Richard Menkis

Associate Professor

Relevant Degree Programs

 

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision (Jan 2008 - Mar 2019)
If you wrong us, shall we not revenge? daring entertainment to challenge ideologies of the Arab-Israeli conflict (2014)

Can entertainment challenge the ideologies that contribute to violent conflict, mass atrocities and genocide? This study explores audience responses to entertainment created for this purpose. Theoretical approaches including those of narrative persuasion, theatre for development, applied theatre, and genocide studies suggest that such a production – if sufficiently transportive – would encourage audiences to reconsider their views.This study developed a theoretical approach to creating Ideologically Challenging Entertainment (ICE). (‘Entertainment’ defined as narratives that audiences consider engaging, interesting, and ‘transportive’ as described in narrative persuasion literature). It focused on mainstream theatrical approaches while presenting multiple perspectives, using an adaptation of The Merchant of Venice, (Two Merchants) aimed at confronting some of the ideological underpinnings of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, including antisemitism and Islamophobia. Each performance included two versions of the adaptation: a Jewish dominated society with an Arab Muslim minority, contrasted with an Arab Muslim dominated society and a Jewish minority. A mixed-methods study of audience responses explored whether this production inspired audiences to shift their ideological views to become more tolerant of differences, and more aware of the ideological persecution that contributes to violent conflict. The results support the hypothesis that entertainment can challenge ideologies and inspire the moral imagination. Of audience members who did not initially agree with the premise of the production, 40% reconsidered their ideological views, indicating increased tolerance, greater awareness of their prejudices and recognition of the persecution faced by others. In addition, 86% of the audience expressed their intention to discuss the production with others, thereby encouraging critical engagement with, and broader dissemination of the material. Perceptions of the production as ‘high quality’ and ‘entertaining’ were the primary factor associated with changing ideological views. Furthermore, qualitative responses offered insight into aspects of inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations in Canada. The research also contributed to the refinement of audience response research methods in mixed-methods studies. These outcomes suggest that high quality entertainment – as defined by audience responses to it - can become a powerful tool in the struggle against the ideologies of hate and fear that contribute to prejudice, discrimination, violent conflict, atrocities and genocide.

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Master's Student Supervision (2010-2017)
The autobiography of Esther Shechter : Yiddish print culture in Winnipeg in transnational context (2014)

This thesis considers the Yiddish book, Di geshikhte fun mayn lebn [My life story] by Esther Shechter (1867-1953), published in Winnipeg in 1951. Its central text, initially written for the YIVO Institute of Jewish Research autobiography contest of 1942, is a memoir of the author’s early life and immigration to Canada. In considering this work, questions of authorship and the production of the text are explored. Jewish traditions of life writing and Yiddish secular culture specifically are the terrain from which this work grows. Shechter is found to have a strong commitment to the act of reading and to self-education, and to the creation of a modern Jewish identity which combines Jewish cultural and historical knowledge with awareness of and involvement in non-Jewish political life. This is evidenced through her passionate connection to newspapers and print culture, her involvement in Yiddish secular education, and her expressed and implicit reasons for writing her memoir. Her work comments on women’s activities and roles in ways that anticipate later feminist thought.Born in Ukraine and arriving in Canada in 1905, Shechter considers her autobiography a contribution to the historical record of Jewish immigration to Western Canada. Like many single-book memoir writers, she sees herself primarily as a consumer of and audience for culture. The self-publication of her memoir is therefore not primarily an act of artistic or aesthetic expression but a social undertaking in keeping with her values: engagement with civic life, the maintenance of Jewish and Yiddish cultural literacy, and the creation of the self through reading, learning, and writing. Her work arises from transnational Yiddish culture, and in turn seeks to enrich that culture.

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"Wanderers Yesterday--Americans Today" : Jewish humanitarian agencies and the Americanization of displaced persons, 1945-1955 (2012)

In the immediate post-World War II period, from 1945 to about 1955, more than 650,000 Jewish displaced persons (DPs) left European DP camps and immigrated to the United States. Guided by American Jewish humanitarian agencies, these DPs undertook the process of acculturating to American life. Under the 1945 Truman Directive, many of these organizations acted as sponsoring agencies for DPs and were required to guarantee that DPs would receive transportation, housing, employment, and would not become a “public charge.” Beyond these four specific guarantees, humanitarian organizations also partnered with the US government to turn DPs into naturalized US citizens. At the same time, American Jewish humanitarian agencies took advantage of the opportunity to engage the American Jewish community by fundraising and calling for volunteers. In addition to providing English and citizenship classes, as well as job training to help “new Americans” become acculturated citizens, humanitarian agencies provided space for DPs to develop an American Jewish identity. This paper examines five American Jewish humanitarian agencies that assisted in the acculturation and Americanization of DPs in New York City during this period: the United Service for New Americans, the European-Jewish Children’s Aid, the Educational Alliance, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the Organization for Rehabilitation through Training. Each participated in the dual project of creating American citizens out of former DPs and also in strengthening the American Jewish community through their acculturation. This paper contributes to the growing trend towards transnational studies of the Holocaust, and places post-World War II Jewish immigration in the longer history of European Jewish immigration to the US.

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"One shudders to think what might happen to German Jewry" : Vancouver newspapers and Canadian attitudes towards Nazi antisemitism, 1933-1935 (2011)

This thesis explores the attitudes and responses of Canadians to the Nazis’ antisemitism during the early years of the Third Reich, using Vancouver and the Vancouver press as a point of focus. In addition to providing greater understanding of the public response to Nazi Germany during this period, this research also carries larger implications regarding how attitudes towards the Third Reich may reflect broader notions of Canadian identity and Canadian Jewish identity. In particular, this study demonstrates that responses to Nazi Germany were fundamentally shaped by Canada’s longstanding ties to Great Britain. Vancouverites shaped their response to the Nazis from a pro-British, anti-fascist standpoint, rejecting the Nazis’ antisemitism as symbolic of the barbarity of fascism itself. Because their condemnation stemmed from this anti-fascist position, Vancouverites did not have to reconcile their opposition to the Nazis with their own racism. Vancouver Jewry, however, were forced to lead a schizophrenic existence, caught between their ethnic obligations and their identity as Canadian citizens. Within the community, Canadian Jews expressed fears about the pervasive antisemitism in Canada and upheld the persecution of their brethren in Nazi Germany as a possible portent of their own future; outwardly, though, Canadian Jewry expressed a confident Canadianness and ignored the problem of domestic antisemitism, ensuring that their appeals for public and government support were visibly rooted in an obligation to intervene in Germany not as Jews, but as Canadians defending basic democratic principles.

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