My current research is a microhistory of Black/Jewish relations in the 20th century.
Microhistory takes a small topic of study - like an unusual event or a little-known community - and untangles the details of the story to reveal what they meant to the people at the time, and how they relate to larger issues in history. Although I am primarily focused on the United States, this topic - and the story at the center of my research - cannot help but be connected to global events and debates.
I begin to peer into the issue by examining a crime that occurred in 1970s Philadelphia. But my real interest is in the unique relationships between the people who were impacted by it: an elderly, white Jewish couple and a group of young Black radicals, not Jewish, who coexisted on one block in North Philadelphia. While North Philadelphia’s history of white flight and economic desolation follows a path that may be familiar to many, the relationships which I study here do not.
Because my educational background is in Jewish history, I am especially drawn to looking at all of the different ways that the Jews in this story - the radical white Jews, their more traditional Jewish family members and acquaintances, the Black Jews or Israelites in the neighborhood and, ultimately, the North African Jews that enter the story as it moves across an ocean - think about issues of home, family, belonging and liberation.
Less familiar to me, but equally important to this story, is the history of how activists in the Black diaspora - in the U.S. and throughout the world - increasingly reached across borders as they shaped new visions for their self-determination over the course of the 20th century. The relationships between Black gentile, white Jewish and Afro-Jewish communities in American neighborhoods and cities profoundly impacted, and were impacted by, the choices that all of them made about their place in the world.