EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

Managing Jewish heritage assets in European urban landscapes
Location U6-16
Date and Start Time 21 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 1


  • Sonia Catrina (CSIER-Centre for the Study of the Jewish History in Romania & CEREFREA-Centre Régional francophone de recherches avancées en sciences sociales) email
  • George Iordachescu (School of Advanced Studies IMT Lucca, Italy) email

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Short Abstract

This session raises the question of the physical state of the Jewish heritage assets in European urban landscapes, by inquiring into the issues of their productions, uses, manipulations, negotiations, and "ownership claims and entitlements" (Verkuyten, 2013: 151).

Long Abstract

The extermination of European Jewry during the 20th Century led to the abandonment, degradation, decay or even to the disappearance of the "Jewish social and memorial infrastructure" (Lehrer, 2010: 273) across Europe. To keep them out of destruction, some of the Jewish historical buildings and memory sites have been recycled and converted to other social, cultural, tourist, entrepreneurial uses.

How is Jewish urban heritage shaped by "the top-down state policies of territorialisation and resources" or "bottom-up movements" (Warnier, 2011, 96) of social responsibility? Who are the actors taking possession of Jewish vestiges, symbols of Jews' cultural memories in urban landscapes of Europe? Which functions such Jewish evocative sites, once shared identity catalysts for Jewish communities, fulfil in the perpetuation of "cultural memory" (Assmann, 2010) of the respective communities and how the transmission is operated? How do the (mis-)uses of this heritage shape the social relations in contemporary European societies? What role does this heritage accomplish in the reconciliation of the memory of a difficult past of Jews in Europe?

In line with these issues, we are looking for studies using theoretical and empirical approaches that examine the management of various Jewish heritage assets by public authorities, their social uses in European urban landscapes as well.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


The Ghetto of Venice, contemporary anthropology of an ancient urban enclave

Author: Antonella Di Trani (EHESS, Ecole des hautes études en sciences sociales)  email

Short Abstract

The paper proposes a reexamination of the notion of Ghetto through the singular case of Venice. Its long history is reactivated by the different actors mindful to preserve it as a « jewish area », confronted with the possible missionary and tourist excesses of a Ghetto-to-be.

Long Abstract

By bringing particular attention to the semantic trajectory of the word ghetto, the paper aims at demonstrating how the different actors - Venetian Jews, Christian inhabitants, visitors and newly arrived Hassidic Jews - each update its signification with regards to the Ghetto's original function and meaning. Previously neglected by urban policies, the Ghetto is now the subject of renewed interest from the city and above all from the local Jewish community. Confronted with its devitalization and the recent implantation of a new Hassidic Jewish community from the United States, the Venetian Jews are obliged to rethink their genealogical and current relationship with the Ghetto, which has become a place of social stakes implicating both its long history and its materiality.

These different actors thus reclaim the ghetto through the construction of a specific discourse, distinctive usages of the public space and old historical limits. Depending on the perceptions they have of the place, different actors integrate these limits into the city's economy or, on the contrary, they reclaim them by taking the ghetto out of its state of latency. The aim is to report the different modes of this recent reactivation of its history. If the Venetian Jews use the local past and their patrimonial resources to enhance or revitalize the Ghetto and to reaffirm their belonging to it, the newly arrived also intend to legitimize their presence in the place. The Ghetto thus becomes a place of power where each Jewish community mobilizes strategies to construct its visibility and represent Jewishness in this "emblematic" location.

Discussing the “increased Jewishness” of a neighbourhood in Antwerp: culturalism, secularism, antisemitism, and the notion of ‘neighbourhood life’ as a racializing frame

Author: Anick Vollebergh (UvA/Radboud University)  email

Short Abstract

Non-Jews’ discussions of “the increased Jewishness” of their neighbourhood in Antwerp elucidate the afterlife of historical racial tropes in local discourses, and their re-articulation in relation to the notion of ‘everyday neighbourhood life’ as a new racializing frame for diagnosing strangeness.

