EAJS Conference Grant Programme 2015/16
The Western Balkan Encounter of Sepharad and Ashkenaz:
Between Tradition and Change
Belgrade, July 5-7, 2016
Co-organizer: Prof. Krinka Vidaković-Petrov, Institute for Literature and Art, Belgrade
Co-organizer: Dr. Katja Šmid, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
The conference was held in Belgrade, July 5-7, 2016, at the hall of the Jewish Community of Belgrade. The colloquium was organized in cooperation with the Institute for Literature and Art in Belgrade and made possible by a generous subvention of the European Association of Jewish Studies’ Conference Grant Programme. Additional funding was provided by the Embassy of Israel in Serbia as well as the Hungarian Cultural Center Collegium Hungaricum in Belgrade.
The issues the conference is designed to address are the following: status of Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities in the Habsburg and Ottoman territories; types of cultural contacts between the two communities in this period; how historical changes affected their cultures and the contacts between them; differences between patterns of Ashkenazi and Sephardi integration/acculturation; the Yugoslav framework of Ashkenazi-Sephardi communication; shifts in identity concepts and images; new approaches to inter-Jewish communication and extra-Jewish perceptions; the meaning of the Ashkenazi-Sephardi historical encounter in the past and today, in the Western Balkans, Europe and Israel. The event is designed to provide public exposure to Jewish Studies and encourage the establishment of a regional network in the field of Jewish Studies.
The conference was opened by co-organizers Prof. Krinka Vidaković-Petrov and Dr. Katja Šmid, who gave brief information on the latter and expressed special gratitude to the EAJS and the Institute for Literature and Art, as well as other institutions supporting this academic endeavor. Dr. Bojan Jović (Director of the Institute for Literature and Arts), Dr. Ruben Fuks (President of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Serbia) and Jovan Krstić (Vice-President of the Jewish Community of Belgrade) greeted the participants and attending audience (altogether around ninety persons were present at the opening ceremony) in the full Ceremonial Hall of the Belgrade Jewish Community, highlighting the importance of scholarly research of the topic.
The conference brought together a total of 33 participants from 12 countries (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy, Austria, USA, Germany, Poland, Israel). It was structured in 8 panels/sessions.
In coordination with the EAJS an additional panel titled “Regional Network of Jewish Studies: Discussion”, introduced at a later stage of planning, was integrated into the conference. The conference itself provided a rationale for this final panel that discussed possible ways of responding to the need for better communication, cooperation, and organization of scholars focused on Jewish studies in South-Eastern Europe. The wide range of topics elaborated in papers presented at the conference as well as the vibrant discussion that accompanied them highlighted the basic premises of Jewish Studies in South-Eastern Europe: the impossibility of isolating the region from adjacent areas (Central Europe, Italy, Turkey), the need for multilingual skills, the benefits of an interdisciplinary approach and the need of intensifying cooperation among specialized scholars. These premises provided the rationale for the discussion on the “Regional Network of Jewish Studies”.
The first panel was opened by the presentation “Sisters and Strangers: Sephardi and Ashkenazi Women in the Western Balkans” by Prof. Harriet Pass Freidenreich (Temple University, Philadelphia, USA) dealing with a neglected topic – the role of women in the process leading from tradition to modernization, from parallel action of Sephardi and Ashkenazi women to emancipation, interaction, and joint activities, especially highlighting the issues of education and religion. Dr. Milan Koljanin (Institute for Contemporary History, Belgrade, Serbia) discussed the “New Patriotism or ‘Yugoslavization’ of the Jews in Yugoslavia (1918-1941)” in view of the changes that ensued from the establishment of the Yugoslav political, economic and cultural framework in 1918, the development of a new Yugoslav ideology, issues of dual nationality, nationalism, Zionism, and the impact of these factors on the self-perception and identity of the two Jewish groups interacting within the joint Jewish community and with the Yugoslav multicultural environment. Dr. Jasmina Huber (Heinrich Heine University of Düsseldorf, Germany) presented a paper titled “How many Changes Can Tradition Tolerate? Singing and Prayer in the Jewish Community of Belgrade Facing the Challenges of Today”. She drew a distinction between tradition (embedded in the community, a collective body) and neo-tradition (frequently promoted by individuals introducing innovation that may or may not become accepted as “traditional”) in the musicological aspect of the religious domain. Dr. Huber highlighted the process whereby Ashkenazi elements became dominant in Belgrade, indicating how the influence of the Viennese model was mediated by Sarajevo, and how the education/training of contemporary rabbis of Belgrade contributed to the introduction of Israeli musical culture into the Belgrade synagogue. The discussion that ensued dealt with issues regarding migrations, generational differences, the existence of “Yugoslav Jews” in Austria-Hungary prior to the establishment of Yugoslavia, the challenges of globalization.
