Museum dialogue will put refugee history, current events in context

Steven J. Zipperstein, left, and Mark Hetfield

A “brunch and learn” program next month, hosted by the Jewish History Museum, pairs noted author and Stanford professor Steven J. Zipperstein with Mark Hetfield, the chief executive officer of HIAS, a national refugee protection agency, for an interactive community dialogue.

“The program, ‘Learning from the Past, Rising to the Moment,’ will pair two dynamic speakers whose work aligns well with the work of our museum,” says Bryan Davis, the museum’s executive director. “As part of the program, attendees will have the opportunity to participate in a community conversation with Hetfield and Zipperstein.”

Rather than view history as a closed chapter, Davis says, the museum approaches history from a position that purposefully explores links between the forces that animated events in the past and the ways those same forces fuel the social and political movements of our time.

Zipperstein won the Economist’s Best Book of the Year Award and was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award for History for “Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History.” It details the rampage that broke out in Kishinev in late-Tsarist Russia in April 1903, which has been called “nothing less than a prototype for the Holocaust itself.” During three days of violence, 49 Jews were killed, 600 raped or wounded, and more than 1,000 Jewish-owned houses and stores ransacked and destroyed.

“As I write in the first chapter, I revisit the 1903 pogrom in an effort to sort through it so as to better understand the tragedy itself and what was made of it over the course of more than a century,” Zipperstein told the AJP. “Whether cited explicitly or not, the Kishinev pogrom continues to provide a well-thumbed road-map that retains the imprimatur of history. Such accounts are bolstered by the use of evidence recalled endlessly, but such evidence is at best imperfect and — at its worst — not evidence at all.”

Zipperstein is Stanford University’s Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History. He taught at universities in Russia, Poland, France, and Israel, and for six years taught Jewish history at Oxford University. He directed the Taube Center for Jewish Studies at Stanford, 1991-2007. He is the author and editor of eight books and numerous articles.

Hetfield tells the AJP he will discuss the current global refugee crisis and explore how Jewish values and history call for response. He was appointed president and CEO of HIAS in 2013, following a 25-year career in refugee and immigration law, policy, and programs, much of it at HIAS. Hetfield led HIAS’ transformation from an organization focused on Jewish immigrants to a global agency assisting refugees of all faiths and ethnicities. HIAS currently is a major partner of the United Nations Refugee Agency and the U.S. Department of State. Since its inception, HIAS has helped resettle more than 4.5 million people.

“Over the last year, the number of refugees and displaced people across the world has grown to more than 68 million — more than any time in history,” he says. “Because of our history and our values, the Jewish people have a unique connection to these most vulnerable people. This is made all the more critical by the recent crisis at our southern border, and the reduction of the number of refugees admitted to the United States in 2019 to an unconscionably low number.”

The “Learning from the Past, Rising to the Moment” brunch is Friday, March 1, 10 a.m. to noon at the museum, 564 S. Stone Ave. Seating is limited and the cost is $18. To register, visit www.jewishhistorymuseum.org/events or call