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Rakhmiel Peltz, PhD

Director of the Judaic Studies Program; Professor of Sociolinguistics

Office: Library 331
Phone: 215.895.1499
Email: rakhmiel.peltz@drexel.edu

Website(s): http://www.drexel.edu/judaicstudies/


Education

  • PhD, Biological Sciences, University of Pennsylvania
  • PhD, Yiddish Studies, Columbia University, 1988

Research and Teaching Interests

  • Judaic Studies
  • Yiddish Culture and Linguistics
  • Ethnography of Communication
  • Immigrant Cultural Studies

Research Projects

  • 2005 Research Fellowship - Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Biography

Rakhmiel Peltz is a well-known social historian of Yiddish, but his original specialty was in biological sciences in cell and molecular biology. His research focused on gene action and the control of differentiation during early embryogenesis and the cell cycle. Turning to Yiddish Studies, Peltz was motivated by a life-long devotion to the survival of the culture that the Nazis attempted to destroy. He has published on language and culture planning in the Soviet Union, Yiddish cultural expression of immigrants, language and identity over the lifespan, and urban neighborhood life. For thirty years, he has been researching aging and ethnicity, and has developed an expertise in designing and carrying out intergenerational ethnic educational programs. He is an accomplished researcher, who uses both historical research and ethnographic methods. His research currently focuses on pre-World War II Jewish family life in Eastern Europe and ways of educating survivors of groups that are victims of genocide about their history and culture.

More recently, he was co-editor of Language Loyalty, Continuity and Change (Multilingual Matters, 2006), and served as project director and producer of the film, Toby’s Sunshine: The Life and Art of Holocaust Survivor Toby Knobel Fluek (2008). He is currently editing a volume of Uriel Weinreich’s scholarly writings on Yiddish (The Language and Culture of Jews in Eastern Europe).

A popular speaker for academic and popular audiences, Peltz lectures on the history of Yiddish language and literature, Jewish life in Eastern Europe, Philadelphia neighborhood life, the legacy of immigration, and aging and ethnic identity. In addition, he facilitates Yiddish discussion groups and intergenerational programs on life history.

Arriving at Drexel in 1998, he had previously served as an Assistant Professor of Modern Foreign Languages at Boston University (1989-1991), where he also taught in the Anthropology Department, PhD Program in Applied Linguistics, and Center for Aging. From 1990-98, he was Director of Yiddish Studies at Columbia University, overseeing the PhD Program, undergraduate instruction, and the intensive summer program in Yiddish. He was Associate Professor in the Department of Germanic Languages at Columbia and also served as a visiting professor at Gratz College, Mt. Holyoke College, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the University of Pennsylvania, and Wesleyan University.

Rakhmiel Peltz brings his dedication to scholarly and community work to Drexel along with a desire to bring sectors of the academic and outside community together for learning experiences. His work has been supported by a variety of funding agencies, including the American Council of Learned Societies, the Littauer Foundation, and the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture. He was the Miles Lerman Fellow at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Research, US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Dr. Emanuel Patt – Workmen’s Circle Center Fellow at the Yivo Institute for Jewish Research, and the Stein Israel Research Exchange Fellow. He has served on the editorial board of Contemporary Jewry, the International Journal of the Sociology of Language, Yiddish, and Yivo-bleter, and the Board of Directors of the Society for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry, HIAS and Council Immigration Service of Philadelphia, and Hillel of Greater Philadelphia.


Selected Publications

  • From Immigrant to Ethnic Culture: American Yiddish in South Philadelphia (Stanford University Press, 1998) is the first book on spoken Yiddish in America and provides a fresh look at ethnic culture in the contemporary USA. Through an ethnographic account of everyday life in the Jewish community of South Philadelphia, the work highlights the role of language in collective memory and depicts children of immigrants as crucial interpreters of the ethnic culture of their parents. Yiddish-language narratives come alive as the reader senses the passion of the elderly American-born speakers.
  • The History of Yiddish Studies: Take Notice! Multilingual Matters, 2006. Language, Loyalty, Continuity and Change.
  • “Elye Spivak” and “Mordkhe Veynger”, Encyclopedia Judaica (2005).