- Turning the Kaleidoscope: Perspectives on European Jewry
Sandra Lustig and Ian Leveson are European Jews (based, respectively, in Germany and England) whose edited collection, Turning the Kaleidoscope: Perspectives on European Jewry, builds on the premise that the world has changed, particularly the European world. We now have the EU, an international currency, and low barriers between countries. These open borders, the new common language of English, and the widespread use of Internet communication have created opportunities for a Jewish revolution of sorts in Europe. It is time, argue Lustig and Leveson, to assert a new identity, not as a Czech, German or Swedish Jew, but as a European Jew.
Many bold ideas underpin this book. One is that European Jewry can serve as a bridge between the two Jewish superpowers—Israel and the United States. Rather than conceiving of these two giants as vacuum cleaners sucking up all the Jews, we should recognize the existence of vibrant, growing Diaspora communities, each with unique features. The contributors have another important idea to share: The old organizations are tired and meaningless. Younger people want—need—to create new Jewish organizations to deal with a new reality. They see themselves as being outside the mainstream.
Two of Kaleidoscope's eleven chapters deal with women, and it is on these that I will focus. The first (chapter 6) presents a panel discussion that took place in Berlin in 2001; entitled "Left Over—Living after the Shoah: (Re-)building Jewish Life in Europe," it was devoted specifically to the theme of "The Jewish Family: Myth and Reality." The occasion was the Second Conference of European Female Rabbis, Cantors, Jewish Activists and Scholars, created and hosted by the Bet Debora European feminist organization.1 It had taken more than 50 years after the Holocaust for there to emerge a critical [End Page 262] mass of female rabbis, cantors, activists and scholars who could create such a conference.
Sandra Lustig, who moderated the panel and edited its proceedings, outlines the broad, penetrating range of questions that the five panelists—Lynn Feinberg (Oslo), Jael Geis (Berlin), Wanya Kruyer (Amsterdam), Eleonore Lappin (Vienna) and Andrea Peto (Budapest)—were asked to address, from "Do we feel safe?" to "What are we seeking?" As the women explain, Orthodox restrictions on women's participation in prayer services inspired the creation of Rosh Hodesh groups—which, however, were found to have deficiencies of their own. Jewish women in Europe began striving for "something new." Andrea Peto seems to have gotten the most "newness" off the ground with her initiation of the "Esther's Bag" (EszterTáska) Foundation, a Jewish women's group and website based in Hungary. Jael Geis's comments are perhaps the most provocative in showing how protest against Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon mobilized the first non-mainstream Jewish organization in Europe. She describes the conflict within the Jewish community, torn by its attitudes toward Israel.
Apart from their intrinsic interest, the seemingly verbatim presentation of the panelists' statements and the questions posed by the audience comprise potential raw material for sociologists and historians. The women describe their personal experiences (deciding about berit milah, trying to define a spiritual life, reacting to news of suicide bombings in Israel) and their burning questions (Why is there no organization of survivor's children in Germany; why do I feel strange around converts; why do children "run away" to Israel?). They interrupt each other, change topics and express strong emotions. The engaged reader can use these pages to enter into the conversation herself. The energy of these thinkers is striking, yet the key phrase in the title of their conversation—"Left Over"—is almost lifeless.
Chapter 7, co-authored by Bet Debora initiators Lara Dammig and Elsa Klapheck, begins with their efforts to shape an authentic German or European Jewish feminism. Did they have to imitate Americans? Their question was answered almost by chance, when, at a Shabbat service in one of the first egalitarian minyans to be formed in Germany, someone read a 1935 poem by Bertha...