Fishman earns national Jewish studies honor

Photo/Mike Lovett

Sylvia Barack Fishman

Sylvia Barack Fishman, the chair of the Near Eastern and Judaic Studies Department, the Joseph and Esther Foster Professor of Contemporary Jewish Life, and co-director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute at Brandeis University, is 2014 recipient of the Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry’s Marshall Sklare Award.

The association bestows the award annually to a senior scholar who has made a significant contribution to the social scientific study of Jewry, primarily through publication of a body of research in books and articles or published work related to public policy.

Fishman will receive the honor and present the Marshall Sklare Memorial Lecture at the Association for Jewish Studies annual conference in Baltimore this December.

“Professor Marshall Sklare taught me about the social scientific study of American Jews, Judaism, and Jewishness, as we worked together at Brandeis University,” said Fishman. “He was more than my mentor, and later my colleague–he was the scholar who showed me that one could care passionately about the subjects of one's study, and still gather and analyze data dispassionately.

“Ahead of his time, he was a sociologist who described the way novelists are sometimes prescient about social trends. He respected and honestly reported the facts--and he also responded to humor, to pathos, to a good story. I am honored and deeply pleased to receive this award, not only because of its importance in the field, but also because it bears his name,” Fishman added.

Marshall Sklare, a leading authority on the sociology of American Jewry, led the effort to create the Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies at Brandeis, which was the first research center on Jewish life in the United States. He was the director of the center from 1980 to 1986, helping to launch a field of study that used concepts, theories, and techniques of social science to bear on the study of contemporary Jewish life.

“Sylvia Fishman is most deserving of this honor for her seminal contributions to the field of Jewish studies,” said Jonathan Sarna, Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History and chair of the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis. “She is prodigious and insightful in her writings on Jewish women, American Jewish literature, American Jewish film, and Contemporary American Jewish life and culture. She pioneered a research approach that combines quantitative methods, qualitative methods, and the use of literature to assess, understand and confirm a contemporary phenomenon. She also has furthered, through her work with the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, the scholarship by and about women covering all aspects of Jewish life.”

Fishman is the author of seven books and numerous publications on the interplay of American and Jewish values, transformations in the American Jewish family and the impact of Jewish education. Her scholarship also focuses on gender studies and the changing roles of Jewish men and women, contemporary Jewish literature and film, and the relationship of Diaspora Jews to Jewish peoplehood and Israel. She is currently working on a new book, “Love, Marriage, and Jewish Families: Paradoxes of a Social Revolution.”

Fishman received her bachelor’s degree from Stern College at Yeshiva University and her Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis, where she wrote on the way English poets used the Hebrew Bible.

She is the fourth member of the Brandeis faculty to receive the honor. The others are Bernard Reisman, 1998; Jonathan Sarna, 2002; and Leonard Saxe, 2012. (Charles Kadushin, a distinguished scholar at the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, was honored with award in 2009.)

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences

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