is a story of colonial-era Sephardic Jews from the Iberian Peninsula and nineteenth-century immigrants who arrived initially from the Germanies and later from Poland and Russia. It is a story of involvement in business, government, the arts, and education. It is a story of educational attainment and economic success. It is often a story of assimilation and an acceptance of the status quo and norms of the white societies of privilege they embraced. But it is also a story of discrimination and exclusion in times when white supremacy rears its ugly head. The Virginia story is the story of America in many respects. How does this dual reality help us understand Jewish history – the place of immigrants, the acceptance of the so-called other, and the American mosaic of diversity?

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