Judith Laikin Elkin, Founding President of LAJSA

The entire LAJSA community was greatly saddened to hear of the death in January 2024 of Judith Laikin Elkin, the Founding President who created the association and served as president from its establishment in 1982 until 1995. We would like to extend our condolences to her family, especially her daughter Alissa Ruth Leonard and her four grandchildren Sarah, Talia, and Abigail Leonard and Sam Zisk. Judith was a pioneer in the field of Latin American Jewish Studies, especially in the English-speaking world. 

Born in 1928, Judith was the daughter of immigrants who arrived from Russia and Lithuania at the turn of the 20th century and settled in Detroit. Her parents were ardent Zionists and her first language was Yiddish. Judith earned her undergraduate degree in English from the University of Michigan (1948) before pursuing her master’s degree in international relations, which she would complete in 1950 at Columbia University. 

In 1952 Judith began her career as a U.S. Foreign Service Officer. She was the only woman in her class of twenty-four. Her experiences in the diplomatic corps would later provide the material for her first memoir, Krishna Smiled: Assignment in Southeast Asia (1972). In 1954, she received an invitation from Moshe Sharett, then Prime Minister of Israel, to join the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As a Zionist and an American, she had to make the crucial decision of whether her future homeland would be America or Israel. She declined Sharett’s offer.     

Judith decided to end her diplomatic career to start a family; at the time, female Foreign Service officers were required to be single. Her marriage to Sol Elkin lasted forty-seven years until his death. Before beginning doctoral studies, Judith was a free-lance journalist who wrote for two Detroit newspapers: the Free Press and the Reporter. After seeing her two daughters through their early childhood years, she decided to pursue a Ph.D. and began to explore the history of Jews in Latin America as a dissertation topic. 

Charles Gibson, the future President of the American Historical Association, advised her “not to haul bricks, but to build an edifice” and to view her future PhD thesis “not as a mere dissertation, but as a book.” Her Ph.D. in History from the University of Michigan was awarded in 1976. The book that emerged from her dissertation, entitled Jews of the Latin American Republics in its first edition, appeared in 1980. This volume was subsequently revised, with the most recent expanded and updated edition appearing in 2014 under the title The Jews of Latin America. In the words of Jonathan Sarna: “It remains the most influential English-language synthesis of the field.” 

Judith taught for many years at Albion College in Albion, Michigan and at various points in her career offered classes at Wayne State University, Ohio State University, and the University of Michigan. Yet by any reckoning, the most significant legacy of her postdoctoral career is her creation and nurturing of LAJSA. Longtime LAJSA members remember Judith’s laborious work compiling a directory of researchers and community leaders interested in Latin American Jewish topics. She then began mailing to these far-flung colleagues, for free, a print newsletter she published using a copier on her dining room table. Judith’s mailing list and bulletin would eventually provide the basis for LAJSA.     

During the early 1980s Judith kept hearing reports that students of Latin American Jewry were consistently being rejected when they sought to present their research at the congress of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA). After unsuccessfully seeking to persuade LASA to create a space for Jewish Studies, she resolved to establish the Latin American Jewish Studies Association as an autonomous association. It became an official organization in 1982. Judith’s association with our friends and colleagues in AMILAT, Israeli researchers of Latin American Jewish topics, started during her early visits to Israel. It resulted in the first joint international conference in the framework of the World Congress of Jewish Studies in 1985 and continued throughout her life. 

After concluding her term as President, Judith continued to be closely involved in LAJSA. She edited the newsletter for several more years and was a significant presence at LAJSA conferences well into her eighties. Judith devoted an enormous amount of time to maintaining personal contact with colleagues pursuing research on Latin American Jewish topics.  Even when they were well into mid-career and expected to fend for themselves in academia, she offered them encouragement and helpful suggestions. 

Late in life, Judith composed a second memoir, Walking Made My Path (2011). In its final chapter, she tells of the growth of LAJSA from its prehistory in her mailing list of colleagues up through the 2011 LAJSA International Conference held at Arizona State University. Readers of this essay will come to appreciate how intimately the story of LAJSA was intertwined with the unfolding of Judith’s life since completing her Ph.D. A revised version of the history of LAJSA is featured on our website. 

The week after Judith turned eighty-five, she participated in the 2013 International Research Conference of LAJSA, held at the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. This would be the last time that we all saw Judith in person. In her last decade, she continued to follow the association closely and remained in contact with longtime members. At the time of her death, she held a permanent post on the LAJSA Board of Directors.

