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Jewish Youth and Social Change: From Colonial Expansion to Modern Multiculturalism

Sun, December 16, 10:00 to 11:30am, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Harborview 1 Ballroom

Session Submission Type: Panel Session


This panel examines the active role of Jewish youth and youth movements in twentieth-century national and social change. Each of the four papers in the panel explore how Jewish youth responded to political transformations, and civic and religious opportunities, as well their various challenges. The panel probes understudied topics relating to the political activity of Jewish youth—from young Italian Jewish colonialists to Sephardic female orphans—and places them in conversation with one another through a comparative framework. By transcending state borders and focusing on the complexity of youth activity in relation to colonialism, nationalism, and constructions of national unity, this panel provides a novel structure for conceptualizing distinct forms of Jewish social and political action.

Shira Klein, for example, traces the fervently pro-colonial attitudes of Italian Jewish youth at the time of Italy's conquest of Ethiopia in the 1930s. Golan Moskowitz’s paper similarly engages questions of nationalist expansion, except that his paper centers on the role of Jewish youth and comics in the propagation of American multiculturalism and liberal social values in the aftermath of Nazism and postwar racisms. Klein and Moskowitz each consider Jewish youth activity in light of pre-war and post-war social and political change. Katharine Halls’s paper shifts the focus to Egypt, where male Karaite youth responded to an increasingly precarious position within Egyptian society by reforming marital practices and prior modes of sociability. Like Halls, Allyson Gonzalez explores the gendered aspects of Jewish youth and social change. Gonzalez’s paper considers how female Sephardic orphans helped to shape notions of interwar citizenship by appealing to plural conceptions of political belonging in the Sephardic heartlands. However, if Halls’ male youths pursued internal mechanisms of change (i.e., marriage and social activity), the female orphans in Gonzalez’s paper sought external foreign options, as well.

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