Gavriel Rosenfeld, a professor of history and director of the Judaic Studies Program at Fairfield University, has been named president of the Center for Jewish History.
Located in New York City, the Center for Jewish History is home to five in-house partner organizations â€” the American Jewish Historical Society, American Sephardi Federation, Leo Baeck Institute, Yeshiva University Museum, and YIVO Institute for Jewish Research â€” whose combined holdings account for the largest collection of Jewish history and culture held outside Israel.
Rosenfeld is a specialist in the history of Nazi Germany, Holocaust studies, memory studies and counterfactual history, and he has credits as author or editor of eight books, including â€œBuilding After Auschwitz: Jewish Architecture and the Memory of the Holocaustâ€ (Yale University Press, 2011), which was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award. He was made aware of the vacancy at the nonprofit when Bernard Michael, who held the positions of president and CEO since 2018, announced his plan to retire earlier this year.
â€œThe stars aligned and I was able to make the right impression on the right people,â€ Rosenfeld said about gaining his new role. â€œAnd given my stature as a Jewish studies historian who has published a ton of books and has the academic credibility to lead the institution, that was able to seal the deal.â€
Unlike Michael, Rosenfeld will not take on the chief executive duties â€” that role was assigned to Rio Daniel, the organizationâ€™s chief operating officer.
â€œWeâ€™ve split the leadership position into two components,â€ Rosenfeld said. â€œSo, whereas prior presidents were also CEOs at the same time and were in charge of all the fundraising, liaison, activity and so forth, the new CEO Rio Daniel is going to be focused on that aspect of the position, whereas Iâ€™m going to be more in charge of programming, vision and coming up with the next two- or three- year development and growth plan. There was something to be gained by dividing up the tasks between the academic wing, if you will, and the finance wing.â€
Rosenfeld forecasted his immediate priorities as â€œbuilding on our already existing strength, in the sense that this is still the preeminent destination for scholars doing research and Jewish history â€” that is never going to change. And it is hard to improve upon that, except for acquiring new archival collections.â€
Rosenfeld is also focused on continuing the centerâ€™s online presentations â€” a symposium from last October on fighting anti-Semitism drew thousands of viewers and an observance of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel is planned for next April.
â€œWeâ€™re in the business of being the alpha-to-omega of Jewish research institutions,â€ he continued. â€œBut there is also a second dimension, which is to say that weâ€™re not just there to be a resource for scholars â€” weâ€™re there to be a public history-oriented organization as well. And whether thatâ€™s in the form of bringing fellows who can have short-term or long-term grants to do research here at the center and then go off into the public history world â€” as secondary school educators or as people who work in museums, historic preservation agencies, what have you â€” we want to make sure that weâ€™re training the next generation of public historians.â€
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