We owe LAJSA’s existence to Judith. She organized researchers in this field of studies when there were few people pursuing it. She was a strong leader, setting guidelines as LAJSA developed its path forward. She was a historian who made history. We shall remember Judith affectionately as we continue to benefit from belonging to the association that she brought into being.

– Naomi Lindstrom and Nora Glickman, on behalf of the LAJSA Board


Many colleagues have conveyed to LAJSA their reminiscences of and tributes to Judith. They appear below. 



We would like to convey our condolences to the family of Judith Laikin Elkin and to the whole LAJSA community on behalf of AMILAT. We appreciate Judith’s important contribution to the incorporation of Latin American Jewish studies to the academic world, especially in the United States. The veterans among us remember her persistent struggle to create a network of scholars through the LAJSA bulletin that she edited with great personal effort, gradually making LAJSA as it is today. The friendship between Judith and AMILAT started during her early visits to Israel, that resulted in the first joint international conference in the framework of the World Congress of Jewish Studies in 1985, and continued throughout her life. We remember Judith with affection and appreciation.

Los compañeros de AMILAT expresamos nuestras condolencias a la familia de nuestra amiga Judith Laikin Elkin y a toda la comunidad de LAJSA. Siempre hemos valorado la importante contribución de Judith a la incorporación de los estudios sobre el judaísmo latinoamericano al mundo académico en general y especialmente al de los Estados Unidos. Los más veteranos entre nosotros recordamos su lucha constante en los comienzos para crear una red de investigadores por medio del boletín de LAJSA que editaba con gran esfuerzo personal y llevó a construir gradualmente lo que LAJSA es en el presente.

La amistad entre Judith y AMILAT comenzó durante sus primeras visitas a Israel, que condujeron a la realización del primer congreso conjunto en el marco del Congreso Mundial de Estudios Judaicos en 1985, cooperación que continuó durante toda su vida. Siempre la recordaremos con cariño y aprecio.


Sergio DellaPergola

I am sincerely saddened by the news of the departure of Dr. Judith Laikin Elkin.

Judith was for sure one of the main pioneers in the growing field of Latin American Jewish Studies, and shaped it in many ways conceptually as well as institutionally through LAJSA. I had many opportunities during the last 40 years to meet, exchange views, appreciate her large horizons and wide knowledge. She was a sort of Cristobal Colon, exploring new vistas and encouraging others to take part in the enterprise. Perhaps symbolically, one of our first conversations occurred at Columbus, Ohio.

She will be widely remembered and appreciated for what she did and she built.

Yehi Zichra Baruch,



Jonathan Sarna

Saddened to learn of the passing of my friend Prof. Judith Laikin Elkin. I first met her at the American Jewish Archives in the 1970s and watched in admiration as she nurtured the field of Latin American Jewish Studies, which was her passion. Her book

THE JEWS OF LATIN AMERICA remains the most influential English-language synthesis of the field. Prof. Elkin nurtured scholarship in Latin American Jewish Studies and as founding head of LAJSA was among the field’s best-known academics. In her eighties, she published another memoir, WALKING MADE MY PATH (2011). 


Alicia Borinsky

May her memory be for an eternal blessing!


Ariel Dulitzky

I am so sorry to hear about her passing. 


Stephen A. Sadow

Judith’s death hit me hard. I first met her at a pre-LAJSA planning meeting, in 1982, with Jacob Rader Marcus and, if I remember correctly, Edna Aizenberg. That meeting led me to be a founding member of LAJSA. Later in 1982. Judith asked me to write an article for the issue of American Jewish Archives, that she guest edited. It became my first publication on Latin American Jewish literature. She introduced me to Jacobo Kovadloff, who became an important figure in my life. Later on, whenever she was in Boston to visit her daughter, she would call me, out of the blue, and we would chat for an hour. I will miss her persistence and her quick wit.


Alicia Borinsky

May her memory be a blessing!


Judith Riquelme Ríos

Lamento profundamente recibir la triste noticia sobre el fallecimiento de la Dra. Judith Laikin Elkin.


Yael Halevi-Wise

Wow, almost a whole century of a productive life full of kindness and courage that set so much of the foundation for Latin American Jewish studies.


Sonia Bloomfield

Que triste, ela sempre terá um lugar no meu coração. Baruch Dayan HaEmet.


Sandra McGee Deutsch

I am so sorry to hear that Judith Laikin Elkin, our founding president, has passed away.   She was a pioneer in Latin American

Jewish Studies and a mentor for many of us. She also was a pioneering woman scholar, in Latin American history as well as Latin American Jewish Studies.  I admired and learned much from her, and I will miss her very much.



