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Radical Jewish Politics in the Street through Photography, Literature, and Violence

Mon, December 18, 3:00 to 4:30pm, Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, University of DC Room

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


The great sociopolitical pressures, changes, and resulting polarizations in the Jewish world of the late 19th and early 20th centuries manifested themselves in myriad ways. This panel will focus on Jewish uses of the public space of the streets in New York and Eastern Europe as a site of negotiating local and transnational modern Jewish identities. We will examine overtly political acts of protest and violence alongside aesthetic engagements with the same realities.

Shirelle Maya Doughty will consider the political street photography of New York’s Photo League. She will place the works of members of the League in dialogue with the broader genre of street photography from the late 1800s through the 1950s in order to discern the radical changes they introduce to the genre of street photography, as well as the way their work relates to broader Jewish political and sociological sensibilities at the time. Eddy Portnoy will discuss intra-Jewish Yom Kippur street violence in North America and Poland during the interwar period as a response to attempts to create a secular Jewish identity versus attempts to maintain traditional culture by means of force. Julia Fermentto-Tzaisler will discuss the 1902 New York City Kosher meat boycott in relationship with Mendele Mocher Sforim’s 1869 Yiddish play DI TAKSE (the tax), reading the boycott as a public performance of the role of kosher meat as a transnational symbol of East-European Jews and a way for Eastern-European Jewish women to negotiate their role as active members in the Jewish immigrant community. All three papers view their protagonists’ presence in the streets as performative and will engage with questions surrounding how and why their public activism constituted a means for constructing new communal identities, and what forms of identity they were trying to construct.

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