Long Abstract

Over the past decades, the Jewish population in Antwerp has become more visible as it has become more pious, with an increasing part of the Jewish population keeping to Hareidi norms of dress and Hasidic communities now constituting an estimated 25 per cent of the Jewish population. Simultaneously, modern orthodox and Hareidi Jews have started to move away from the traditional Jewish neighbourhood located in a working class and migrant area around the central station to an adjacent more bourgeois borough, turning buildings that previously had different functions into Hasidic schools, prayer houses and kosher shops and eateries. In the eyes of non-Jewish middle class denizens, their neighbourhood has become “more Jewish”. In order to grasp and express what this means to them, they draw on, and mix, classic antisemitic tropes with culturalist postcolonial imaginaries of neighbourhood domination, white alienation, and religious unfreedom that are normally focused in Flemish public debates on deprived ethnic neighborhoods, ‘Moroccans’, and ‘Islam’. I understand these local non-Jewish perceptions and discourses as revolving around the questions what the limits are of ‘normal’, ‘autochthonous’ Belgianness and how these could, or should, be drawn. What emerges from Jewish and non-Jewish denizens’ negotiations of the question of the “increased Jewishness” of the neighbourhood, and what unites the otherwise curious re-combining of antisemitic, culturalist and secularist racial tropes and different historical templates for conceptualizing strangeness, is a particular notion of ‘the neighbourhood’ and ‘neighbourhood life’ acting as a new hegemonic diagnostic frame.

Local brand and contested memories: constructing Jewish heritage in Leżajsk and Lelów (Poland)

Author: Magdalena Zatorska (University of Warsaw)  email

Short Abstract

On the basis of ethnographic fieldwork in two Polish towns visited by Hasidic pilgrims since the end of the 20th century, I would like to describe the processes of constructing the Polish-Jewish past and Jewish heritage, as well as the ways it is used by local authorities and social actors.

Long Abstract

The proposed paper is based on the ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Poland in two localities: Lelów and Leżajsk. Both towns are important centres of Hasidic pilgrimage movement, which was revived in Poland in late '80s and early '90s of the 20th century after a long period of discontinuity.

Hasidim come to Leżajsk to visit the grave of Rabbi Elimelech (1717-1786), located on the Jewish cemetery destroyed during the World War II, however preserved as a distinct area and renovated in the 60s. Whereas in Lelów the war and afterwar periods resulted in almost complete disappearance of the traces of pre-war Jewish presence. Therefore, the finding of the grave of Rabbi David Biderman (1746-1814) under the local store in the 80s significantly changed both the landscape of the town and the social perception of its Jewish history.

Hasidic pilgrimages described above started in Lelów and Leżajsk an important processes of negotiating the memory about Jewish communities. At the same time, Hasidic presence and restored Jewish infrastructure were incorporated by the authorities and social actors into local politics of memory. Patrimonialized and commodified Jewishness became a tourist attraction, which is performed by local inhabitants in many ways, for example during the cultural festival Ciulim-Czolent Day in Lelów.

By describing these processes, as well as by analysing local experiences of cultural difference in the contact with Hasidim and the memory on Jewish pre-war inhabitants of both towns, I would like to address the problem of constructing the Jewish-Polish past and its contemporary uses.

POLIN museum, museum of life? An Insider's perspective

Author: Kamila Dąbrowska (Museum of the History of Polish Jews)  email

Short Abstract

In autumn 2014 first visitors entered the Core Exhibit of the POLIN Museum, stirring up emotions. Long before its official opening, the Museum struggled to define its identity. I will present the story of the Museum project in context of Jewish heritage in post-socialist, post-Holocaust Poland.

