Citizen Film and Columbia University’s Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies are initiating collaborations around the country. With partners ranging from Columbia’s Center for New Media Teaching and Learning to the Contemporary Jewish Museum -San Francisco, we use ubiquitous media tools to engage professors, students and audiences in imaginative explorations of Jewish themes. From multimedia portfolios exploring New York photographers and their legacies, to digital stories about Jewish life in the Pacific Northwest, we’re catalyzing projects at the new, visual turn in Jewish Studies, deepening engagement with Jewish themes and
inventing new modes of scholarship in the process.
The New Media in Jewish Studies Collaborative is cultivating
a network of Jewish Studies professors to innovate with their
students at the new, visual turn in Jewish Studies scholarship.
Audience-engagement partners include major cultural
institutions such as the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
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Students 18-25 years old who were resettled
in the US after fleeing their home countries
are co-creating a multimedia exhibition with survivors
from Hitler’s Europe. In all, up to 50 students who are
interested in learning digital storytelling and curating
skills will collaborate on this project.
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For three days in October, an immersive, interactive experience
brought refugees and their prized possessions to an audience
of more than 10,000 people who viewed silent films outside a
gold-painted shipping container on Times Square. Passersby
stopped in six at a time to view short documentaries inside the
container: Shared_Studios' TimesSquare_Portal. Following the
films, 600 people engaged in intimate live chats with refugees,
Citizen Film director Sam Ball and UC Berkeley Professor
Francesco Spagnolo, curator of the Magnes Collection of Jewish
Art and Life.
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Citizen Film and graduate students studying Yiddish literature at Columbia University co-created a definitive website devoted to Sholem Aleichem, “the Jewish Mark Twain.” Key collaborators on the project also include Riverside Films and the Yiddish Book Center which provided a trove of archival audiovisual materials. www.sholemaleichem.org was made possible in part by the Sholem Aleichem Network dedicated to the great author and playwright’s legacy.
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New media-based Jewish Studies initiated in one place
Wendy MacNaughton Draws the Castro Commons
quickly spread to another. For example, a “Virtual
collaboration between SF-based educators and
the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, JCCSF’s
and Citizen Film inspired students in
and Jewish Cultural Arts at the
George Washington University
to conduct their own
The holiday of Sukkot commemorates how the Israelites
lived during their 40-year journey to the promised land.
“Sukkah” is the word for a temporary hut, built in the
desert. These rough, open dwellings were places of
hospitality, beckoning Jews to reach outward and
embrace the world. This Facebook page is also a sort of
sukkah, where students investigate and share in their
surroundings by reinterpreting traditional guidelines.
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Building a crowdsourced virtual sukkah
In the University of Michigan course The Liberating Lens,
professor Deborah Dash Moore’s students immerse
themselves in the work of iconic American-Jewish
photographers. Students study the artists’ techniques,
subject matter and creative processes while developing
guidelines for taking photos of their own.
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Saul Leiter, Snow, (L), compared with Alice Li, Shopper, (R)
University of Washington professor Noam Pianko and his
Birth of a Temple
students collaborate with Citizen Film, the Pacific Northwest
Jewish Archive and Seattle’s Jewish Community Federation
to unpack and digitize archival photos and documents,
then turn them into highly shareable digital content.
The New Media in Jewish Studies Collaborative seeks to inspire collaboration between scholars and the community at large. For example, one of our partnering institutions is the Contemporary Jewish Museum (CJM.)
The CJM exhibited professor Deborah Dash Moore + Citizen Film’s “Liberating Lens” multimedia project exploring images and words by Alfred Stieglitz, and the museum’s education department helped us reach out to many Bay Area students, who posted their own work in response.
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Stieglitz-Inspired photo submissions
Stieglitz said that only after looking at his photographs for a while could he tell anything about their meaning. In other words, looking at his printed pictures, he noticed things he didn’t see during the act of taking the picture.
Look closely at a photo you’ve taken that has special significance for you; an unusual picture that captures emotion. Look at the picture for longer than usual. What do you notice about it? What do you feel?
I notice how my hands are shown in the water and how it affects the overall balance of the whole composure. Also, now looking at it again, I see the complete circular balance in the photo and I notice how complex and interesting the simple fountain in my backyard can be. When looking at this photo, I feel a sense of serenity, but I am also taken back of the dark purple color of the water. I also see the balance of the photo, which gives the photo meaning.
This photo was originally a mistake, but upon a second look I came to love its painting-like quality. For me it represents the feeling that oftentimes life takes the reins and you can’t always control the outcome. You can only hold on and persevere in the face of adversity.
There’s something in the barn, behind the doors, that I didn’t notice before. A wheelbarrow, perhaps? This photo evokes feelings of warmth, happiness, and security…which is interesting because I spent the second half of this Christmas weekend rather upset. But a brief moment of reflection and wonder at the sight of the warm barn at dusk makes me remember the weekend fondly.
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FEATURED PROJECT: ETHNIC T-SHIRTS
When immigrant Jews arriving in the United States wanted to fit in,
one of the first things they changed
was their clothes. Today,
we curate our individual and collective identity every time we get
For the majority of Jews, who •pass" as ethnically
wearing t-shirts bearing Jewish messages calls attention to an
identity that might otherwise be invisible.
T-shirts are the perfect canvas for a meditation on contemporary
identities. Originally designed as undergarments, t-shirts regularly
display symbols, slogans, and commitments that range from communal
to commercial. With Stanford University's Jim Joseph Chair of
Education and Jewish Studies, Ari Kelman, and his graduate students,
Citizen Film designed a multimedia exhibition for display in the
Contemporary Jewish Museum store.
Because of their ubiquity as mundane fashion items, it is easy
to overlook the cultural power of t-shirts. Our exhibition in the
Contemporary Jewish Museum store is an opportunity to
critically engage with
t-shirts as sites for performance, for play,
and for politics. Placing today's banal, everyday garments at
the heart of a museum exhibition may seem counter-intuitive,
yet we hope this will inspire you to reconsider what museums
are for, and what you think you understand about how you
present yourself in the world.