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Skidmore College
American Studies Department

2009 Faculty Award Recipient

Sarah Magida

Conflict and Continuity:  Reform Judaism Responds to American Culture from 1869-2009

This paper explores the Reform Movement of Judaism from its beginnings in the United States up through the present day.  German Jewish immigrants brought the initial ideas for Reform Judaism with them when they came to America in the mid-nineteenth century.  This paper will look at three stages of the movement in this country beginning with the assimilationist ideals of the late 1800s and early 1900s, and will further explore the important factors which led to attempts at assimilation as well as the factors which prevented assimilation such as anti-Semitism.  This paper will then explore the world events which influenced the second state in the movement from the period just before World War II up to 1990 as well as a few underlying principles which also affected the institutional ideas of Reform Judaism.  The third stage from 1990 to the modern day, known as the continuity movement, is also strongly influenced by the events of the time period, but this stage was characterized by the perceived need to keep people in the faith and perhaps even bring people back to the movement.

The rest of the paper will explore the ways in which the ideas of informal education are used in the continuity movement, beginning with an exploration of the ideas which shape informal education in general and informal Jewish education specifically.  Finally there is an exploration of the specific ways in which informal education contributes to, and even provides the backbone for, the continuity movement in Reform Judaism today.

The first part of the paper uses scholarly research to explore the shifts in Reform ideology in addition to looking at the official documents put out by the leaders of the movement and the prayer books as exemplars of the ways in which the movement evolved.  Also, I interviewed two members of the Reform congregation in Schenectady, New York who have lived in the area since the early 1900s.  The second part of the paper also uses scholarly research as the starting point and interviews to exemplify the research.  These interviews were conducted with six different adult leaders within the realm of informal Jewish youth education.  In addition, the final section relies on field research and participant observations.

Sarah MagidaSarah Magida is the recipient of the American Studies Faculty Award this year.  Sarah has demonstrated both excellence and growth in the major, proving herself an extraordinarily versatile student in a wide array of American Studies courses on mass media, autobiography, religion, best sellers, and an honors course on New England.

Sarah's writing is impressive, as can be witnessed by her Senior Honors Thesis, Conflict and Continuity: Reform Judaism Responds to American Culture from 1869-2009.

As well as being an Honors Forum minor, Sarah also double majors in Religion.  Sarah's academic, as well as extra-curricular, life at Skidmore is a clear demonstration of growth and excellence and a wonderful example of the Skidmore credo — Creative Thought Matters.

Congratulations, Sarah!