The second panel dealt with Medieval, Early Modern and Modern Periods. Dr. Janez Premk (Jewish Archive of Slovenia) presented his research on “Encounters of the Medieval Jewish Exiles from Slovenia with Sepharad in the Eastern Adriatic”. He focused on the Medieval Jewish community of Maribor (Slovenia), the persecution in the 15th c. and their migration to the Eastern Adriatic, especially the port of Split, where the Maribor Ashkenazi Jews established good interaction with the local Sephardi Jews. The presentation “Contextualizing Ladino Merchants’ Documents from Early Modern Ragusa” by MA candidate Matthew Dudley (Yale University, USA) focused on Mediterranean trade routes involving Ragusa (Dubrovnik) and the cluster of Ladino sources (16-18th c.) housed in the rich Ragusan archives. He specifically dealt with several documents dating from 1582, indicating possible Sephardi-Ashkenazi joint activities, but also highlighting the problems of deciphering and interpreting these documents due to usage of multiple scripts, Portuguese lexical elements and various transcription systems. PhD candidate Zsuzsana Toronyi (Hungarian Jewish Museum, Budapest) presented a paper titled “’And the Pomegranates Bud Forth?’ The Stories Behind a Ceremonial Object Preserved in the Hungarian Jewish Museum”. The enigmatic museum item she described reflects the complex Ashkenazi and Sephardi migrations from the European north and the Balkan south intersecting in Budapest as well as the sparsely documented role of the Sephardi community in Pest. The closing discussion indicated how all the refugees from Maribor, although not belonging to the same family, became known as the Morpurgos, and brought about new information on some branches of this “family” (in Venice and other places); there were suggestions on possible interpretations of the Ragusan documents based on linguistic and transcription parameters as well as questions on the presence of Ashkenazim in 17th c. Ragusa; regarding the enigmatic museum item there were comments dealing with the Sephardim in Hungary and their Balkan connections.
In the third panel there was a change in the Program: Dr. G. Abramac (from Zagreb, Croatia) cancelled her participation, so the presentation of Dr. K. Šmid was moved from Panel 5 to Panel 3. The first speaker, PhD candidate Martin Stechauner (University of Vienna, Austria) discussed “Vienna: A Cultural Contact Zone Transforming Sephardic Jewry on the Balkans”, focusing on the Sephardic press as a domain of public communication within the Sephardic community in a Central European environment in close contact with the Balkans, with special emphasis on Sephardic “separatism”, the impact of the Sephardic Haskala and press in Vienna on the Balkan Sephardim, monolingual and multilingual paradigms. Prof. Krinka Vidaković-Petrov (Institute for Literature and Art, Belgrade, Serbia) in “A Tale of Three Towns: Belgrade, Zemun, Pančevo” focused on Sephardi-Ashkenazi contacts in three towns on the centuries long border towns Belgrade (Ottoman) and Zemun and Pančevo (Austrian), the impact of shifting of borders, different legal status, migrations, interaction between the two groups, and identified unknown Judeo-Spanish texts from Zemun and Pančevo: a newspaper, folkloric items (folksongs and proverbs) and modern texts (among them a rare example of the travelogue genre). Dr. Katja Šmid (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel) analyzed “The Ashkenazim in Ladino Works Written by Ya’acov Moshe Hay Altarats”, contextualized her topic by discussing the development of Hebrew and Ladino printing in 19th c Belgrade, the scope of publications, the role of subscribers, focusing on allusions to the Ashkenazim in the works of Altarats and his interpretation of the identity of the Jewish nation. The discussion, comments and questions were related to the issue of sources and their accessibility, the role of printing and the Sephardic press, and Sephardic attitudes towards the Ashkenazim.
