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Placing Childhood: Jewish Youth and Space in the 20th Century

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

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


The early 20th century brought about myriad transformations to western ideas surrounding the needs and fundamental rights of children. In the mid-20th century, Americans became more child and family centered than ever before, American Jewish culture transforming under this broader societal influence. In Palestine, children and youth were perceived as the carriers of the Zionist revolution and became both symbols of and tools towards the building of the state. With these historical contexts in mind, this panel examines Jewish youth in the 20th century, focusing on childhood and youth cultures in the Jewish community in Palestine, and in summer camps in America. Considering this topic through the lens of the spatial turn, all three papers examine the lived experience of youth in relationship to their locales on the one hand, and to the greater ideologies and political circumstances of twentieth century Jews on the other.

The papers presented by Elia Etkin and Matan Boord address this theme with a focus on Jews in Mandate Palestine. Etkin focuses on neighborhoods as sites which shaped youth’s experiences and images, within the processes of nation building, immigration and assimilation. Focusing on a number of sites, Etkin will claim that what created the notion of the neighborhood in Palestine was a combination of Jewish, Zionist and local urban affiliation. Boord’s paper looks at Labor-Zionist children’s literature, and tracks the gendered way in which it constructed fatherhood and childhood in relation to the national space. He argues that gender and the family were important parts of the Labor-Zionist hegemonic project, and that the movement’s prioritizing of the colonization of national space were manifested in the family in myriad ways. Sandra Fox looks across the ocean at how summer camps, as total institutions, infused their visions of life in Israel into the environment of Jewish camps, in hopes of transforming youth. She considers the summer camp within the broader historical context of the postwar period, in which the shaping and controlling of youth became high priorities for Americans across the board. Melissa R. Klapper will provide a response to the papers.

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