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An Alien Nation: Perspectives on Disability, Agency, and Authority in American Jewish History

Sun, December 17, 2:45 to 4:15pm PST (2:45 to 4:15pm PST), San Francisco Marriott Marquis, Lower B2 (17) Nob Hill B

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


"Nothing about us without us" resounds as a clarion call of the disability rights movement. So too, it invokes the historic exclusion of disabled people from social, economic, legal, political, and academic spaces. But what insights can inserting the study of disability into Jewish history reveal, through exploring the intersection of these two historically otherized, nebulously defined groups? And, in turn, what can Jewish history tell us about disability, whether in terms of literal impairment or sociopolitical disempowerment? Much as feminist scholars began to use gender as an analytical lens in the 1970s, our panel seeks to do the same with disability. Rather than isolating disability studies into a separate corner of the academy, we ask how integrating disability into accepted narratives in Jewish historiography problematizes and complicates them. What does it mean to have a “healthy” and “Jewish” body in an–ostensibly–democratic context? And who gets to decide? In three case studies, our panel will highlight the inextricable intersections between disability and social and political citizenship in the course of both Zionism and American Jewish history across the long twentieth century. We will recognize the multitudes contained within the concept of disability, to explore how governments and societies "disable" individuals from full participation and inclusion, based upon "undesirable" characteristics that do not conform to prevailing ideologies or the constructed environment. Concurrently, we will examine how both American Jews living with disabilities and American Jewish communal leaders pushed back, to reclaim their agency and assert their social and political right to belong on their own terms.

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