The fourth panel was opened by Dr. Alexandra Twardowska (Nicolaus Copernicus University, Torun, Poland) whose topic “In Search of a Common Identity? Collaboration of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews within Cultural and Political Organizations in Bosnia until 1941” moved attention from the Danube route (Vienna, Belgrade, Zemun, Pančevo) to Sarajevo. She indicated that the first phase of Sephardi-Ashkenazi contact in Sarajevo highlighted differences between the two groups and announced relations of both convergence and divergence. However, organizations active in the 20th c. such as La Benevolencija as well as newspapers such as Jevrejski glas sought to forge unity and support Zionism, despite the polemics initiated by the “Sephardic movement” that voiced a complaint regarding Ashkenazi domination in the Zionist movement. PhD candidate Miloš Damjanović (University of Priština, Kosovska Mitrovica, Serbia) discussed “Sephardim and Ashkenazim in Kosovo and Metohija between the Two World Wars (1918-1941) – Parallel Coexistence”, pointing out that the substantially more numerous Sephardic community existed apart from the reduced number of Ashkenazim dispersed in small towns, that there was a social distinction between them (the Sephardim being mainly small merchants, craftsmen and bankers, while the Ashkenazim were medical doctors, surveyors, judges, army officers), and that their direction of migration was divergent (emigration of Sephardim versus immigration of Ashkenazim). Dr. Sofija Grandakovska (independent researcher, Skopje, Macedonia) tackled in her presentation “Jews in Ottoman Macedonia: When the Messianic Idea of Zion Meets Secularism” the complex issue of Macedonian Jews, predominantly Sephardim (the biggest community being in Bitola) and the question of how to read Zion in the last period of Ottoman rule, the secularization of education (begun by the Alliance Israélite Universelle) and the competing interests in the region (Young Turks Revolution, Greek and Slavic nationalism) in times of radical change, highlighting the attitude of Dimitar Vlahov towards Jewish issues raised in the Turkish Parliament.
The first speaker of the fifth panel was Dr. Simona Delić (Institute of Ethnology and Folklore, Zagreb, Croatia) whose topic “Golden Age Ballad in Zagreb” dealt with her field work, the collection of the last remnants of Sephardic ballads in a predominantly Ashkenazi environment, the identification of collected fragments and interpretation of their semantic aspects and the relationship of some of them to Golden Age Spanish literature. Prof. Rudolf Klein (Szent Istvan University, Budapest, Hungary) spoke on “The Convergence of Sephardi and Ashkenazi Funerary Art in the Balkans in the 19th and 20th Centuries”. He contextualized Jewish funerary art of this period regarding social, gender and religious aspects manifested in the morphology of cemeteries, pointed out general differences between Sephardic and Ashkenazi cemeteries, identified “Orientalism” as the main Sephardic influence, highlighting the influence of Slavic folklore and Central European culture, commenting the examples of the cemeteries in Belgrade, Sarajevo and Bucharest. In the presentation “Influence and Adoption of Central European Ashkenaz Funerary Monument Forms in the Belgrade Sepharad Community’s Cemetery Space in the End of the 19th and the Beginning of the 20th Century” PhD candidate Vuk Dautović (University of Belgrade, Serbia) focused his detailed analysis on the Sephardic cemetery in Belgrade, identifying specific elements of Ashkenazi influence in Sephardic sepulchral architecture and emblems, in the context of intensified cultural communication between the two communities within the framework of the general shift of cultural models in Serbia. The discussion was related to the issue of folklore collection and interpretation, the distinction between Ashkenazi and Slavic influences in funerary art, how certain tombstone elements (texts, emblems, photographs) reflect these influences in funerary culture.
The sixth panel was dedicated to linguistic studies. Dr. Ivana Vučina-Simović (University of Kragujevac, Serbia) and Dr. Jelena Filipović (University of Belgrade, Serbia) presented the paper “Sephardim and Ashkenazim in the Belgrade Linguistic Landscape” offering a socio-linguistic analysis of language in public spaces (including signs in vivo, graffiti and stencils), its symbolic role, the positioning of the two communities, diachronic shifts, ethnolinguistic vitality in multilingual settings, contrasting Sephardic and Ashkenazi examples that also manifest the distribution of power in the Jewish cultural geography of Belgrade. Prof. David Bunis (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel) in his presentation “Ashkenazi Literature in Judezmo Translation, Sephardic Literature in Yiddish Translation: Some Sociolinguistic Notes” focused on a selection of 19th c. texts (originals and translations) in the context of distinct Jewish subcultures, translations of various types of texts (religious, historical, fiction, socialist writing), literary contact (Sephardic authors impacted by Yiddish authors through translations), specific traits of translations (importation of whole words to fill in terminological voids in Judezmo and Hebrew), and types of interaction (through the written word, physical interaction of groups, face to face contact). In his presentation “Writing in Tongues: Translating into Judezmo or What it means to Translate in a Minority Language” Prof. Michael Studemund Halévy (Institute for the History of the Jews in Germany, Hamburg, Germany) indicated that Judezmo and Yiddish functioned as minority languages lacking official status. He interpreted a detailed statistical presentation of translations to Judezmo identifying factors impacting them, he explained why Judezmo literature can be considered as a literature of translation and highlighted the importance of quantifying and qualifying data pertaining to Judezmo translations. The panel was concluded by a vivid discussion about the importance of the linguistic landscape regarding Jewish monuments and sights in Serbia and other surrounding countries, and the involvement of Jewish (local community) and non-Jewish institutions (municipality, national tourism authority, etc.) in implementing/preserving of these signs in a minority language such as Judeo-Spanish and its translation.