María Gabriela Mizraje

Impacto, recuerdos y tristeza con esta última noticia que nos compartiste. Bendita sea la memoria de Judith Laikin Elkin. Demos gracias por su larga vida y por todo lo que nos dejó.


Merrie Blocker

I am the creator of the blog  which relates the history of Baron Hirsch’s  projects and the stories of the descendants of the people he aided.  This blog would not exist if it were not for Judith Elkin. 

In 1984 or 85 while serving as the director of the US Cultural Center in Buenos Aires I met Judith who took me to the Baron-sponsored colony of Moisesville  and introduced  me to the history of this fascinating philanthropist. I then went on to translate a novel by one of the immigrants to a Hirsch colony in Brazil and am spending the rest of my life researching and writing about the hundreds of projects the Baron’s wealth made possible.  

Thank you, Judith.  


Alicia Gojman de Backal

Mi más sentido pésame por la partida de Judith Laikin Elkin.

Una persona increíble. Z”L


Saúl Sosnowski

Si LAJSA existe se lo debemos a Judith.  Ella impuso la presencia de este campo de estudios cuando éramos pocos quienes lo estaban definiendo.  Con la fuerza y la voluntad de caudilla que la caracterizaba, fue marcando pautas, integrando a reacios a asumir un papel directivos y negociando con aquellos que proponían rumbos ajenos a la voluntad de la mayoría.

Judith era historiadora e hizo historia.  Todo homenaje que le rindamos será poco.  Creó memoria y fundó esta institución que nos congrega. Z”L.



Anita E. Weinstein

Con mucha tristeza envío mis condolencias, aunque tardías, a los familiares de Judith. Tuve el honor de compartir con ella reflexiones, encuentros y conversaciones personales. Una mujer brillante q abrió el camino y posicionó a los estudios sobre los judios en America Latina en toda su extensión. Siempre será reconocida por ello. ZL. 


Jeffrey Lesser

It is rare that a single book creates an entire field of scholarship. Yet Judith Laikin Elkin’s Jews of the Latin American Republics (The University of North Carolina Press, 1980) did just that. Without a doubt, Judith Elkin transformed Jewish-Latin American Studies into an accepted “field” of inquiry in disciplines like history, literature, and cultural studies.    

I first met Judith via the postal service when I was during my graduate studies. The late, great Anani Dzidienyo, my first mentor in Brazilian Studies, was pushing me to think about comparative ethnic relations and had heard about the first LAJSA conference. When I wrote Judith, she generously sent me copies of all the papers (this was back in the days when “sending copies” meant paying for Xerox and postage). I still remember that package showing up in my mailbox and the black binder with those papers still sits next to my desk. That package was more than one of content.  Judith was taking an important step in breaking down generational hierarchies and her generosity, even with a punk like me, is an approach still too rarely found among academics. Judith was doing more than being nice to me, she was teaching me that supporting early career scholars would keep a field alive. 

Many of the lessons that I now teach to my own students emerge from being one of Judith Elkin’s academic progeny. It is an honor for me to have this opportunity to publicly say Muito Obrigado. 


Angelina Muñiz-Huberman

Mis sentidas condolencias por el fallecimiento de Judith Laikin Elkin, una gran persona fundamental para LAJSA. La recuerdo con afecto.

Dara E. Goldman (1971-2022)

Dara E. Goldman, Associate Professor in the Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese and Director of the Program in Jewish Studies and Culture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, passed away unexpectedly on May 13, 2022 at the age of 51. She was preparing to travel to a gathering of the American Jewish Historical Society at Tulane University the following day.  One of the members of the planning committee for the AJHS meeting, dedicated to the theme of “Building Bridges in the Americas,” Dr. Goldman was also scheduled to present a paper titled “Goulash and Plátanos: Sosua and the Myth of Dominican Whiteness” which in typical fashion addressed her passionate interests in Caribbean, Jewish, Latin American, and race studies.  Dara was also putting together a special issue of Shofar on Jewishness and the Caribbean, based on a symposium she had co-organized at UIUC in 2021.

Professor Goldman earned a B.A. in Latin American Studies (1992) and M.A. in Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages (1994) at Columbia University. At Emory University she received her Ph.D. in Spanish in 2000 with a dissertation titled “Lost and Found: Insularity and the Construction of Subjectivity in Hispanic Caribbean Literature,” directed by Prof. Carlos J. Alonso.  Now Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and Morris A. and Alma Schapiro Professor in the Humanities at Columbia, Dr. Alonso recalls that “Dara’s dissertation was an attempt to underscore an overarching coherence to the field of Caribbean Studies, a difficult undertaking given the linguistic, geographic, and colonial historical differences among the countries and areas it encompasses.  Dara’s powerful proposal was to argue that the trope of insularity itself, in all its enabling and contradictory permutations, was the rhetorical scaffolding that might transcend all those divergences while respecting their idiosyncrasies. That dissertation was later turned into Out of Bounds: Islands and the Demarcation of Identity in the Hispanic Caribbean (2008), a book that is still a touchstone for any scholar who engages the Caribbean as a cultural matrix.”

