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Workshop Brighton November 2009

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Workshop at the University of Sussex, England 

Chaired by Cathy Gelbin, Raphael Gross, and Daniel Wildmann   


Report by Iris Idelsohn Shein 

The first workshop of Leo Baeck fellowship programme for the 2009/2010 academic year took place in Brighton on 2 and 3 November. The workshop brought together twelve doctoral students from various countries, disciplines, and at different stages of their work. Each fellow presented a concise summary of his or her dissertation project, and received responses from the other fellows, as well as from workshop leaders Prof. Raphael Gross, Dr. Cathy Gelbin, Dr. Daniel Wildmann and Dr. Roland Hain. Throughout the two days of the workshop, we set out on a fascinating intellectual journey which led us from early modern Hamburg, through twentieth century Palestine to contemporary Berlin. Along he way we encountered a host of characters: philosophers, folklorists, psychologists, and even a few cattle dealers. The  projects presented by the fellows and the ensuing discussions touched upon some of the issues which are currently at the forefront of academic research, such as questions of inter-cultural contact, gender and history, canonization and marginalization, Zionism and post-Zionism, and the meanings of Jewish history. 

In the first panel Dani Schrire offered a review of the history of folklore research in Israel. Dani’s presentation afforded a glimpse into the ways in which academic knowledge is created and scholarly traditions are formed. In the second panel Sara Yanovsky and Jörg Marquardt explored the challenges to Jewish identity posed by modernity. Sara presented the means by which Jewish educators in Budapest and Vienna responded to these challenges, while Jörg’s paper focused on narratives of assimilation in German-Jewish literature before 1939. The third panel was devoted to examining the roles of the ethnic or religious « other » in modern and early modern Jewish discourse. Hanan Harif ’s talk explored the various pan-Semitic, pan-Asiatic and anti-Zionist alternatives to Zionism which were available for Jews during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. My own talk focused on images of « Savages » in eighteenth century Jewish thought, and the ways in which these images were used to convey messages regarding gender, race and religious difference. The last presentation of the day was given by Amir Engel, who highlighted the political aspects of Gershom Scholem’s history of the Kabbalah, and exposed a unique attempt to bridge the gap between Jewish spiritualism and Zionism. 

The first panel of the second day marked the interdisciplinary nature of the group. Maren Holmes offered a review of the life and works of the psychoanalyst Paula Heimann, and her contribution to the construction of the modern psychoanalytic self, while Anna Hájková explored the complex social dynamics which characterized the Theresienstadt transit ghetto. Rather than viewing the inmates as a homogenous mass, Anna argued that we must pay attention to the social, cultural and gender differences between them. Social history, stratification and heterogeneity were also the focal points of the third panel, in which Stefanie Fischer and Michael Fenstermacher discussed the history of rural Jews in late nineteenth to early twentieth century Germany. In the closing panel Marcel Santana exposed the insufficiently explored history of the participation of Jews in the German People’s Party 52 Fellowships (DVP), while Sophie Zimmer brought the workshop to a close with a discussion of Jewish identities in Germany after 1989. This last talk ignited a lively exchange on the  political dimensions of contemporary history, which highlighted the international aspect of the group. 

The discussions between the participants were marked by an amicable and supportive approach, and were continued enthusiastically on both nights at a friendly pub nearby. Through these engaging discussions, we became acquainted with new and diverse points of entry into the history or rather the histories of German-speaking Jews. We eagerly look forward to picking up where we left off during our second meeting in May 2010.