EAJS Conference Grant Programme 2021/22
A Jewish Europe? Virtual and Real-Life Spaces in the 21st Century
Centre for European Research, University of Gothenburg, 3-5 May 2022
Co-convenors: Dr Maja Hultman (University of Gothenburg), Professor Joachim Schlör (University of Southampton)
As the president of the Conference of European Rabbis recently stated, the European Union invited Jews to be part of the European project, “not as outsiders, but as fully fledged citizens of Europe”. But, given the continuity of antisemitism and the rise in attacks against Jewish institutions, “sadly, the Jews of Europe have had to ask themselves yet again if there is a future on the continent”. Yet again – this ambivalence has a long history indeed, marked by restrictions and tolerance, by antisemitism and fruitful exchange, by genocide and the common desire to learn from the past. Europe has been a home for Jewish communities for more than two millennia, and Jewish individuals have been fundamental to the development of enlightenment thought, science and law, the arts, civic culture and political integration. But what does Europe today mean for Jews, individually and as a community?
- Due to the cultural and spatial approach of the conference, this was achieved by exploring issues of Jewish/non-Jewish relations, digital practices and heritage spaces – sometimes with all three themes in intersection – in 21st century Europe. Panels were thematised to facilitate focused and thorough discussions on case studies – museum exhibitions, digital events, films, heritage sites, Jewish institutions and public spaces – and theoretical approaches, leading to a unique insight into the spaces and places created and encountered by today’s European Jewry. Using these spaces as a conceptual window, conference participants discussed the role and shape of memory, nostalgia, the Holocaust, minority/minority and minority/majority relations, digital representation, and cultural and religious practices among European Jews.
During the last thirty years, scholars have discussed the development both of an enduring “Jewish space” as well as new “Jewish spaces” (Diana Pinto) and new forms of “virtual Jewishness” (Ruth Ellen Gruber), all referring to different forms of Jewish and non-Jewish cultural co-construction and co-operation. The heritage industry related to the pre-Holocaust Jewish world continues to expand, with the former concentration camp and extermination camp Auschwitz reaching beyond two million annual visitors before the covid-19 pandemic. The former Jewish district of Kazimierz in Krakow has developed into a tourist destination, complete with cultural conferences and events set up by non-Jewish actors. Magdalena Waligórska relatedly emphasizes the role of klezmer music in reviving, replicating and reinventing today’s image of historical Jewish communities.
While non-Jews reinvent the historical presence of Jews through various “Disneylands” (Joachim Schlör), recent demographic studies portray a complex picture of today’s “Jewish Europe” (Daniel Staetsky and Sergio DellaPergola). Statistically, the population dwindles due to antisemitism, migration and intermarriage. Culturally, the sense of Jewishness grows stronger among the younger generations. At the same time, non-Jewish actors are even running and defining Jewish contemporary religious institutions (Hanna Tzubari). How do we interpret these findings? Was Bernard Wasserstein correct in raising an alarm about the future of Jewish life in Europe in his book “The Vanishing Diaspora in” 1997? Is non-Jewish involvement in cultural and religious institutions a threat to “Jewish Europe” or a means for its continued existence?
- These questions permeated discussions throughout the conference. By looking at Jewish/non-Jewish interaction at memorials, museum exhibitions, demonstrations and virtual events, but also digital practices emerging within Jewish communities during the covid-19 pandemic, a contrasting picture emerged. Virtual spaces seem to grow out of, partly, the idea that they allow different ethnic and religious groups to intersect and mingle. At the same time, several papers argued that this meeting never takes place, but only forms part of performative actions. On the other hand, virtual spaces have been used by Jewish communities in the past two years to continue religious practices and communal togetherness. The question of their permanency and continuity was, however, discussed. Will they survive the post-pandemic landscape? Do they serve other uses than mere stand-ins for IRL meetings?
The conference enters this scholarly debate from the perspective of a world changed by the covid-19 pandemic. We recognize the role of digital practices and virtual spaces in upholding, continuing and replacing the collective practices – shabbat meals, synagogue attendance, Pesach celebrations – that took place before March 2020. While the global, postmodern world has enabled virtual spaces in the last fifteen years, the ongoing crisis has now imposed them on the majority of the world’s Jewry. It prompts us researchers to renew questions about the state of “Jewish Europe”, as well as delving deeper into the role and theory of virtual spaces. Through the intersection of Europe, digital practices and real-life spaces, this conference will facilitate an interdisciplinary approach based on, among others, Digital Humanities, spatial theory, heritage studies, religious studies, ethnography and European studies in order to discuss whether the question mark following “A Jewish Europe” in the conference title should indeed be changed into an exclamation mark.
- The interdisciplinary approach of the conference was ensured through careful selection of papers and presenters. Historians, ethnologists, anthropologists and heritage practitioners were invited. Through generous scholarships towards travel, accommodation and food from not only The European Association for Jewish Studies, but also The Wenner-Gren Foundations, Riksbankens jubileumsfond and The Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/Non-Jewish Relations, new and innovative research by early-career researchers were encouraged and prioritised. Papers were given about a wide range of countries, such as the U.K., Norway, Poland, Germany, Austria. Lithuania, Hungary, Ukraine and Russia, to provide as large a view on Europe’s diverse Jewish populations. The combined expertise gathered ensured that the conference could approach questions of virtuality from many angles.
Specifically, the conference will share knowledge and deepen our collective understanding about today’s European Jewry through four unique aspects:
1) The current pandemic does not offer a unique viewpoint to the Jewish experience of Europe per se – Jews in Europe have survived different forms of crisis before – but it provides researchers with an exceptional opportunity to engage with questions of Jewish identities, practices and senses of belonging as they fluctuate and/or endure through a time of crisis. While increasing antisemitism and the expansion of “virtual Jewishness” in Europe have thwarted the scholarly progress of a “Jewish Europe” during the last thirty years (Diana Pinto), the digital practices that have emerged among Jewish European communities during the covid-19 pandemic allow researchers to engage with this question with renewed optimism. We believe that it is time yet again, from a cultural point of view, to discuss how Jews belong to the European continent in the 21st
- Both invited keynote speakers, Ruth Ellen Gruber and Diana Pinto, reflected on how two years of the pandemic have altered ways of thinking about Jewish practices. Furthermore, recent political changes in Europe, with the increase of right-wing and populist movements, pose questions whether “Jewish spaces” are indeed used as their creators hoped for and imagined. Virtual spaces have provided continuity and support during the recent crisis, but are, on the other hand, as fragile to antisemitic attacks and non-facilitation of intersectional meetings as real-life spaces. In other words, while exploring the possibilities of virtual spaces in continuing Jewish practices – such as holiday celebrations, nostalgic remembrance and subverted memories – they also face challenges and limitations that deserve further exploration
2) The focus on digital practices serves, as briefly noted above, as a unique doorway into understanding Jewish sense and practice of (non-)belonging to today’s Europe. While earlier anthologies and monographs have mainly explored Jewish spaces throughout Europe’s history, adding only a chapter here and there on virtual spaces, the last year has demonstrated the importance and centrality of digital practices in facilitating familial and global networks and meeting points. It is timely and vital to focus on the digital world – and how it aids, changes or hinders Jewish life – not only because of the pandemic, but also as a complement to, and possible revision of, earlier studies on Jewish space, heritage, memory and demography in Europe, specifically in relationship to the non-Jewish majority.
- This was achieved by inviting papers that explored case studies of recent or ongoing digital practices, such as digital memorials, community Youtube and podcast productions, virtual events facilitated through Instagram, and digital exhibitions. These examples showed, as explained above, the possibilities of digital practices in facilitating meetings across ethnic and religious groups, and community memorials. At the same time, presentations argued that digital spaces prove as conflicted and contested as real-life spaces, with various wills, ideals and desires in collision, demanding negotiations on questions of authority, belonging and identity.
3) The relationship between digital practices and virtual spaces is the main theme of the conference. Participants are encouraged in the CfP to use the surge of digital practices, which particularly increased during the pandemic, as an entry point to explore the concepts of “Jewish spaces” and “virtual Jewishness”, minted some thirty years ago by Diana Pinto and Ruth Ellen Gruber. In today’s digital era, can we see a strengthened relationship between real-life practices and virtual spaces? Do we as researchers need to re-conceptualize the concept of virtuality to incorporate the new meanings attached to digital practices? Through the prism of European Jews in the 21st century, the conference aims to examine the gap between virtual spaces and real-life practices, deepening our understanding of the effects of the digitalization, as well as the pandemic, on the relationship between people and digital practices.
- While papers provided case studies of various types of virtual spaces – digital practices, heritage sites and Jewish institutions – the two keynote speakers provided ample food for thought on how to move the question of “what is a virtual space” forward. Some papers also noted the close codependency between virtual spaces and local communities, or virtual communities and local spaces, arguing, in line with Ruth Ellen Gruber and Diana Pinto, that virtuality cannot be understood from only a real-life or digital perspective. Indeed, in the globalised world we now live in, and especially after the covid-19 pandemic, digital events are intrinsically interlinked with real-life spaces, challenging our scholastic way of approaching ideas of virtual spaces and authenticity.
4) Lastly, the conference will include representatives from “Jewish spaces” in Sweden in order to establish a bridge between the academic world and the institutions we study. Representatives from the Jewish Museum in Stockholm, the cultural meeting place “Judiska salongen” (The Jewish Saloon), Paideia – the European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden, and the Jewish community in Gothenburg are invited. They present a variety of experience linked to the role of digital practices, virtual spaces and Jewish/non-Jewish relations – that is, “Jewish spaces” – prompting participants at the conference to engage with both the concept of virtuality, as well as the future of “Jewish Europe”, from tangible contemporary examples. Examples of Jewish practices and “Jewish spaces” from Sweden, defined by recent demographic studies as a country with a decreasing Jewish population (Daniel Staetsky and Sergio DellaPergola), is a particularly interesting case study as the conference strives to examine Jewish life in all of Europe.
- Representatives from Jewish spaces and institutions in Sweden were invited as suggested in the rationale. One session was devoted to presentations on their cultural events, memorial practices, institutional programmes and exhibitions, and the representatives were present throughout the whole conference in order to bridge scholarly debates on, and the running of, contemporary Jewish spaces.
Overview of Panels
Keynote 1: Ruth Ellen Gruber – Life after Life: Shifting Virtualities (and Realities) 20 Years after Virtually Jewish
The conference started with Ruth Ellen Gruber, from Jewish Heritage Europe, giving a personal account of her life journey through European Jewish spaces. Taking us through her personal experience of the revitalisation of Jewish life after the Holocaust, and relating it to the digital practices that emerged during the covid-19 pandemic, she discussed the notion of authenticity in relation to virtuality. What accounts as real? And what is virtual? What happens at the borders of authenticity? And who decides the shapes of authenticity and virtuality? Arguing that digital platforms can be used as agoras, as places of encounters in Jewish spaces that have no tangible, physical connection to the past, Gruber argued for the collapse of the virtual/reality divide. Instead, we should think about how these terms are defined, and by whom.
Panel 1: Jewish contribution to Europe
Chaired by Christina Reimann (University of Stockholm), this panel discussed the role of Jewish lawmakers (Itai Apter, University of Haifa), Jewish participation in cross-cultural memorialisations (Marcela Menachem Zoufalá, Charles University Prague) and former synagogue spaces (Vladimir Levin, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) in forming a European identity. The relationship between Jewish post-Holocaust life and the development of European practices and trends was noted, and the potential role Jewish communities might (not) play in shaping today’s Europe was discussed.
Panel 2: Jewish/Non-Jewish Spaces
Chaired by Katarzyna Wojnicka (University of Gothenburg), this panel visited urban streets (Susanne Korbel, University of Graz), cemeteries (Magdalena Abraham-Diefenbach, European University Viadrina) and memorials (Jurgita Šiaučiūnaitė-Verbickienė, Vilnius University) to investigate how memories of Jewish pre-Holocaust life shapes the public landscape in Europe. Noting the (non-)role Jewish memorials play in the construction of European national identities, these papers contextualised and problematised the (non-)existence of Jewish memory. At the same time, discussions revolved around the construction – rather than reconstruction – of public spaces in relation to Jewish history, that nonetheless are not related to historical realities. Is virtuality the correct concept to describe this phenomenon?
Panel 3: Jewish Europe from Near and Afar
Chaired by Erik Hallberg (University of Gothenburg), this panel travelled to Israel (Jennifer Cowe, University of British Columbia), the US (Libby Langsner, independent researcher) and Poland (Judith Vöcker, University of Leicester) to explore the role of nostalgia in shaping current memories of and heritage experiences of Jewish Europe. Films, digital memorial practices and memorials were discussed, and the importance of physical objects was highlighted, along with a discussion on the unauthentic memories these objects might facilitate.
Panel 4: Virtual Heritage Spaces
Chaired by Joachim Schlör (University of Southampton), this panel focused on heritage spaces in both on-site exhibitions and the digital world: Jewish museums in ShUM (Susanne Urban, University Marburg) and digital memorialisation platforms (Kyra Schulman, University of Chicago, and Kinga Frojimovics and Éva Kovács, Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies). The close relationship between urban topographies and virtual representations of history emerged as a common theme, and discussions on ethical considerations in navigating both current urban populations and memories of Jewish pasts proved specifically noteworthy.
Panel 5: Digital Practices in Today’s Europe
Chaired by Klas Grinell (University of Gothenburg), this panel explored digital practices among European-Jewish communities. Case studies from the Norwegian-Jewish community’s digital response to the covid-19 pandemic (Tyson Herberger, University of Southeastern Norway), Jewish-Muslim dialogues in virtual spaces (Dekel Peretz, Heidelberg University) and representations of Jewish individuals on digital platforms (Alla Marchenko, The Polish Academy of Sciences) prompted discussions on the performative aspect of virtual spaces, and in contrast to the previous panel, these papers suggested a clear divergence between virtual and real-life spaces.
Heritage Session: Jewish Spaces in Sweden
Chaired by Maja Hultman (University of Gothenburg), this panel invited representatives from Jewish institutions (Agnieszka Baraszko, Paideia – The European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden, and Ivana Koutníková, Paideia folkhögskola), museums (Yael Fried, Jewish Museum in Stockholm), cultural events (Anna Grinzweig Jacobsson and Karin Brygger, Judiska salongen) and communities (Tom Shulevitz, Jewish Community of Gothenburg) in Sweden to present some examples of Swedish-Jewish spaces.
Panel 6: Being Jewish in Today’s Europe
Chaired by Maja Hultman (University of Gothenburg), this last panel visited everyday Jewish life in synagogue spaces (Katalin Tóth, Institute of Ethnology/Research Centre for the Humanities at Eötvös Loránd Research Network) and Poland (Stanislaw Krajewski, University of Warsaw), as well as invisible historical spaces in the U.K. (Phil Alexander, University of Edinburgh). Through these case studies, the on-going inner-communal, societal and urban contestations on how to remember and practice Jewish life after the Holocaust was emphasised. The debate focused on whether Krajewski’s term of de-assimilation fits the European Jewish experience.
Keynote 2: Diana Pinto – Jewish Spaces in a Topsy Turvy Europe
Revisiting the term “Jewish spaces”, which she coined in the optimistic 1990s, Diana Pinto reflected on the increasingly divided and polarised European world, both in terms of Jewish life and the whole continent. Arguing that the idea of virtuality – the augmentation of reality – suits today’s Europe, she argued that Jewish spaces should be used to combat cultural and political fragmentation and launch activism towards a European world defined by pluralism. The isolation of Jewish spaces can end through the encouragement of cross-fertilisations between, for example, minority studies at universities and memory narratives in museums. At the same time, with new horrors entering European territories, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, she also asked for how long the Holocaust can remain outside the competition of suffering. And when it does not, what role will Jewish spaces then play?
Significant Themes Discussed
- The performative nature of digital practices, and how it relates to authentic cross-cultural intersections
- Close relationship between real-life topographies and virtual platforms, and how negotiations on memory in urban life continues and feed digital practices, and vice versa
- Contestations of power, authority and agency in relation to online and real-life Jewish spaces, and how they relate to ideas about authenticity and virtuality
- (Non-)role of Jewish spaces in the battle for a democratic and plural European society
Public and Communal Impact
The keynotes were digitally open for the public. They were also recorded and will be released in the nearby future. Furthermore, the invited representatives from Jewish spaces in Sweden allowed for a necessary bridge between academia and local communities. Lastly, Jewish sites in and nearby Gothenburg were visited, including three guided tours given by local experts. Local Jewish business actors were also employed to cater for some of the conference food.
Conference contributions are planned to be published in both a special issue and an anthology. Publishers have been approached but not yet decided on.
Final Conference Programme
A Jewish Europe? Virtual and Real-Life Spaces in the 21st Century
Tuesday 3 May
09.00 Welcome and introductions
Joachim Schlör, Klas Grinell and Maja Hultman
Chair: Joachim Schlör
- Ruth Ellen Gruber (Jewish Heritage Europe) – Life after Life: Shifting Virtualities (and Realities) 20 Years after Virtually Jewish
10.45 Break and coffee
11.15 Panel 1: Jewish contribution to Europe
Chair: Christina Reimann (University of Stockholm)
- Itai Apter (University of Haifa) – Jewish Legal-Political WWII Era Scholars in the European International Law Space of the Past and Contemporary Virtual Spaces
- Marcela Menachem Zoufalá (Charles University Prague) – Jews as “the Pioneers of the Postmodern Condition”: The Ambivalence, Dilemmas, and Aporias of Central European Jewish Experience
- Vladimir Levin (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem) – European Values, Post-Soviet States, and Jewish Heritage
14.00 Panel 2: Jewish/Non-Jewish Spaces
Chair: Katarzyna Wojnicka (University of Gothenburg)
- Susanne Korbel (University of Graz) – Jewish Spaces in Vienna Today: A Relational, Hybrid Approach
- Magdalena Abraham-Diefenbach (European University Viadrina) – The Legacy of German Jews in Western Poland: Jewish Cemeteries as Places Between “Jewish Space” and “Virtual Jewishness”
- Jurgita Šiaučiūnaitė-Verbickienė (Vilnius University) – The Process of Learning About the Jews and Their Heritage: Influence of Challenges in Post-Soviet Lithuania to the Contemporary Understanding of the Jewish Culture
15.30 Break and coffee
16.00 Panel 3: Jewish Europe from Near and Afar
Chair: Erik Hallberg (University of Gothenburg)
- Jennifer Cowe (University of British Columbia) – Rootless Nostalgia, Yekke Identity and Intergenerational memory Curation/Creation in Mor Kaplansky’s
- Café Nagler Libby Langsner (independent researcher) – Nostalgia Networks: The Potential of Built Heritage Digitization in European American Jewish Identity Formation and Social Belonging
- Judith Vöcker (University of Leicester) – The Muranów District as a Memorial of the Former Jewish Community of Warsaw
18.00 City walk of Jewish Gothenburg
19.00 Tour and dinner @ Gothenburg’s Synagogue
Wednesday 4 May
09.00 Panel 4: Virtual Heritage Spaces
Chair: Joachim Schlör (University of Southampton)
- Susanne Urban (University Marburg) – Storytelling in Jewish Spaces: Creating a Bond Between Spaces, History and Present
- Kyra Schulman (University of Chicago) – Memory Space: Probing the Limits of Holocaust Memorialization Projects on Digital Versus Physical Topographies
- Kinga Frojimovics and Éva Kovács (Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies) – Tracing the Holocaust in the Kaiserstadt
10.30 Break and coffee
11.00 Panel 5: Digital Practices in Today’s Europe
Chair: Klas Grinell (University of Gothenburg)
- Tyson Herberger (University of Southeastern Norway) – Impacts of Norwegian Jewry’s Digital Turn Under Corona
- Dekel Peretz (Heidelberg University) – Searching for Belonging: Jewish-Muslim Dialogue in Virtual Spaces
- Alla Marchenko (The Polish Academy of Sciences) – Virtual Representation of Real Jews and Jewishness in Contemporary Poland
12.30 Lunch @ Museum of World Culture
13.45 Heritage Session: Jewish Spaces in Sweden
Chair: Maja Hultman (University of Gothenburg)
- Yael Fried (Jewish Museum in Stockholm)
- Anna Grinzweig Jacobsson and Karin Brygger (Judiska salongen)
- Agnieszka Baraszko (Paideia – The European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden) and Ivana Koutníková (Paideia folkhögskola)
- Tom Shulevitz (Jewish Community of Gothenburg)
15.15 Break and coffee
15.45 Bus trip Gothenburg-Marstrand
17.00 Guided tour of Marstrand
19.00 Dinner @ Grand Tenan
21.30 Bus trip Marstrand-Gothenburg
Thursday 5 May
09.00 Panel 6: Being Jewish in Today’s Europe
Chair: Maja Hultman (University of Gothenburg)
- Katalin Tóth (Institute of Ethnology, Research Centre for the Humanities, Eötvös Loránd Research Network) – “But We Are Also Here – the Descendants of the Survivors”: Everyday Life of a Synagogue in Budapest for the Past Thirty Years
- Stanislaw Krajewski (University of Warsaw) – The Concept of De-Assimilation as a Tool to Describe Present-Day European Jews: The Example of Poland
- Phil Alexander (University of Edinburgh) – “The Most Saving Slum in Glasgow, and the Most Abandoned”: Scotland’s 20th Century Jewish Neighbourhoods as 21st Century Virtual Spaces
10.30 Break and coffee
Chair: Joachim Schlör
- Diana Pinto (independent researcher) – Jewish Spaces in a Topsy Turvy Europe
12.15 Closing remarks
- Joachim Schlör and Maja Hultman
12.45 Lunch @ Andrum
The conference is generously supported by: The Wenner-Gren Foundations, Riksbankens jubileumsfond, The Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/Non-Jewish Relations, a donation made in memory of Jack and Gretel Habel (refugees from Nazi Germany), and The European Association for Jewish Studies (EAJS).