Besides helming the Program in Jewish Studies and Culture since 2018, Dara also served twice at UIUC as Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Center/Lemann Institute for Brazilian Studies, from 2005-2006 & 2011-2015. The recipient of numerous fellowships and research grants during her time at UIUC, she most recently was honored with the 2022 Alumna Achievement Award at Columbia University. 

Dara co-edited a special issue of American Literary History on “Twenty-First Century Jewish Writing and the World” and published numerous scholarly essays in edited volumes and journals in both English and Spanish. Caribbeanist colleagues such as Prof. Sarah Casteel (Carleton University, Canada) and I wish to emphasize the unique role Dara played in opening up the nascent field of Caribbean Jewish studies and defining that field as not just the domain of historians but also of scholars of literature and culture, and one that stretched from the early modern period to the present. This crucial role was on full display in the 2021 symposium “Next Year in the Caribbean,” organized by the Program in Jewish Culture & Society at UIUC  In her own presentation for that event, Goldman offered a rich analysis of Oskar Pinis’ 1931 Cuban Yiddish poem “Hatuey” and its recent operatic adaptation. Through her reading of a Yiddish epic devoted to an Indigenous Taíno leader and recited by Cuban schoolchildren in its Spanish translation, Goldman showed the need to recover Jewish presences in Cuban literary history and national narrative. More broadly, through the symposium, Goldman and her co-organizer Dana Rabin provided a space for highlighting the Caribbean as an incubator of the convergence of Jewishness and Afro-Creole cultures.

The Cuban-American writer and translator Achy Obejas, whom Goldman had recently profiled for the Shalvi/Hyman Encyclopedia of Jewish Women, said of Dara, “She was lovely, brilliant and sensitive. I’ve always been so grateful to her for her vision, her curiosity, her manner of seeing the world. She revealed aspects of my own work to me that even I had not seen. This is an immense loss; it leaves a very large emptiness.”

The Professor Dara E. Goldman Memorial Fund has been established at UIUC in her name:

LAJSA lamenta el fallecimiento de la distinguida poeta, traductora literaria e historiadora Gloria Gervitz:

LAJSA lamenta el fallecimiento del escritor Sergio Chejfec a los 65 años en Nueva York.

LAJSA Remembers David William Foster

David William Foster, the distinguished and collegial scholar who served as President of LAJSA from 2006-2009, died on June 24, 2020 in Phoenix.  At the time of his death, he was Regents’ Professor of Spanish and Women and Gender Studies at Arizona State University, where he had taught since 1966, and was serving as Faculty Head of Spanish and Portuguese. He was also the longtime editor of the journal Chasqui: Revista de Literatura Latinoamericana.

David was born in Seattle on September 11, 1940, and held his BA, MA, and PhD from the University of Washington. His first post, 1964-1966, was at the University of Missouri at Columbia. During his lengthy tenure at ASU, he served as visiting professor at numerous universities in the United States and Latin America. He was an enormously prolific researcher, having published over one hundred books either as sole author, editor, or co-editor. While he first emerged as a student of peninsular literature and seemed to be heading toward a career as a medievalist, after a Fulbright to Argentina he transformed himself into a Latinamericanist and dedicated most of his efforts to the study and teaching of Argentine and Brazilian cultural production.

While David’s extensive research covered many fields, beginning with the 1991 publication of his pioneering Gay and Lesbian Themes in Latin American Writing he became best known as a leading figure in LGBTQ studies of Latin American writing and other cultural forms. He always spent a good deal of time talking with his students and former students, and he may well have been drawn into Jewish Studies by certain of his disciples who were enthusiastic about this area of research. The critical anthology that he coordinated, Latin American Jewish Cultural Production (2009) testifies to his eagerness to collaborate with scholars of Latin American Jewish culture. In his own work, David took a special interest in Jewish playwrights and photographers and taught several courses on Latin American Jewish topics, including an NEH Summer Seminar in Buenos Aires. He joined LAJSA early on and was a loyal member, participating in LAJSA conferences and related events. He was the primary organizer of two LAJSA International Research Conferences, the 2007 one held at the Biblioteca Nacional in Buenos Aires and the 2011 one at ASU.