The seventh panel was dedicated to literature. Dr. Željko Jovanović (University of Cambridge, UK) and Julie Scolnik (independent researcher, San Francisco, USA, absent) prepared a presentation on “The Spicy Side of Jewish Humour: Judeo-Spanish and Yiddish Tales of Sex and Scatology” based on tales (collected from Balkan informants and East European Ashkenazi informants) dealing with two topics: humour involving female transgression of social norms and the humour associated with the particular character of Djoha, touching also on the attitude of the speakers towards “dirty” or “salty” tales. The presentation of Dr. Dina Katan Ben Zion (independent researcher, Israel) “Sepharad and Ashkenaz in the ‘Golden Era’ of Jewish Literature in Former Yugoslavia – Insights and Perspectives in View of a Personal Experience” is based on her experience of being a scholar, writer and literary translator. Her analysis provided insights into the ‘Golden Age’ of Jewish literature in Yugoslavia (the period between the two World Wars), a time of cultural conflict and cooperation, oscillating between Zionism and the legitimacy of Diaspora existence, converging finally in the common literary language of both Sephardim and Ashkenazim (Serbian/Croatian), the exploration of Jewish identity, and the modern testing of new literary standards challenging tradition. PhD candidate Tsippy Levin Byron (independent researcher, Israel) presented a paper on “Elements of Sephardi/Ashkenazi Traditions in the Works of Natalia Ginzburg and David Albahari”. Her research highlighted several common semantic clusters in the works of Ginzburg (Venice) and Albahari (Belgrade): the role of women, difference in customs but awareness of common Jewish identity, feelings of detachment, their view of history and the relationship between faith, secularism and literature. The discussion highlighted literature as an expression and reflection of self-perception, identity issues, forms of transgression, the literary function of language and the relationship between traditional and modern literature.
The eighth panel, dedicated to art, was to feature two participants, one speaking on visual art and the other on music (the role of Belgrade Jews in the beginnings of jazz in Serbia), but the second speaker, M. Milovanović (independent researcher, Belgrade, Serbia), cancelled his participation. Prof. Nenad Makuljević (Department of Art, University of Belgrade, Serbia) spoke about “Jewish Identity in the Oeuvre of Leon Kojen” (1859-1934), an outstanding painter from the Belgrade Sephardic community, based on two preferential themes in his oeuvre: Joseph’s Dream and the Wandering Jew. Makuljević’s research suggests that the first theme, rare in works of Jewish painters, is associated with Kojen’s Sephardic background, while the second one, frequently represented in Western culture, is a reflection of Ashkenazi influence appearing during and after Kojen’s studies in Munich. The discussants drew attention to the presence of the Joseph’s Dream theme in Judeo-Spanish poetry from the mid-19th c and plays performed in Balkan Sephardic communities, to more information on the painter’s relationship with the well-known Davičo family, and also to the fact that Kojen’s paintings had been featured on the walls of the Belgrade Jewish Community Ceremonial hall (the venue of the conference), but were destroyed during the Nazi bombing of Belgrade in 1941.
Concluding panel: Discussion and establishment of a Network for South-Eastern European Jewish Studies
During the concluding panel Regional Network of Jewish Studies: Discussion, supported by the EAJS to discuss the potential creation of such a regional network, the Network for South-Eastern European Jewish Studies was founded. The discussion is reflected in the minutes (taken by M. Dudley).
Seven persons were selected to attend the panel, but two of them (Maria Fragkou, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece and Jonna Rock, Humboldt University Berlin, Germany) cancelled their participation a week before the event, and finally, five invited speakers spoke about the prospects of the proposed network: Benedetto Ligorio, Sapienza University of Rome (Italy); Irina Ognyanova, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia (Bulgaria); Jolanta Sujecka, University of Warsaw (Poland); Melita Švob, Research and Documentation Center CENDO, Zagreb (Croatia); and Bojan Mitrović, University of Trieste (Italy). The panel was attended by around forty interested colleagues.
The participants of the discussion agreed on the name Network for South Eastern European Jewish Studies and decided to use English as the language of communication. It was suggested that the Network should have an Advisory board, but no names were suggested in the discussion, a task to be addressed at the next panel of this kind.
