A SAMPLING OF PRIOR ENGAGEMENTS
Jewish Center of the Hamptons, East Hampton, NY
University of Lisbon, Portugal
University of Antwerp, Belgium
Jewish Community of Singapore
Dona Gracia Museum, Tiberias, Israel
Jewish Genealogical Society, London
Various groups, Tel Aviv, Israel
Jewish Fed. W. Palm Beach, FL
Hadassah National Convention
Google HQ, San Jose, CA
Temple Israel, Alameda, CA
Westchester Jewish Center, NY
Barnard College, NYC, NY
Hofstra U, Hempstead, Long Island, NY
Larchmont Temple, Larchmont, NY
VBS School, Los Angeles, CA
JCC's, Commack, NY
JCC's, Stamford, CT
Learning in Retirement, Stamford, CT
West Side JCC's, NY. NY
Maimonides Society, Richmond, VA
Various synagogues, Westport, CT
Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA
Center for Jewish History, NYC
JCC's, Albany, NY
Temple Emmanuel, NY, NY
Elderhostel, Falls Village, CT
Connecticut Press Club
CAJE and NewCAJE for teachers
Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies
Rodof Shalom, Falls Church, VA
Cong. B'nai Zion, El Paso, TX
Great Neck Public Library, NY
Israel Cong., Manchester, VT
Gomez Mill House, Marlboro, NY
Meadowbrook Women's Initiative, Levittown, N.Y.
Barnes & Noble (various)
Public Libraries (various)
Book Groups (various)
A Sampling of Possible Lecture Topics
*These topics have evolved from various research projects for articles and books.
1. Food in the History of the Jews: From ancient times to the present day, Jews have always enjoyed their particular cuisine, whether kosher or not. Think rye bread, pastrami, bagels and (in certain Mediterranean countries) a passion for eggplant dishes. It was so distinctive that during the time of the Inquisition a family’s culinary habits became a telltale way to reveal a secret Jew. Why was this so? How did the idea of “Jewish food” develop?
2. From Blood Libel to Balfour Declaration: the remarkable history of the Jews of England that includes insights into Jewish commerce through the ages.
3. The History and Culture of the Jews of Persia (Iran). Jews have been in Persia/Iran since biblical times. Why were they so prominent in the Persian Empire? What was their changing role in society? How were they treated over the ages? Why did most of them leave when the Shah was deposed in 1979? How have they fared in modern times in the U.S? Offered as a lecture or mini-course.
4. Exploring Cuba: its once and future Jews. A recent visit to Cuba, plus additional research that has built upon Brooks' work with the conversos of Central and South America, finds a community in flux. The relaxation of restrictions both by the Americans and the Cubans themselves, has resulted in more and more people coming forward to reclaim a Jewish heritage, put on ice at the time of the revolution. A growing number of American Jews are now likely to visit. An exploration of the challenges and opportunities that the changes are now raising.
5. The origins and lesser-known history of the Jews of Russia. A contextual background to Brooks' latest book, a romantic thriller called Russian Dance. When and why did the Jews first come to Russia? Why do we hear so little about the Jews outside the Pale? Why some become captivated with the Bolshevik Revolution while others chose Zionism or emigration?
6. The unlikely tale of Amelia Bassano. All about the alluring and brilliant Conversa woman who became Shakespeare's Dark Lady and probably collaborated on his plays. How this might change our image of Shylock and what "Merchant of Venice" had really intended to tell us, based upon research and concepts she developed recently for a special lecture at Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT.
7. The Incredible story of Dona Gracia Nasi. This lecture will use new findings to tell the life story of Dona Gracia Nasi, a 16th century woman banker who developed an escape network that saved thousands of her fellow conversos (forcibly-converted Jews) from the terrors of the Inquisition. It will be based upon Brooks' award-winning biography of Nasi called The Woman Who Defied Kings. The lecture will also tell how the material was discovered. A standing (portable) exhibit is newly available to accompany the talk. A dedicated website covering further activities connected with the commemoration of Nasi is at: (donagraciaproject.org)
8. The Cradle of Jewish Life in Europe and the Birth of Ashkenaz. Jews first came to Europe in late antiquity. Where were the first places they settled? How and why did some of them originally drift north and when did this happen? What are the true origins of some common Ashkenazi customs? Can also be given as a two-part mini course.
9. The Jews in the Renaissance. Contrary to popular perception, the Jews were extremely active as musicians, artists and scientists during the Renaissance. Their involvement, however, is too often overlooked. This lecture will look at their contributions and daily life during those times. A possible mini course too.
10. On the Road with Jewish Merchants. Jews have been long-distance traders since ancient times. This lecture will look at their motivations and experiences through the ages. Also given as a possible mini-course tied to #15 - the various waves of migrations of Jews into China (see below) for different reasons at different times.
11. The (real) history of the Jewish Doctor. Why Jewish doctors became so sought-after among the monarchs of Europe and the Vatican from as early as the Middle Ages.
12. Five Hundred Years of Keeping a Secret: the Strange Story of the Conversos: What do we know about the Jews who ostensibly converted, staying on and taking their Judaism underground in Spain and Portugal after the expulsions and mass conversions of1492/6? Many kept their traditions over centuries. How their plight resonates today. A possible mini-course, too.
13. Jewish pirates of the Caribbean. Yes, the Jews were heavily involved in the pirate trade off Port Royal in the 17th century, too. What were their motives? What were their goals? A little-known but fascinating tale.
14. Jewish Women Challenging the World. Jewish women have been the innovators behind countless social, political and artistic endeavors throughout the 2,000 years since biblical times. We will explore a sampling from different fields of endeavor: from the Jewish women philosophers of ancient Alexandria, the conversa women of the Renaissance period, to the fiery revolutionaries whose voices affected hearts and minds during the chaotic politics of the early 20th century. A mini-course of 3-5 sessions.
15. Our DNA, our history. How DNA Studies and genealogical research is expanding our understanding of Jewish history and our own backgrounds. A talk based upon the most recent scientific studies and Brooks¡¦ current work in professional genealogy.
16. Magic, merchants and miracles. The 2,000 year-old history of the Moroccan Jews is filled with interesting tales; how they lived, their unique customs, such as pilgrimages to the tombs of their "saints" and their unique language and beliefs. This illustrated lecture will revisit their long journey from ancient to modern times.
17. Baruch Spinoza: bad boy of the Jewish world. The talk will offer an in-depth look at the family heritage, upbringing, life and ideas of the much reviled, yet brilliant, Dutch philosopher. What was the real story?
18. The unusual history of the Jews of China. Jews have been traveling to China and settling there since ancient times. Why did they go? Where did they settle? Why do we hear so little about them? A look at the story of four of these Chinese communities, all of which were developed for different reasons at different times in history.
19. Our Past: Ourselves. What was really behind the mass migrations of Jews to America at the turn of the 20th century? How have their experiences lingered in the attitudes of many American Jews today? This lecture will be based upon recent research that Brooks undertook for a noted American Jewish family. A possible mini-course, too.
20. Exploring the life and work of Spinoza; the renegade philosopher. Now that Spinoza has been rehabilitated by the Jewish world, this ex-communicated thinker from 17th century Amsterdam is again a topic of conversation.
21. Raising the Privileged Child.... and for teachers, school counselors, parents and grandparents: a talk based upon her award-winning book/workbooks originally seen on Oprah, "Children of Fast Track Parents." This book was also made into a PBS documentary that was nominated for an Emmy Award. That documentary is now newly-available for showing or sale.
*Topics can be customized for a particular audience. As mentioned, Brooks leads book group discussions and teaches mini-courses too.