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Workshop Brighton November 2008

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Workshop at the University of Sussex, England 

Chaired by Liliane Weissenberg and Raphael Gross   


Report by Kerry Wallach 

On November 24 and 25, 2008, the Leo Baeck Fellows met at the University of Sussex for the first workshop of the 2008–2009 academic year. Eleven doctoral fellows and one postdoctoral fellow presented their own projects and responded to another fellow’s presentation. Following each response, other fellows and the workshop leaders Liliane Weissberg, Raphael Gross, Daniel Wildmann, and Johannes Sabel offered additional comments and feedback. 

The first panel brought together the projects of historians Anne Helbig and Felix Heinert, who look at geographical regions as a way of approaching conversion in Mecklenburg-Schwerin, and the ‹ self positioning  › of Jews in Riga, respectively. For the second panel, Agnieszka Oleszak and I presented aspects of dissertations focusing on gender identity. Aga’s project examines Sarah Schenirer’s role in the formation of the Bais Ya’akov girls’ schools; mine investigates the construction of identity in the literature, feuilletons, images, and advertisements of the Jewish press in the Weimar Republic. Paula Schwebel and Anne Pollok presented their philosophical projects in the third panel. Both projects deal with neo-Kantians in the early twentieth-century: Paula examines notions of intensity and the infinitesimal, whereas Anne looks at Ernst Cassirer’s cultural readings of Moses Mendelssohn’s anthropological texts. The last presentation of the first day was by Sebastian Hoepfner, a political scientist interested in the role of post-War Jewish organizations in the USA, France, and Germany. 

On the second day of the workshop, we heard five more presentations before setting out to explore the University of Sussex and the city of Brighton. In the first panel, historians Tali Berner and Mathias Seiter considered different types of spaces. Tali’s project focuses on the participation of children in the synagogue in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In his comparative case study, Mathias investigates Jewish identity in German borderlands. The second panel paired a Germanist with an art historian: Sam Spinner’s work examines Jewish ethnography in literature, with particular attention to depictions of East European Jews in German-language literature. Ann Katrin Bäumler’s project traces the history of the Stadttempel Synagogue in Vienna. Daniel Jütte’s work on Jewish musicians in Germany and the rise of antisemitic discourses in music was the last to be presented. 

During the course of our discussions, some themes arose that will provide the basis for a round table discussion in May. Fellows from different disciplines found it useful to ask spatial, geographical, and topographical questions in conjunction with various approaches. The relationship of Jews to modernity is another recurring topic treated by a number of projects. The other fellows would likely agree that hearing different perspectives and receiving feedback from fellows and advisors was extremely valuable. Comments ranged from suggestions of relevant literature to offers to introduce fellows to scholars in their field. One fellow was advised to split a proposed project into two; several others received requests to consider broadening the scopes of their projects. 

The workshop was further enhanced by our time in the delightful seaside town of Brighton, where an Art Deco town house was home to the majority of fellows for a few days. At the end of the second day, Christian Wiese kindly gave a tour of the Centre for German-Jewish Studies at the University of Sussex. Daniel Wildmann and Johannes Sabel took some of the fellows to Brighton Pier, where the arcades at the « Palace of Fun » provided an anthropological glimpse into the intersection between commerce and mass culture. The casual atmosphere of the workshop made it possible for fellows to continue discussions and networking over coffee and Glühwein. We are very much looking forward to the second workshop in Berlin in May 2009.