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Home and Away: Space and The Construction of Normative Fatherhood in Labor Zionist Children's Literature in Mandate Palestine

Mon, December 17, 10:30am to 12:00pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Backbay 1 Complex

Abstract

One major trope in Labor-Zionist children’s literature was that of family members journeying away from home for different periods of time. It was, by and large, the domain of men, with numerous scenes depicting fathers and/or husbands departing and coming back home appearing in various genres of writing. The sadness and sometimes concern surrounding it notwithstanding, traveling away from home and family for work had largely positive connotations, as did journeys for the sake of other national missions, such as defense or familiarizing oneself with the Land of Israel. Children, mostly boys but also girls, were also the protagonists of such endeavors, imitating or following their fathers, and in some cases traveling on their own or in groups, with the parents only partially disapproving. Among Mizrahi families, the story often went differently: in these cases, fathers were often situated at home, passive and unemployed, while mothers and children had to go out (and, in the children’s case, avoid school) in order to secure the family’s livelihood. Cases in which the father was absent were also presented negatively, as the outcome of the father’s neglect and abandonment.

The paper examines how space functioned in Labor-Zionist children’s literature to construct normative fatherhood along the axes of gender, ethnicity, age and class. In so doing, it demonstrates how family images were used to place a certain group of men at an advantageous position in the social hierarchy in the Jewish community in Mandate Palestine, and to bolster Labor’s emerging hegemony within the Yishuv. The paper argues that the Labor-Zionist prioritization of conquest and colonization of national space was reflected in its approach to the family, and played a role in constructing the relations within families and between different kinds of families among its members.

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