In the Interzone. Polish Jewish Sociality and Education in the Trans-State Space
Dr Jan Lorenz, University of Manchester.
Abstract: The tradition of Jewish summer camps goes back the pre-WW2 era. It was in the post-war era, however, that they became sites of “counter-assimilation” policies and communitarianism aimed to alleviate the influence of the “melting pot” of post-WW2 American suburbia. The summer camps became an integral, and as some argued, an indispensable element of socialization into Jewish tradition and communal responsibility. Depending on the organizing institution’s political and religious affiliation the participants were taught Yiddish or Hebrew, learned about Judaism and/or the significance of the Israel as the Jewish State. In the communist Poland of the 1950s and 1960s, camps had a similar role, yet amplified by the prevalent anti-Semitism which eventually brought their temporary end after the anti-Jewish purge of 1968. The demise of the communist state and the growing activities of Jewish charity organizations allowed for re-establishment of the summer camps and the emergence of new supralocal events and gatherings, including those specifically dedicated to Orthodox religious education and practice. The last decades witnessed the parallel emergence of such spatio-temporal projects in other countries of Central and Eastern Europe and across the world. These endeavours were often grounded in the notion of the global Jewish solidarity, epitomising the changing relationship between Israel and the Jewish Diaspora and fostering close ties and interdependencies between Jewish communities around the world.
Jewish social and religious life in Poland after 1989 was subject to profound remaking, of which these supralocal spaces and temporalities of education and socialization were a determining factor, shaping the experiences of young Jewish adults, mostly of mixed ancestry. Birthright-Taglit heritage trips to Israel have become an important trigger for their engagement in local Jewish organizations, while Jewish summer camps in Poland and Hungary were formative experiences for scores of Polish Jewish children and adolescents,. At the camps, some of them were first introduced to the Jewish tradition in the most rudimentary sense and given a chance to work through the anxieties of growing up Jewish in Poland. These and more recently emergent temporal sites of sociality, education and potential re-ethnification become liminal microcosms of Jewish communal life in their own right. They invite us to consider both the idea of globally emergent spaces of cultural, religious and political transformation and the changing sociality of the Jewish Diaspora.
Biography: Jan Lorenz is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Jewish Studies of the University of Manchester working on “Becoming Oneself, Becoming Another: Conversion to Judaism in Contemporary Poland”. He received his PhD in Social Anthropology with Visual Media from the University of Manchester and his MA in Ethnology from Adam Mickiewicz University in Pozna?. He has done ethnographic fieldwork in Poland, Israel, and Haiti, and is the author of an ethnographic documentary on young Jews in Poland entitled ”The Passage” (2013). His most recent work is about Jews in contemporary Poland and research interests include globalization, religiosity and religious conversion, memory, social belonging, as well as ethics and identity transformations. He has also done research and written on affect, space and collective trauma in postcolonial and post-Holocaust contexts. His research activities are informed by his academic interests in ethnographic methods and writing, visual anthropology, art and experimental film.
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