The goal of this Network is to identify and connect scholars of various disciplines in the region and beyond with an interest in the history and culture of the Jews in South-Eastern Europe, and also to function as a network for academics with a general interest in Jewish Studies working in the region. There was a suggestion to look for candidates for the network on preexisting networks of academic institutions and associations as well as on those of the Jewish communities from South-Eastern European cities and abroad. The main goals and plans of the Network are to promote cooperation among academics, to encourage the coordination and organization of the conferences, seminars, courses, colloquia, workshops, and to support publications and databases dedicated to Jewish Studies in the South-Eastern Europe.
The participants decided to pursue further networking through organizing panels on Jewish topics in South Eastern Europe on the occasion of other conferences dealing with Jewish studies in the region and beyond (for example at the 17th World Congress in Jewish Studies in Jerusalem in August 2017, and at the 11th EAJS Congress in Jewish Studies in Krakow in July 2018).
After the conclusion of the panel a Facebook page Network for South Eastern European Jewish Studies was created to build a network on-line. This is an open group to be joined by interested scholars upon invitation and will help in communication among them together with the following (already existing) email address: email@example.com.
In the accompanying program, two 25-minute documentary films were screened: “The Synagogues of Belgrade” and “The Jewish Cemeteries of Belgrade” (donated by authors and volunteers of the Belgrade Jewish Community J. Raković, M. Mentović and Z. Pantelić).
The Museum of Genocide Victims in Belgrade donated copies of their publications on the Holocaust in Belgrade, the Serbian-Israeli colloquium on the Holocaust and the Museum’s anniversary edition.
The conference was wrapped up by a visit to the Jewish Historical Museum hosted by Museum director Vojislava Radovanović.
The photographs documenting the conference will be accessible on an internet link.
Co-organizers Krinka Vidaković-Petrov and Katja Šmid spoke about the conference in an interview given to Radio Belgrade.
The theme of the conference is an unexplored field as most of the existing research has focused on Sephardic studies, few on Ashkenazi studies, and even fewer on the relationship between Sephardim and Ashkenazim in the Western Balkans. The conference was planned to respond to this challenge which it did. The time frame was limited to the period prior to World War Two because the inclusion of the Holocaust would have expanded the number of participants beyond our possibilities. Even so, the number of participants and topics exceeded the original limit, enriching the overall contribution of the conference to the elucidation of the main theme.
The conference brought together researchers from various disciplines (history, linguistics, literary studies, translation studies, history of art, musicology) providing a much needed interdisciplinary approach that illuminated the subthemes spelled out in the rationale. The geographical framework was the territory of the former Yugoslavia (Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Croatia, Slovenia) including adjacent regions (Austrian, Turkish, Italian, Bulgarian, Rumanian, Hungarian) as this historical and cultural space as a whole witnessed migrations, conflicts and cooperation among the multiethnic and multicultural protagonists of Western Balkan history, affecting especially the encounter and communication between the Sephardim and Ashkenazim.
The interaction and mutual influences between the two communities were explored regarding identity shifts, historical relations, language, the effects of translations (from Hebrew, German and Yiddish) on Judeo-Spanish, the public linguistic landscape, literature (written traditional, oral, modern, various genres such as ballads, tales, novels), religion, art (religious and secular), funerary customs and art (architecture, decorative elements), music, printing, periodical publications as public fora, community organizations (educational and cultural), education, economic activities, political backgrounds, status of women, all highlighting the diachronic process leading to change and shifts in cultural models and practices.
Public exposure and the choice of venue (Jewish Community of Belgrade) attracted an audience that actively participated in the discussion on points of special interest to them, providing information on some projects in Jewish studies members of the audience were engaged in.
The participation of academic researchers from a wide range of countries contributed to the discussion on how to promote Jewish Studies in the Western Balkans and establish a Network whose function would be to facilitate communication among them and stimulate joint activities and projects in various formats.
Planned outcomes and future projects
The conference lead to several new cooperations. Firstly, the establishment of the Network for South Eastern European Jewish Studies, the first step of which was the creation of a Facebook page to be used as a tool for registering scholars from the Western Balkans and beyond interested in this field of research. Secondly, the co-organizers Prof. Krinka Vidaković-Petrov and Dr. Katja Šmid agreed to commonly edit a volume that would assemble the conference papers. Thirdly, the joint organization of one or two panels for the conference of the World Union of Jewish Studies to be held in Jerusalem (2017) and the EAJS conference to be held in Krakow (2018).
The Conference Programme may be found here (pdf).
The Conference Poster may be found here (pdf).
The link to the website promoting the conference may be found here.
The link to the Facebook page of the Network for South Eastern European Jewish Studies may be found here.
28th July 2016