Event Recaps | 17 February 2021

Family Papers: Sarah Stein

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On February 17th, 2021, the Annual Helen Diller Distinguished Lecture in Jewish Studies was held, featuring UCLA’s Sarah Abrevaya Stein in conversation with UC Santa Cruz’s Alma Heckman, the Neufeld-Levin Chair in Holocaust Studies. The event was presented by the Center for Jewish Studies and made possible by the Helen and Sanford Diller Family Endowment for Jewish Studies.

Stein discussed her recent, award winning book, Family Papers, which traces the story of the Levy family of Salonica through the arc of the 20th century and the breadth of the globe. Through one family, across multiple generations, Stein offers a glimpse into the global history of Sephardic Jews marked by the end of an empire, the Holocaust, and diaspora.

The Levys wrote to share grief and to reveal secrets, to propose marriage and to plan for divorce, to maintain connection. They wrote because they were family. And years after they frayed, Stein, discovers what remains solid is the fragile tissue that once held them together: neither blood nor belief, but papers. With meticulous research and care, Stein uses the Levys’ letters to tell not only their history, but the history of Sephardic Jews in the twentieth century.

This event was a part of The Humanities Institute’s yearlong exploration of the theme Memory.


Scott Rappaport wrote about Professor Stein’s work for UC Santa Cruz news.