Jewish Studies

Celebrating 10 years of Jewish Cultural Studies with Simon J. Bronner

2018 marks the tenth anniversary of the Jewish Cultural Studies book series in the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. Ten years ago, the inaugural volume, Jewishness: Expression, Identity, and Representationedited by Simon J. Bronner, drew wide attention with its announcement of an emerging interdisciplinary field of Jewish cultural studies and a provocative cover photograph of Chai jewellery in the centre of a rock ‘n’ roll outfit. With chutzpah (the theme of the introduction), it set the tone for later volumes with rousing interpretive essays on Jewishness—expressions of Jewish culture, lore, and life–in the modern world.

Jewishness: Expression, Identity and Representation edited by Simon J. Bronner marked the first book in the Jewish Cultural Studies series.

In that first volume, for example, was an investigation of the “red string” bracelet in Jewish folk and popular culture. The ubiquitous Jewish delicatessen and its overstuffed meat sandwiches symbolizing persistence through immigrant struggles received original analysis as an icon of secular Jewishness. The Jewish roots of comedian Jack Benny were thoughtfully explored along with a separate chapter on the presentation of Jewish issues in Soviet cinema. On the folk cultural side, and as further evidence of the international scope of the series, the reception for Jewish folk music in Germany, and issues of memory it raised, offered a fresh perspective on the construction, and deconstruction, of Jewish heritage.

The series created a buzz in classrooms and conferences in Europe, North America, Australia, and Israel. Coinciding with the release of the first volume, the Department of Jewish Studies at the University of Wrocław, Poland, and the Littman Library hosted an international conference titled “Modern Jewish Culture: Diversities and Unities” that became the basis of the fourth volume in the series, Framing Jewish Culture: Boundaries and Representations, edited by Simon J. Bronner. A year later, a standing-room-only crowd greeted editorial board members of the series a year after its inception at the Association for Jewish Studies convention in Los Angeles on the significance, and challenge, of Jewish cultural studies to scholarship. To enable the series to reach even further, editorial board members, and contributors to volumes, were added from South America. The impact of the series has been noticeable in many citations of it and books building on its themes, college course adoptions, and recognition of Jewish cultural studies as a scholarly field.

The series had its roots in the work of the Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Section of the American Folklore Society. From 1987 to 2000, it had produced annual volumes on varied topics such as Yiddish culture, folk dance, and pilgrimage. The section entered into dialogue with the Committee on the Anthropology of Jews and Judaism in the American Anthropological Association about publications reaching a more global audience. Simon Bronner, professor and director of the Center for Holocaust and Jewish Studies at the Pennsylvania State University, as head of the section, led the discussion and viewed the organization of Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry published by Littman, to be a model for crystallizing a field of interdisciplinary study. The Littman Library had already earned a reputation in publishing on Jewish history and theology, and Jewish Cultural Studies brought an innovative cultural component to its lists. Led by series editor Bronner, the goal stated at the series launch has held through six critically acclaimed volumes: “The Jewish Cultural Studies series offers a contemporary view of Jewish culture as it has been constructed, symbolized, produced, communicated, and consumed around the globe. More than a series on Jewish ideas, it uncovers ideas of being Jewish.”

Mothers in the Jewish Cultural Imagination was named a finalist in the 2017 National Jewish Book Awards.

In documenting and interpreting the diverse ways in which Jews express themselves as Jews – in custom, festival, narrative, art, architecture, music, dance, dress, performance, language, and food – the series contributes to a greater understanding of the dimensions of Jewish identity as perceived by Jews and non-Jews. It comments on the societies in which Jews live, and the tapestry of life formed from cultural exchange, conflict, and integration. It explores the cultural dimensions of homeland and diaspora, assimilation and separation, in Jewish experience and belief. As an inquiry into cultural identities and expressions with wide ramifications for other fields, it also considers the range of institutions that represent and respond to Jewishness, including museums, the media, agencies, synagogues, and schools.

Coming soon to the Jewish Cultural Studies series: Connected Jews: Expressions of Community in Analogue and Digital Culture by Simon J. Bronner and Caspar Battegay.

In this anniversary year, the latest volume to be published, and hopefully create a stir, will be Connected Jews: Expression of Community in Analogue and Digital Culture, edited by Simon J. Bronner and Caspar Battegay (due December 2018). The sixth volume in the series, it follows on the heels of Mothers in the Jewish Cultural Imagination (volume 5, 2017), edited by Marjorie Lehman, Jane L. Kanarek, and Simon J. Bronner, which was a finalist in the National Jewish Book Awards. The recognition was the second time that a volume in the series received this accolade; in 2010, Jews at Home: The Domestication of Identity, edited by Simon J. Bronner and featuring essays on the concept of a Jewish home materially and emotionally, collected the honour. Connected Jews encapsulates in many ways themes of the previous five volumes by interpreting how media technology—from the printing press to the smartphone—has both fostered and divided community. Contributors working in England, Germany, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Madagascar, Israel, Hungary, and the United States examine the effects of mediated cultural expression, including television and radio shows, Internet blogs, and cyber-shtetls and other online virtual worlds. The title Connected Jews also speaks for a series that has made a connection among readers worldwide who are interested in the meaning of culture in Jewish, and non-Jewish, lives.

Piece by Simon J. Bronner.

Simon J. Bronner is Distinguished Professor of American Studies and Folklore and Founding Director of the Center for Holocaust and Jewish Studies at the Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg. He is also the convener of the Jewish Folklore and Ethnology Section of the American Folklore Society.

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Jewish Studies

Journeys from the Abyss – In Conversation with Tony Kushner

Journeys from the Abyss has been named Book of the Week by Times Higher Education. To celebrate, we sat down with Tony Kushner to discuss memory, humanitarian challenges and how his own background shaped his intellectual development.

Journeys from the Abyss by Tony Kushner is Times Higher Education’s Book of the Week from 4th January 2018.

Where were you born and where did you spend your early years?

I was born in Manchester in 1960 and brought up in its southern suburbs. My mother was a disabled widower and one of my brothers deaf blind, so dealing with difference was part of my family upbringing. Manchester has always been a city of migrants and as of third generation East European Jewish origin, I very much felt part of it. Growing up in the 1970s, the activities of the National Front were prominent and I was lucky that at my secondary school there were very few who were attracted to it. Indeed, we were loosely associated with groups such as Rock Against Racism. I was also fortunate that the Reform Jewish Movement saw education for young people against all forms of racism and intolerance was essential. That stuck with me probably than the more strictly religious side. Finally, as a football fanatic and supporter of Manchester’s only team (City), everyday racism was a fact of life. My eldest brother and his friends who I went to the games with would always challenge the barracking of black players (remarkably often of our own team with City’s close links to and presence in the city’s Moss Side).

Where did you go to university and how has that shaped your subsequent intellectual development?

I went to Sheffield University to study economic and social history (though soon my interest was on the latter at the expense of the former). This choice was deliberate – I wanted to study the lives of ordinary people and not just the great and the good. On top of this was that Sheffield was the only place where you could study migrant (and anti-migrant) history with the presence of Colin Holmes who was later my PhD supervisor. After Sheffield I did an MA in American history at the University of Connecticut. I studied with Bill Hoglund, an expert in American immigration history. Returning to Sheffield, my PhD focused on British Jewish history, especially that of antisemitism, with a study of Britain during the Second World War. At this stage, refugee history was a part of my interests, but it had not developed as strong as it has for the past two decades. Likewise the area of memory was one that came later after I had come to the University of Southampton in 1986 to develop the Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/non-Jewish relations.

How do you feel that your own political commitments around human rights and particularly refugee policy have influenced your choice of research topics and the ways you have examined them?

Since school, I have always wanted the history I studied (and then researched and wrote about) to have an ethical element. At Sheffield, amongst other topics I became interested in slavery and the Holocaust and since then migration and refugee policy have been a part of that commitment. Indeed, I am strongly of the view that historians can be committed to their subject area without losing their authority. I became aware in the early 1990s that refugee history was particularly neglected. Within refugee studies, history is rarely considered and in historical studies, refugees because they complicate national stories are equally marginalised. Restoring their histories and responses to them (positive and negative), is thus important in itself and I have always found working with current day activists stimulating to them and to myself.

Can the material you have recovered dating back to the 1930s and 1940s, and even the 1880s, help us formulate responses to the major humanitarian challenges of today?

I think this is a two way process. We can understand some of the ‘classic’ refugee movements of the past with greater complexity if we consider what is happening today. Perhaps one of the most important ‘political’ messages is that the attempt to divide ‘deserving refugees’ (i.e. good) from ‘undeserving migrants/aliens’ has been happening for well over a century. Such distinctions are always in the eye of the beholder and it seems that the only truly ‘good’ refugees are those in the past. Many Jewish refugees from the 1900s or the Nazi era carried forged documentation but that did not make them somehow ‘illegal’ or dangerous. Ultimately, as Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, stated, ‘no one is illegal’.

Tony Kushner is Professor of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations, Parkes Institute and History Department, University of Southampton.

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Jewish Studies

Journeys from the Abyss – 5 minutes with Tony Kushner

To celebrate the release of Journeys from the Abyss, caught up with author Tony Kushner to discuss the various experiences of Jewish refugees and the importance of history and memory. 

Could you tell us a bit about the book and what inspired your research? Why do you think this is the first study to place Jewish refugee movements from Nazism into a wider framework of global forced migration?

Over the past couple of decades I have been increasingly interested in refugee history. With Katharine Knox, who I wrote what is the first history of refugees in modern Britain, I was surprised how, with a few exceptions, many refugee histories have been totally neglected and, indeed, forgotten. What we did was a form of rescue history, but we also very much wanted to show how refugees have been part of the British landscape for centuries now.

More recently I have taught a special subject on modern refugees and became aware how in the field of refugee studies, historical approaches are very marginal. The focus is on the ‘now’ which whilst understandable, makes it very hard to make comparisons and to know what is, and is not new about the current refugee crisis.

Equally, I have been involved in researching, writing and teaching around the Holocaust and was aware, again understandably, how it has become self-contained as an area of study and reflection. This is true of those who were refugees from Nazism – an area itself which is a little marginal in Holocaust studies.

With the global refugee crisis which has being growing in scale since the late twentieth century, I wanted to bring together the study of Jews who managed to escape Nazism with modern refugee and migration studies with the hope that they could both shed light on one-another. Journeys from the Abyss is the result. Each section on particular Jewish refugee journeys – of women, of children and of ‘boat people’ has a pre-history and a post-history. I am not trying to argue that forced migrants before and after are simply the same as Jewish refugees from Nazism but that we can gain so much from the comparisons and also get beyond the unhelpful idea that some histories are ‘worse’ than others.

You used a variety of sources such as governmental papers, film and museum during your research for this book. How did they influence the book?

I want to study how refugee impacted on everyday life so Journeys from the Abyss uses a very wide variety of sources. It uses more ‘traditional’ archives such as government records and those of organisations involved with refugee work, but also cultural sources including films, novels, memorials, museums and site visits to show a variety of responses and also the relationship between ‘then’ and ‘now’. It meant travelling to sites connected to major moments in migration crises including places such as Haifa and Lampedusa, both intimately involved with the arrival and containment of refugee arrivals. Studying the journey itself forces the scholar into inventive approaches and finding sources is part of the challenge I faced. My aim thus, is to provide a total history – history from the bottom up and top down but also one that combines and juxtaposes history and memory.

The book addresses the experiences of Jewish refugees. How did you go about researching their experiences? Did any of these experiences particularly stand out to you?

As a social historian, I have always wanted to bring in the voices of ordinary people. In Journeys from the Abyss this means the testimonies of a wide range of refugees – Jewish and non-Jewish. I have thus used a wide range of oral histories, autobiographies and other sources in which we can access the perspectives of forced migrants. These are used critically which is not to say I am dismissing them in importance – quite the contrary. How people remember and re-remember their experiences is vital. Whilst there are many testimonies that stand out, perhaps that of Lore Segal is the most remarkable for me. Her writings are astonishingly self-aware and reveal the dilemmas of being a refugee in the modern era. Lore’s family were dispersed across the world and she shows, if it somehow still needed to be explained, how it is not easy being a refugee.

 How to you think the book paves the way for further research into the forced migration of Jewish refugees during the nineteenth and twenty first centuries?

The goals of the book are ambitious and there will be some way to go before those in Holocaust studies will place the Jewish refugee experience in a longer tradition of forced migration and, equally, those in refugee studies will take history seriously. Journeys from the Abyss is a start but also a challenge to those working in both fields. I sincerely hope that both established and younger scholars will take it much further.

Tony Kushner is Professor of Jewish/non-Jewish Relations, Parkes Institute and History Department, University of Southampton.

More information on Journeys from the Abyss by Tony Kushner.

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Jewish Studies, News

Littman Library of Jewish Civilization now available


LUP is now the proud partner of the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization.

Founded in 1965 by Louis Littman, the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization has grown to become a leader in the publication of Jewish studies. We are also delighted to welcome the arrival of the Library’s  prominent series: PolinArs Judaica and Jewish Cultural Studies which are now available on our website.

Polin– established in 1986 by the Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies, has acquired a well-deserved reputation for publishing authoritative material on all aspects of Polish Jewry. Contributions are drawn from many disciplines- history, politics, religious studies, literature, linguistics, sociology, art, and architecture-and from a wide variety of viewpoints.

Ars Judaica  an annual publication of the Department of Jewish Art at Bar-Ilan University. It showcases the Jewish contribution to the visual arts and architecture from antiquity to the present from a variety of perspectives, including history, iconography, semiotics, psychology, sociology, and folklore.

Jewish Cultural Studies – contributes to a greater understanding of the dimensions of Jewish identity as perceived by Jews and non-Jews. It explores the cultural dimensions of homeland and diaspora, assimilation and separation, in Jewish experience and belief along with considering the range of institutions that represent and respond to Jewishness, including museums, the media, agencies, synagogues, and schools.

Littman E-Library of Jewish Civilization 

The new E-Library (LEJC), commences with the online availability of 90 titles as the first step towards digitizing the entire series. The LEJC will include works from leading scholars such as Anthony Polonsky, Rachel Elior, Menachem Kellner, and Ada Rapoport-Albert.

Providing a comprehensive overview of a variety of subject areas including: history, cultural studies, literature, the Holocaust, biography, religious studies, philosophy and women’s studies, LEJC includes international perspectives on Jewish civilization from the USA, Israel, Germany, Poland and the UK, amongst others.
Read our interview with Connie Webber, Managing Editor for Littman here. 

For further information and updates on the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, sign up to our mailing list, follow our twitter, or drop us an email.

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Jewish Studies, News

Announcing a new partnership between the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization and Liverpool University Press

Liverpool University Press (LUP) has been selected as the publishing partner of the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization (LLJC).

Founded in 1965 by Louis Littman and run for the past 25 years by CEO Ludo Craddock and Managing Editor Connie Webber, the Littman Library publishes around a dozen titles per annum and is widely known as a leading publisher in the field of Jewish studies.

As well as taking over print distribution, LUP will launch the Littman E-Library of Jewish Civilization, making the extensive LLJC list available digitally for the first time.

Anthony Cond, Managing Director of Liverpool University Press said: ‘Built and generously supported by the Littman family, and flourishing under the leadership of Ludo Craddock and Managing Editor Connie Webber, the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization is internationally recognised for its outstanding commitment and contribution to its field.’

Ludo Craddock, who will retire as Littman CEO later this year, commented: ‘We have been thinking for some time about placing the LLJC on a firmer footing, finding ways to enhance our marketing capacity, and making our books available digitally. We are delighted to have found in Liverpool University Press what we believe to be the ideal partner for us: an award-winning press with an established reputation in academic publishing, an appreciation for high editorial and production standards, and a record of achievement in marketing and e-book publishing. We are confident that this new publishing partnership will provide stability for the Library’s future and with the greater resources available (especially human ones) enhance our visibility and sales, and provide the necessary basis for future growth.’

Littman titles will be available to buy from our website on 1 March 2017.