Over his lengthy career, David directed many dissertations, including those of several lajserxs. He founded ASU’s doctoral program in Spanish and Portuguese and served for lengthy stretches as graduate advisor. In 1989, he received the annual award for Outstanding Graduate Mentor from the Graduate College at ASU. As word of his death spread, numerous scholars who had never been official students of David’s or attended ASU expressed on social media how much they valued the advice and encouragement that they had received from him.

At LAJSA, David will long be remembered not only for his scholarship, but for his leadership of the association, for his enthusiasm, and for his generous and sagacious mentorship and collegiality.

We are pained and sorrowed over the passing of our friend and colleague Edna Aizenberg, z”l. Edna was one of the original members of LAJSA when it was formed in 1982 and since that time was a stalwart supporter of and contributor to the mission of the association. Together with Raanan Rein, she was the immediate past co-president of LAJSA, leading the organization with dedication and vision. Edna, who received her PhD at Columbia University and taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Marymount Manhattan College, was a brilliant scholar of Latin American Jewish literature; her many publications include Books and Bombs in Buenos Aires: Borges, Gerchunoff, and Argentine-Jewish Writing (2002), On the Edge of the Holocaust: The Shoah in Latin American Literature and Culture  (2015), Parricide on the Pampa?: A New Study and Translation of Alberto Gerchunoff’s Los gauchos judíos (2000; 2015), in addition to numerous other publications in the form of edited books and critical articles. She was also a preeminent scholar on the work of Jorge Luis Borges; her publications in this field include The Aleph Weaver: Biblical, Kabbalistic, and Judaic Elements in Borges (1984) and the edited volume of essays Borges and His Successors: The Borgesian Impact on Literature and the Arts (1990). Her significant contributions in these areas, and more, have made a profound impact. She leaves behind a legacy that will continue to influence the work we do in LAJSA for many generations to come. Her work and her presence among us will be sorely missed by all.

Darrell B. Lockhart and Adriana M. Brodsky (co-presidents) and all the members of LAJSA.

El lunes 30 de abril falleció nuestro querido amigo Mordechai Arbell (Varsano) a los 86 años. Era hijo de la comunidad sefaradí de Bulgaria. En su vida desarrolló múltiples actividades que reflejaron su carácter multifacético.

En la época en la que sirvió como embajador de Israel en Centroamérica y las islas del Caribe se especializó en la dispersión de las colectividades sefardíes en esa zona y se convirtió en uno de los expertos en el tema, sobre el que escribió: The Jewish Nation of the Caribbean – The Spanish-Portuguese Settlements in the Caribbean and the Guianas (2002). Asimismo organizó una exhibición sobre este tema en la Casa de las Diásporas en Tel Aviv, de la que fue curador.

Su interés por los sellos de correo se vio reflejado en su libro sobre los judíos en la filatelia.

Su reconocimiento como historiador se vio reflejado en las múltiples invitaciones que recibió para participar en congresos y dictar conferencias en sus temas de especialidad y en su nombramiento como investigador asociado del Instituto Ben Zvi.

Mordechai fue durante muchos años asesor del Congreso Judío Mundial y uno de los promotores y dirigentes del Israel Council on Foreign Relations.

Durante décadas fue un activo miembro de la Asociación para la Promoción de la Investigación del Judaísmo Latinoamericano y un cercano amigo de AMILAT. Participó en la Sección de América Latina organizada por AMILAT en varios de los congresos de la Unión Mundial de Ciencias Judaicas en Jerusalem. Sus artículos enriquecen varios de los volúmenes de Judaica Latinoamericana.

Su bendita memoria perdurará en el recuerdo de muchos.

Efraim Zadoff

En nombre de AMILAT (Asociación Israelí de Investigadores de Judaísmo Latinoamericano), informo con honda pena el fallecimiento de nuestro compañero Moshé Nes El, el jueves 13 de noviembre, tras una penosa enfermedad.

Nacido en Chile en 1932, Moshé Nes El z”l se estableció en Israel en 1955. Estudió Historia General, Historia Judía y Judaísmo Contemporáneo en la Universidad Hebrea de Jerusalem, donde obtuvo su doctorado en el 2000. Sus investigaciones se concentraron en la historia de los judíos en Chile. Fue socio fundador de AMILAT, y fundador y primer presidente de la Asociación Israelí para la Investigación del Judaísmo Latinoamericano.

Florinda Goldberg

Una noticia sobre el fallecimiento de la actriz argentina, Cipe Lincovsky, que puede interesar a los miembros de LAJSA: