Accepted Paper:

"Phantom nostalgia" in Israeli heritage museums  


Tamar Katriel (University of Haifa)

Paper short abstract:

The museums discussed combine affirmation and rejection of the Jewish past, belonging and alienation, ethnic distinctiveness and national inclusion. They cultivate “phantom nostalgia” through the "presence of absence" even while disregarding tangible traces of a local past.

Paper long abstract:

Using case studies of two vernacular museums designed to commemorate the heritage of Central European Jews in Israel - the Museum of German-speaking Jewry in Tefen and the Museum of Hungarian-speaking Jewry in Safed - I address the ways in which gaps and fissures are thematized, marginalized or brushed over in these museological contexts.

Both museums reconstruct the particular trajectories of the culture and history of the Jews in cultural areas demarcated by language-use as well as the story of their immigration to Palestine/Israel and their often painful incorporation into Israeli society. Both, too, walk a thin line between affirmation and rejection of the Jewish Diaspora past, a sense of belonging and alienation vis-à-vis mainstream Israeli society on the one hand and European culture on the other.

Established through the efforts of Holocaust survivors backed by immigrant associations, these two museums serve both commemorative and pedagogical functions as they negotiate their claims to cultural distinctiveness. They pay tribute to the Jewish communal past and shared sense of loss yet go beyond Jewish victimhood through affirmative and forward-looking displays of energizing past accomplishments. They thus inculcate members of younger generations with a sense of "phantom nostalgia" - a "presence of absence", a reaching out to places and times they never knew. Ironically, this family-anchored "phantom nostalgia" coincides with a cultivated disregard for the divisions and fractures underlying the museums' enterprise and their political implications.

Panel P32
Theorizing heritage fractures, divides and gaps