Symposium to Explore Diversity and Complexity of Kentucky Jewish History

By Lindsey Piercy

A two-day event at the University of Kentucky will explore the diversity and complexity of Jewish history in Kentucky.

UK is hosting the Kentucky Jewish History Symposium starting Thursday, April 12, at the Hilary J. Boone Center. A public keynote lecture, by Professor and Rabbi Gary Zola, executive director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, will begin at 7:30 p.m. The lecture promises to place Kentucky Jewish history in its national and transnational contexts. 

A full day of sessions is scheduled from 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Friday, April 13, in the ballroom of the UK King Alumni House at 400 Rose St. They will feature national scholars, UK faculty and students as presenters. 

At a keynote lunch, attendees will hear from politician Jerry Abramson. He will talk about the influence of Jewish values on his public service career. Abramson was the 55th lieutenant governor of Kentucky. He is also the first person of Jewish faith to have served as mayor of Louisville. Abramson held the role of longest-serving mayor of Louisville with 21 years of service.

"We are absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to make Kentucky's rich Jewish history more visible by hosting this symposium right here on UK's campus. The invited speakers' and student researchers' presentations will highlight the long history and important contributions of Jewish Kentuckians throughout the Commonwealth," said Janice Fernheimer, director of the UK Jewish Studies program. "We are especially proud of the many UK students who helped make the growth and digital indexes for the collection possible."

The symposium is designed to celebrate the Jewish Kentucky Oral History Project. Thanks to a partnership between UK's Jewish StudiesCollege of Arts and SciencesCollege of Education, the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence (JHFE), the UK Libraries Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History and the local Jewish community, students make significant contributions to this innovative initiative that documents and preserves Kentucky’s Jewish heritage.

The project’s goal is to establish the largest, sustainable collection of Kentucky Jewish oral histories in the state. Originally conceived to collect a minimum of 55 interviews from Jewish Kentuckians, the collection currently includes 77 interviews and continues to grow. Many of the oral histories are already publicly accessible through the Nunn Center’s digital repository, the JHFE Jewish Kentucky Oral History Collection. 

"Because of the important work they do with the collection, 21 students thus far have had the opportunity to publicly present their work on the project at national conferences, including the Southern Jewish Historical Society and Rhetoric Society of America. Of those students, 19 are scheduled to present during the upcoming symposium here on campus," Fernheimer said.

Those who would like to attend the symposium are encouraged to register for free here by Sunday, April 1. Lunch will be provided for all registered participants.

UK is the University for Kentucky. At UK, we are educating more students, treating more patients with complex illnesses and conducting more research and service than at any time in our 150-year history. To read more about the UK story and how you can support continued investment in your university and the Commonwealth, go to: #uk4ky #seeblue