Rabbi Gary P. Zola, Ph.D. Delivered Featured Address at Chautauqua Institute’s 2021 Interfaith Lecture Series

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Zola addressed issues on the “Evolving Religious Narrative of America”

On Wednesday, July 21, 2021, Rabbi Gary P. Zola, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives and the Edward M. Ackerman Family Distinguished Professor of the American Jewish Experience & Reform Jewish History at HUC-JIR, was presented as the featured speaker at the Chautauqua Institute’s Interfaith Lecture Series. The event was held in the Institution’s renowned Amphitheater in Chautauqua, New York, during the fourth week of the nine-week summer lecture series. The Interfaith Lecture Series is designed to present issues that impact the lived experience of everyday life from theological, religious, spiritual, ethical, and humanitarian perspectives. The video of Dr. Zola’s presentation can be accessed HERE and below.

Dr. Zola

Dr. Zola’s presentation, “American Exceptionalism vs. American Jewish Exceptionalism: Actualizing Freedom in U.S. History”, delved into issues pertaining to the historic accuracy of the national narrative that America was founded on ethical principles. Dr. Zola explored how that narrative, which includes the moral imperative of justice for all, has been lived out historically. “In looking at this question through the lens of American history, and then more specifically through American Jewish history, we can see by studying historical documents and records that the expansion of civil rights—and of liberty, equality and the pursuit of happiness in America—became a focused pursuit and thus a significant contribution of America’s Jewish community to the nation,” said Dr. Zola. “Throughout its history, American Jews dedicated themselves to ensuring that the statements and promises made in America’s founding documents and the ethical principles enshrined in the Constitution were elevated, respected, and honored.”

Dr. Zola was one of several world-renowned experts who came to the Chautauqua Institution during the week-long series. “It was both an exhilarating and humbling experience,” said Zola. “It was at the Chautauqua Institution Amphitheater that four sitting American presidents—Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Bill Clinton—spoke, among many other cultural, educational, religious and political luminaries. To have had this opportunity to participate in this series with my esteemed colleagues and thought leaders from around the country was an experience that will remain with me always.”

Dr. Zola is a widely published scholarly and contemporary author—with numerous articles appearing in many scholarly and national media publications. He is the author of “We Called Him Rabbi Abraham: Lincoln and American Jewry, A Documentary History” (Southern Illinois University Press, 2014)and he has co-edited with Marc Dollinger a volume titled, “American Jewish History: A Source Reader” (Brandeis University Press, 2014). He also serves as editor of The Marcus Center’s award-winning, semi-annual publication, “The American Jewish Archives Journal”.

Dr. Zola served the nation as a member of the Commission for the Preservation of American Heritage Abroad from 2011-2019. He was also the only rabbi and American Jewish historian to be appointed to the national Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission’s Advisory Council, spearheading Lincoln observances leading up to the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth — February 12, 2009. Additionally, Zola served as the national chair of the Commission for Commemorating the 350 Years of American Jewish History, which was organized to help our nation mark the 350th anniversary of Jewish communal life in North America (1654-2004).

The Chautauqua Institution

The Chautauqua Institution is a not-for-profit, 750-acre educational center beside Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York State, where approximately 7,500 persons are in residence on any day during a nine-week season, and a total of over 100,000 attend scheduled public events. Over 8,000 students enroll annually in the Chautauqua Summer Schools which offer courses in art, music, dance, theater, writing skills, and a wide variety of special interests.


The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, founded in 1947 by its namesake on the historic campus of the Hebrew Union College‐Jewish Institute of Religion, is committed to preserving a documentary heritage of the religious, organizational, economic, cultural, personal, social and family life of American Jewry. The Marcus Center contains over 15,000 linear feet of archives, manuscripts, nearprint materials, photographs, audio and videotapes, microfilm, and genealogical materials.

MEDIA: For more information or to arrange for an interview, please contact Joyce Kamen at 513.543.8109.