Deborah Dash Moore has been a central voice in the emergence of the field of American Jewish history from the last quarter of the twentieth century. Not only has she shaped the field through her writings; she has also energetically sponsored conferences, tirelessly volunteered her time to advise graduate students and young scholars, and directed major programs and institutions that dealt with the experience of Jews in America.
Moore is a child of New York City. Born on August 6, 1946 to Irene Golden Dash, who in her later years became a professor of English, and Martin Dash, a greeting card publisher, she shared her city upbringing with her younger sister Deena (b. 1949). Indeed, the city, along with its schools, became her classroom. She left New York City to study history at Brandeis University, where she received her B.A. (magna cum laude) and met and married MacDonald Moore, a fellow historian. They have two sons, Mordecai (b. 1971) and Mikhael (b. 1974). Returning to New York City, she pursued graduate studies in American and Jewish history at Columbia University, completing her Ph.D. in 1975. After a brief stint at Montclair State College, she taught at Vassar College from 1976 to 2005, serving as chair of the Department of Religion from 1983 to 1987 and as acting chair from 1990 to 1991, Director of the American Culture Program from 1992 to 1995, and Acting Director (1999–2000) and Director (2003–2005) of the Jewish Studies Program. She became the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Religion in 2003. During the 1970s and 1980s she also taught Jewish history at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research and served as the dean of its Max Weinreich Center for Advanced Jewish Studies in 1988–1989. In 2005 she was named the Frederick G. L. Huetwell Professor of History and Director of the Jean and Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan.
Moore has devoted her career to exploring the social history of American Jews, primarily in the twentieth century. Her first book, At Home in America (1981), demonstrated that second generation American Jews, the children of East European immigrants, preserved and reshaped their parents’ ethnic consciousness in the new neighborhoods that they built in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Focusing on their cultural and political activities, she challenged the regnant conventional wisdom that second-generation Jews simply tried to distance themselves from the legacy of their parents’ identities. Among her innovations were her analysis of urban neighborhoods and her identification of Jewish builders as key figures in stimulating the trajectory of urban relocation. The book has become a classic.
Although an institutional history, her second book again placed Jewish ethnicity at the heart of her narrative. B’nai B’rith and the Challenge of Ethnic Leadership (1981) showed that America’s oldest secular Jewish organization, founded in 1843, was rooted in the ethnic self-definition of its leaders and members. Jewish ethnicity in America, therefore, predated the arrival of East European immigrants to American shores.
Extending her interest in Jewish social and geographic mobility in the urban context, her next book, To the Golden Cities: Pursuing the American Jewish Dream in Miami and L.A. (1994), explored the social, cultural and political impact of the mass migration of American Jews in the years after World War II to the cities of the sunbelt. Combining archival documents and cultural productions with skillfully conducted interviews, as she had done in her first book, Moore provided a richly textured comparative analysis of a major shift in American Jewish history. The book won the Saul Viener Prize for Best Book in American Jewish History, 1994–1995.
Bringing together her love of New York City and photography and her talents as an urban historian, Moore collaborated with Howard Rock to produce Cityscapes: A History of New York in Images. It provided a visual history, with extensive commentary, of New York City from 1623 to 1999.
Her most recent book, GI Jews: How World War II Changed a Generation (2004), again mines both interviews and documents to present and interpret the war-time experience of American Jews. It was also awarded the Saul Viener Prize for Best Book in American Jewish History, 2003–2004.
Deborah Moore has also disseminated her work through other publications and she lectures widely. In addition to several edited books, she has also published more than fifty articles, on subjects as diverse as ethnicity, the Rosenberg case, Emile Durkheim, photography, and Jewish women. Together with Paula Hyman, she co-edited the two-volume Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia (1997). The Encyclopedia received many awards, including the Dartmouth Medal of the American Library Association for the best reference work of 1997 and the National Jewish Book Award for best book in Women’s Studies.
Moore has also been active in the academic world as an editor, consultant (for films and exhibits) and administrator. She is the co-editor of Indiana University Press’s Modern Jewish History series and of Rutgers University Press’s series Keywords in Jewish Studies. From 1989 to 1996 she edited the YIVO Annual, and she has served on the editorial boards of, among others, the Oxford Companion to Religion in America, Religion in American Culture, Sh’ma and The Reconstructionist. She was vice president for membership of the Association for Jewish Studies, 2000–2003, the Chair of the Academic Council of the American Jewish Historical Society, 2003–2006, and member (since 1997) and secretary (since 2004) of the American Academy for Jewish Research.
Deborah Moore has also been recognized for her achievements. She has held a Fulbright Fellowship for Senior Scholars at the Hebrew University (1984–1985), a Skirball Visiting Fellowship at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies (1996), a Center for Judaic Studies Fellowship (1996–1997) at the University of Pennsylvania, and a Pew Fellowship at Yale University (2001–2002). She has also received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation and the Littauer Foundation. In 2001she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.
Both personally and through her writings, Deborah Dash Moore has played a significant role in the establishment of American Jewish history as a recognized field in both American and Jewish history.
How to cite this page
Hyman, Paula E.. "Deborah Dash Moore." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on January 23, 2021) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/moore-debra-dash>.