Weitzman Book Club: Most Fortunate Unfortunates with Dr Jonathan Sarna and Marlene Trestman

Tuesday, Apr 9, 2024

Tuesday, April 9
5:55 pm ET Virtual Doors | 6:00 pm ET Program 

Live on Zoom
Free with Suggested $12 Donation

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Recording coming soon.

The Weitzman welcomes you to a virtual book talk featuring author Marlene Trestman and her latest work, Most Fortunate Unfortunates: The Jewish Orphans’ Home of New Orleans, the first comprehensive history of the nation’s earliest purpose-built Jewish orphanage. As we approach Passover, when seder questions posed by children guide our understanding of Jewish values, this conversation will explore — through the lens of the Home in New Orleans — the once-central role of orphanages in American Jewish history and the lessons to be drawn from them today.

The conversation will be moderated by Dr. Jonathan D. Sarna, University Professor and the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and the Weitzman’s Chief Historian.

Based on deep archival research and numerous interviews of alumni and their descendants, Most Fortunate Unfortunates provides a view of life in the Jewish Orphans’ Home of New Orleans for the 1623 children and 24 widows who lived there, from pre-Civil War years through World War II. The work also traces the forces that impelled the Home’s founders and leaders to create and maintain the institution that Jews considered the “pride of every Southern Israelite.” While Trestman celebrates the Home’s many triumphs, she also delves deeply into its shortcomings.

Orphaned at age 11, Marlene Trestman grew up in New Orleans as a foster care client of the Jewish Children’s Regional Service, the successor to the Jewish Orphans’ Home, and graduated from the Isidore Newman School, which the Home founded. A former special assistant to Maryland’s Attorney General, Trestman’s first book was the biography of her mentor, who grew up in the Home: Fair Labor Lawyer: The Remarkable Life of New Deal Attorney and Supreme Court Advocate Bessie Margolin (LSU Press 2016). Trestman lives in Baltimore and enjoys frequent visits to New Orleans where she co-curated an exhibit about the Home for the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience. For more information about Trestman and the Home, visit www.marlenetrestman.com

Dr. Jonathan D. Sarna is the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History, and Director at the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University. In 2018, he resigned as chair of the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program after more than a decade of leadership. He is past president of the Association for Jewish Studies and Chief Historian of the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. Dubbed by the Forward newspaper in 2004 as one of America’s fifty most influential American Jews, he was Chief Historian for the 350th commemoration of the American Jewish community, and is recognized as a leading commentator on American Jewish history, religion, and life. In 2009, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Dr. Sarna has written, edited, or co-edited more than thirty books, including Lincoln and the Jews: A History (with Benjamin Shapell) and When General Grant Expelled the Jews. He is best known for the acclaimed American Judaism: A History. Winner of the Jewish Book Council’s “Jewish Book of the Year Award” in 2004, it has been praised as being “the single best description of American Judaism during its 350 years on American soil.” 

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Live at The Weitzman
101 South Independence Mall East (Corner of 5th & Market)
Philadelphia, PA 19106