Fourth event of the Astaire Seminar Series in Jewish Studies ‘Jews, movement, migration, location’, 9 May 2017, Durham University

9 May 2017, University of Durham

Elad Lapidot (Freie Universität Berlin), Deterritorialized Immigrant: The Talmudic Ger as a Cross-Border Figure

Ilan Baron (University of Durham), The International Cultural Politics of Israeli Cuisine

Elad Lapidot Ger is a non-Jew who becomes a Jew – a convert or more literality a proselyte, a new-comer. As such, the ger is a Jewish cross-border figure, the immigrant. In my talk I will reflect on the cross-border performance of the ger in the basic rabbinic text, the Talmud. Through several readings, I will look at ways in which the ger opens up inside the Talmudic texture a space of reflection on the borders – and core – of the rabbinic socio-political project, i.e. ‘Israel’. The immigrant ger, initially an outsider, will be unveiled as a paradigm of the rabbinic subject. The guiding question will concern the nature of the space in which the cross-border event of the ger takes place, namely the topo-logy of rabbinic Israel. The basic observation will be the shift from the highly territorial narrative of the biblical text to deterritorialized Talmud. The Talmudic ger will emerge as a pivotal figure for thinking borders, immigration and place in conditions of deterritorialization.

Ilan Baron In the past four years, at least sixteen Israeli cookbooks have been published in English. By itself, this is not an especially interesting number, but considering that prior to 2012 I have been able to identity only ten English-language Israeli cookbooks (excluding local community cookbooks with “Israeli” recipes), this increase provides an opportunity to explore the international cultural politics of the Jewish State. The cookbooks reflect the movements and migrations of Jews, of the various locations that have come to contribute to Jewish culture and which are manifest in the diverse array of foods that in these books have come to be described as “Israeli”.  This article explores the narratives produced in these Israeli cookbooks, suggesting that they provide a particular normative story about Israel’s history, identity, and values that is of relevance both for the Israelization of Diaspora Jewish identity and for how the idea of Israel is (re)produced as a cultural good for international consumption. Using contemporary political theory, and building on the hermeneutic and phenomenological traditions in continental philosophy, this articles provides a critique of the normative narratives produced in these cookbooks.

‘Narrative Spaces’ Colloquium at Glasgow University

On Sunday April 23rd and Monday 24th  we were delighted to host a project colloquium, allowing us the chance to set some of the research themes and questions raised so far within a wider cultural and historical scholarly context. The colloquium, entitled Narrative Spaces in Scottish Jewish Culture: A Comparative Perspective, took place at Glasgow University and proved to be a stimulating and thought-provoking couple of days. Seven two-paper sessions covered an impressive range, usefully extending the original ‘Scottish’ brief to other non-English Jewish identities: refugee domestic service; Irish sectarianism and antisemitism; Kindertransport narratives; archival questions; the Polish-born painter Joseph Herman; the Glasgow Jewish Institute Players; Welsh Jewish and Irish Jewish writing; Yorkshire Zionist industrialists; Scottish Zionism and the implications of Aliyah; Jewish film from Wales; Glasgow’s 1951 Jewish Arts Festival; refugee stories from Garnethill; and the changing landscape of Welsh synagogues. Each speaker had the chance to offer their reflections (often in some depth) upon connections and contrasts between their own paper and that of their panel partner’s, before discussion was opened up to the floor. Given that the meeting included scholars with backgrounds in history, cultural studies, Jewish studies, creative writing, theatre studies, languages and literature, the animated exchanges which took up the final third of each panel session were notable for their breadth of perspective and expertise. Nevertheless, there was also an encouraging amount of interdisciplinary connection, which surely bodes well for future lines of enquiry.

Joseph Herman, ‘Refugees’ (1941)

Whilst many of the papers explored a particular aspect of Scottish, Welsh or Irish Jewish culture or cultural production, many also took care to locate themselves within a wider frame of Jewish identity/identities and national narrative discourses. Paul Maloney and Adrienne Scullion, for example, showed how Avrom Greenbaum and the Jewish Institute Players manipulated elements of both Scottish and Jewish cultural vernacular in order to articulate and question a certain version of diasporic consciousness, one particular to the historical conditions of pre-war Jewish Glasgow. Ruth Gilbert analysed the ways in which Irish Jewish writers have used Jewishness as a means of disrupting and problematising narratives of Irishness, whilst at the same time often placing these processes within more conventional literary structures. Phyllis Lassner eloquently explored the restless and complex imagery of Joseph Herman’s refugee depictions, uncovering layers of unresolved meanings which address the experience of wartime refugee identity specifically, and the state of diaspora more generally. And Gavin Schaffer probed the ambiguities of Scottish Jews’ relationship to Israel, unpacking the ambiguous meanings and historical changes underpinning British financial and ideological support, whilst simultaneously critically examining the relatively small numbers of Scotland’s citizens who actually choose to emigrate there.

