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Of Divided Minds: Conversion Conflicts and Identity Challenges

Sun, December 17, 12:45 to 2:15pm, Marriott Marquis Washington, DC, Marquis Salon 2

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


This panel reflects a cross-section of interdisciplinary approaches to understanding the many meanings of self-selected conversion, rather than forced, in Jewish identity. It explores this complex subject across a variety of geographies – Europe, America and Israel -, disciplines, including art, music, theology, anthropology and sociology, and across historical eras, from the 18th century into the 21st century. The session will investigate and interrogate the tensions and opportunities, professional, social and personal, that both inform and motivate individuals in many walks of life to engage in a conversion process. It also will explore the impact and effects of conversion beyond an individual to groups and entire communities. To the extent that the term CONVERSION can be construed in multiple ways, i.e. religious, cultural, philosophical, and even metaphorical, our panel will reflect upon the multiplicity of meanings and effects of conversion, raising an array of questions, through the presentation of four distinct case studies: Daniel Stein Kokin elucidates a little-known early 18th century description by Christoph Wallich, a Jewish convert to Protestantism, that accompanied a commissioned model synagogue at the University of Greiffswald, Germany. Kokin opens a new window into German-Jewish life of the period, while also exposing Wallich’s ambivalence about his own conversion. Using historical research methodologies, Marsha Dubrow examines the personal diary entries of a brilliantly successful 19th century musician, Ignaz Moscheles, as well as his correspondence with Felix Mendelssohn, uncovering Moscheles' internal identity conflicts evidenced in the timing of his conversion coupled with his career trajectory. Ben Schachter looks at a number of significant contemporary American artists, including Meirle Laderman Ukeles and Archie Rand, from the perspective of their abrupt and then ongoing stylistic change that incorporates Jewish themes and motifs into their work after a long period of no Jewish religious or cultural reference. Employing methods of art criticism, he interrogates the impetus and impact this change has on the both the artists, as well as their professional communities and their public. And Einat Libel-Hass seeks to investigate the unusual circumstances and effects surrounding the Reform religious conversion process of non-religious immigrants to Israel from the Philippines, Russia and Western countries, with Israeli partners. She investigates such conversions in the cosmopolis of Tel Aviv. This session hopes to open the doors widely to the topic of CONVERSION, an all-too-neglected area of study, and interrogate its many meanings through the demonstration of multiple methodologies across disciplines, geographies and centuries.

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