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Rethinking Jewish “Subcultures”: Algerian, Parisian, Viennese, and Beyond

Sun, December 16, 10:00 to 11:30am, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Cityview 2 Ballroom

Session Submission Type: Panel Session

Abstract

In his groundbreaking 1987 work, The Transformation of German Jewry, 1780-1840, David Sorkin coined the notion of a “subculture” to describe the ideology and associational life that emerged among German Jews by the mid-nineteenth-century. He contended that even as these Jews sought to assume the norms of wider German bourgeois culture, due to the protracted, uneven nature of their emancipation process, they ultimately produced what he called “minority- group reworkings” of the ideas and institutions of the majority society.

While the impact of Sorkin’s work for German Jewish history was far-reaching, the idea of the subculture has garnered precious little attention among scholars of modern Jewish history more broadly. Current debates about Jewish migration, Otherness, identity, and exile stand to benefit immensely from returning to the concept. The three papers on this panel offer a beginning: each both employs and re-thinks the idea of a Jewish “subculture” to examine an understudied moment, group, or locale of Jewish history. Lisa Silverman (University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee) will act as chair and David Sorkin (Yale) has himself agreed to comment.

Katherine Sorrels (University of Cincinnati) examines the preponderance of Viennese Jewish doctors and therapists in the 1939 founding in Scotland of Camphill, an international movement of intentional communities for people with disabilities. Sorrels argues that an essential and enduring part of Camphill is that it began as an exilic Jewish subculture of German Anthroposophy. Ethan Katz (University of California, Berkeley) contends that an Algerian Jewish subculture proved crucial to the underground movement that helped to clear the path for the November 1942 Allied landing in North Africa. While insistently French, the Jewish resisters shared largely Jewish social networks, frequently supported Jewish causes, and acted based upon specifically Jewish concerns. Nick Underwood (German Historical Institute, Berkeley) focuses on Eastern European Jews in post-1945 Paris. These Yiddishists’ distinctive linguistic and ethnic background, he argues, not only made them one of myriad Jewish subcultures in France at this moment of migratory flux, but also came to define a Jewish subculture within the Parisian left of the 1950s.

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