These are just a few of the fascinating discussions which took place. The project team are looking into the possibility of an edited collection of some of this work, so watch this space…

Teacher Training Event at the SJAC run by the Holocaust Educational Trust

by Hannah Holtschneider

On 4 April, Mia and I offered a session on the use of survivor testimony in the classroom at a teacher training event run by the Holocaust Educational Trust at the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre.

We were lucky to work with an engaged and well-informed group of teachers. Faced with technical difficulties – playing our carefully chosen video clips of survivor testimony was a challenge – we quickly changed format and ran the session as an interactive workshop. The teachers present contributed their experiences of working with survivor testimony in their classrooms, the difficulties in presenting life stories focused on years of persecution and loss of family members, and their efforts to contextualise the testimony in the history they were teaching. Tom Jackson and Catrina Kirkland, representing HET, contributed their insights on working with a stable group of survivors who offer their testimony in school classrooms on a regular basis.

51rM2Bxcax9L._SY344_BO1204203200_These reflections from the coalface of teaching opened the door for Mia and I to think together about the changing expectations audiences bring to survivors, the rise of interest in survivors, the challenges of listening to testimony, and the aim of being in conversation with survivors as persons whose life extends beyond the years of the Holocaust. Hank Greenspan’s work On Listening to Holocaust Survivors which explores the challenges of listening was the basis of our presentation. Oscillating between the valorisation of survivors as heroes and the understanding that survivors represent our greatest fears and anxieties, we considered ways of ‘humanising’ or ‘normalising’ survivors, so that we are able to relate to their whole life story.

Our discussion concluded with a consideration of four different formats of accessing survivor narratives each gaining public attention at a different time:

Hannah Bloch Kohner’s appearance on This is your life in 1953 brought an encounter with a Holocaust survivor to a mass audience via an entertainment chat show.

The 1980s saw choreographed Holocaust testimony gathered for educational reasons and as a collection of oral history resources.

Closer to home and closer in time, the video testimony of Dorrith Sim forged a connection to the Scottish context in which the workshop attendees work. There was a desire for more local resources for teaching, particularly if these could be made available within the SJAC.

Finally, we broached the question of the future of testimony at a time when the last survivors are dying. The Forever Project seeks to make the interactive nature of hearing a survivor speak accessible to future generations through 3D imaging technology. The discussion following the introduction of this project was lively and minds were split as to whether a ‘3D survivor’ is a helpful educational tool or whether this attempt at keeping ‘live’ representations of survivors present is manipulating and thereby perhaps more likely to close down learning opportunities.

Third event of the Astaire Seminar Series in Jewish Studies ‘Jews, movement, migration, location’, 26 April 2017, University of St Andrews

Co-sponsored by USTC and the School of History

Venue: Old Class Library, School of History, 69 South Street, St Andrews
Time: 2-4pm

Adam Shear (University of Pittsburgh), Jews and their Books on the Move in Early Modern Europe

Emily Finer (University of St Andrews), Jewish Migration and Metamorphosis in Early Soviet Fiction

Adam Shear is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and History and Director of the Program in Jewish Studies at the University of Pittsburgh where he has taught since 2001. His 2008 book The Kuzari and the Shaping of Jewish Identity, 1167-1900 (Cambridge University Press) was awarded a National Jewish Book Award for Scholarship and the Morris D. Forkosch Prize from the Journal of the History of Ideas for the best first book in intellectual history.

The early modern period in European and Mediterranean history is often seen as a period of increased mobility of people.  The rise of print is also seen as a distinctive element of early modernity.  In Jewish history, these two factors have been cited by many historians as key aspects of the early modern Jewish experience, most recently by David Ruderman in his Early Modern Jewry: A New Cultural History (Princeton, 2011). Although historians of migration and historians of the book have paid due diligence to the relationships between the two factors, this talk will more explicitly analyze the ways in which movement of Jewish books are linked to the mobility patterns of early modern Jews. In addition to looking at the pre-publication sharing of texts in new environments, the paper also considers the dissemination of books after publication and over time. The goal is to better understand how the history of migration is linked to the history of the book and how new tools in each subfield can complement knowledge in the other.

Emily Finer is Lecturer in Comparative Literature and Russian at the University of St Andrews where she convened the new degree in Comparative Literature. She is currently working on a second monograph exploring the vast cultural reception of Charles Dickens and his works in the Russian-speaking world. This project follows her monograph on the twisty relationship between the Russian Formalist, Viktor Shklovskii and the author of Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne: Turning into Sterne: Viktor Shklovskii and Literary Reception (Oxford: Legenda, 2010).

For a few years after the 1917 Revolution, Russian-Jewish writers felt empowered to explore issues of identity in print. Lev Lunts, a young writer who resisted his parents’ pleas to join them in emigration, chose instead to imagine a journey west in Crossing the Border (1922). His Jewish characters employ a range of linguistic and visual disguises which are ultimately unsuccessful. In Homeland (1923), Lunts’s atheist student goes through a door under the Choral Synagogue in Petersburg only to find himself in biblical Babylon. These and the similar stories to be discussed all end with the restoration of the status quo, but their writers test the limits of comedy and satire through their use of anti-Semitic stereotypes, making peculiar demands on the contemporary reader.