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Reviewed by:
  • Gender, Place, and Memory in the Modern Jewish Experience: Re-Placing Ourselves
  • Laura Levitt
Judith Tydor Baumel and Tova Cohen, eds. Gender, Place, and Memory in the Modern Jewish Experience: Re-Placing Ourselves. Parkes-Wiener Series on Jewish Studies. London and Portland, Oregon: Vallentine Mitchell Publishers, 2003. Pp. xxii + 297.

Gender, Place, and Memory in the Modern Jewish Experience: Re-Placing Ourselves is an unusual collection that brings together a wide range of scholars from Israel, Europe, and the United States with a focus on historical memory from a variety of perspectives—sociological, historical, literary, artistic, and architectural. Like many anthologies especially on gender, this volume also grows out of a conference, in this case, an interdisciplinary gathering at Bar-Ilan University in January 2001. As the editors tell us in their introduction, it was the conference and its focus on the interplay between gender, place, and memory that inspired this publication. "Different memories of different places and different gendered experiences provide the backdrop to understand the variation of Jewish life and identity. These places and experiences shade Jewish memories in a myriad of shades, forming the rainbow of colors of which modern Jewish life is composed" (p. xix). This alluring statement frames our understanding of the conference and its mandate, although it is unfortunate that the editors never make clear the specific relationship between these goals and the volume before us. Regretfully, they never flesh out how differences of place, memory, and gender come together and are in conversation within modern Jewish life. In other words, we never learn about the conversations, the discussion within and between sessions and papers that took place at Bar-Ilan and might have helped readers who were not there understand how these fascinating essays are in conversation with each other. Instead, the editors have chosen more or less to allow the essays and the three sections of the volume to speak for themselves. Given this, they begin their introduction by describing the complexities of modern identity in general and modern Jewish identity formation in particular. As they explain, for Jews not only are there issues of "who we are, where we come from and how we remember our past" but also questions about "choice" (p. xix). As they explain, "In certain cases, being Jewish is still a pivotal part of a person's self-definition. For others, it is but one of a [End Page e134] number of factors which the personal whole is now composed" (p. xix). They conclude this discussion by explaining that for still other modern Jews, Jewishness is but a nostalgic recollection with little bearing on one's future. Unfortunately, they never return to any of these issues to help explain their choice of essays and their ordering.

In many ways these brief statements are all that readers get from the editors about the logic of the volume, especially the ways that the three sections work together to get at these larger thematic issues. Instead we are told the following: "Given the importance of place and history in this collection, the articles in this book are divided according to three geographical/historical coordinates. The first Europe prior to and during the Second World War, the second is the United States, and the third is, the Zionist movement, the Yishuv and the State of Israel" (pp. xix–xx). There is in the editors' own words little clarity about the relationships among and between these categories or why it is that the United States is presented so vaguely with no clear reference to specific geographical locations or for that matter the historical moments covered. In part this is what is most frustrating about this collection. The editors have brought together a terrific range of essays by distinguished scholars but offer readers no clear indication about how a reader might draw links between these various sections. The fact that the sections culminate with "the State of Israel" itself suggests a kind of teleological reading, especially given that the final essay returns to most of the terms of the book's title, "Time, Place, Gender and Memory: From the Perspective of an Israeli Psychologist."1 Although the author of this essay...


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