Long Abstract

POLIN's building in Warsaw was constructed in an exceptional location, on the ruins of the ghetto, in front of the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes. The Holocaust looms the predominating story of the Polish Jews almost everywhere. The Museum of the History of Polish Jews has been defined in all its promotional materials as "the Museum of life", that would present the thousand - year history of Polish Jews, a history which neither starts nor ends with the Holocaust. That story would define the kind of institution the museum should be: a cultural and educational center dedicated to the history of Polish Jews, in order to "build bridges across the rupture", writes in the Museum catalogue the Chief Curator, of the Core Exhibition, professor Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett (2014). The exhibition uses the principle of narrative space to present the one-thousand- year history of Polish Jews. The Museum of the History of Polish Jews warmed up emotions long before its opening. It gave rise to hopes and fears, satisfaction and sorrow both for the right-wing, conservative narratives and the left-wing, liberal ones. Even though they concentrated on exhibition's format, they were dominated by disputes over POLIN's political role. In order to understand the story of the POLIN Museum project, it has to be explained in a wider framework of political and historical changes within the post-war years, which influenced the attitudes towards Polish-Jewish relations and Jewish heritage.

The 'Various Others': managing Jewish cultural heritage in post-1991 Ukraine

Author: Anastasia Felcher (IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca)  email

Short Abstract

The paper addresses differences in treatment and managerial strategies applied to Jewish heritage sites in four oblast of post-1991 Ukraine. It also discusses if Jewish heritage in Ukraine fall into theoretical categories of 'dissonant', 'difficult', 'uncomfortable' or 'critical'.

Long Abstract

Starting from the late 1980s, grass-roots initiatives devoted to articulation of Jewish identity by representatives of local communities took place across Ukraine in the forms of 'Societies for Jewish Culture'. Followed by the giving back of some former communal property and reparation performed with financial support of international Jewish organizations, this marked beginning of Jewish renewal or Jewish renaissance in post-1991 Ukraine. It was as well primarily concern of Jewish organizations and communities to commemorate the sites of anti-Jewish violence across the country. However, by 2016, on the one hand thanks to rising influence of local oligarchs of Jewish descent mainly in Eastern Ukraine and, on the other hand, to rise of the tourism industry, as well as religious pilgrimage and Jewish heritage tourism, the topic started appearing in academic and media discourse, coupled with cases of 'rediscovery' of Jewish past and related sites across the country as the concern of both Jews and non-Jews alike. Still, the dynamics and level of tension surrounding these processes varies across the regions. The paper discusses the dynamics of 'rediscovery' of Jewish heritage sites in post-Communist Ukraine from the vantage point of politics of memory. Theoretical contribution of the paper focuses on the discussion of the differences between 'dissonant', 'difficult', 'uncomfortable' and 'critical' heritage, as well as applicability of those terms to management of Jewish heritage sites in present-day Ukraine.

Jewish heritage and politics of memory in post-communist Romania

Author: Sonia Catrina (CSIER-Centre for the Study of the Jewish History in Romania & CEREFREA-Centre Régional francophone de recherches avancées en sciences sociales)  email

Short Abstract

This presentation will address the emergence or decline of heritage-value in what regards Jewish heritage in the Romanian post-communist context.

Long Abstract

Jews from Romania currently represent a declining population at national level, comparing with a century ago. For these reasons, their social cohesion is threatened. In the absence of powerful identity bonds, some of the synagogues formerly used for religious gatherings, and buildings dedicated to socio-cultural practices or monuments have fallen into decay, have been sold or rented and then converted to other usages or even destroyed. As a result, they have lost their primary identity symbolism. Some others have been rehabilitated and Jewish religious or socio-cultural practices restored. On the one hand, the emergence of value with respect to Jewish historical buildings incites us to investigate the aggregation of economic or cultural values attributed to them. On the other hand, the lack of interest of national authorities and cultural heritage specialists in intervening through policies and planning measures in rehabilitating Jewish synagogues or other similar historical remains, such as palaces, monuments or cemeteries, forces the sociologist to look into the processes of declining their value. The objective is thus to explore the stakes surrounding their keeping in a bad condition or, on the contrary, the stakes of their renewal. More precisely, the purpose of this study is to stimulate reflections on Jewish heritage assets as perceived within the Romanian post-communist society, to reveal negotiations, tensions, or identity conflicts.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.