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Reviewed by:
  • Jewish Topographies: Visions of Space, Traditions of Place
  • Ranen Omer-Sherman
Jewish Topographies: Visions of Space, Traditions of Place, edited by Julia Brauch, Anna Lipphardt, and Alexandra Nocke. Aldershot, Hampshire and Burlington, VR: Ashgate, 2008. 365 pp. $99.95.

In recent years there has been a heightened critical awareness of the role of spatiality in the Jewish imagination, reflected in numerous conferences such as Lehigh University's 2007 "No Direction Home: Re-imagining Jewish Geography," textual productions such as Barbara Mann's special Prooftexts issue devoted to "Literary Mappings of the Jewish City," Eyal Ben-Ari and Yoram Bilu's Grasping Land: Space and Place in Contemporary Israeli Discourse & Experience, or my own Israel in Exile: Jewish Writing & the Desert, to name just a few recent exemplars. Jewish Topographies (whose genesis was the University of Potsdam's "Makom: Place and Places in Judaism" program) is certainly the [End Page 184] most critically useful investigation to date if only for its breathtaking historical, geographical, and cultural scope. It is impossible to fully convey the riches here; suffice to say that the scope of this groundbreaking volume manages to encompass an extraordinary range of evocative milieus, even including virtual worlds and "meta-places" such as Mini Israel, brilliantly structured around five evocative themes ("Construction Sites"; "Jewish Quarters"; "Cityscapes & Landscapes"; "Exploring & Mapping Jewish Space"; and "Enacted Spaces"). Editors Brauch, Lipphardt, and Nocke seek to overcome the "tendency to privilege time over place" (p. 1) that they see as the pervasive norm of Jewish studies (aside from spaces connected to religious traditions or Holocaust memory) while affirming the Jewish Diaspora "as a touchstone for the globalization process" that illuminates its "premises, conditions, and perils" (p. 3). The editors' corrective aim (they express impatience that Jewish literary studies' dominant paradigms of "Our Homeland, the Text" and "People of the Book" overlook "empirical notions of space and place") is to explore neglected Jewish topographies in some instances and, conversely, to bring new angles to bear on more traditionally explored locales. The Jewish research model that inspires the editors is that of the Bund's rigorous commitment to specific Diaspora communities and histories. Hence, for the most part, the eighteen essays assembled here (exceptions noted above) examine lived space, or "the location of Jewish presence rather than the construction and interpretation of Jewish spaces on the textual or metaphorical level" (p. 2).

Particularly admirable is the editors' success in gathering essays that demonstrate the connections between different Jewish topoi (Morocco and the Israeli development town of Netivot, the former Soviet Union and Brooklyn) as well as Jewish subcultures such as the historical mellah of Fez or even the "religious micro-spaces" of contemporary Budapest and Toronto. Many essays traverse the literal and the symbolic, such as Miriam Lipis' perspective on the sukkah as "A Hybrid Place of Belonging." Identifying four "symbiotic" realms of belonging embodied in this ritualized and ephemeral commemorative space (Land of Israel, Bible as portable homeland, God's presence, and the local), she draws on an impressively international study of sites in Europe, Israel, and the U.S. to consider the sukkah's function in "modern urban contexts" (p. 28). In her beautifully lucid formulation, the sukkah is the quintessential artifact of Diaspora, it "constructs and expresses a hybrid concept of places of belonging, which overcomes the dichotomy of having or not having a place of belonging, by superimposing . . . real and imagined places" (p. 31). Another worthy essay that ventures into the nexus of Jewish symbolism and communal life is German architect Manuel Herz' "'Eruv' Urbanism" which posits that the eruv "shifts the current notion and meaning of the private and the public" and "introduces [End Page 185] a different understanding of space and territory" into urban space (p. 47). Expanding this paradigm to contemporary Jewish life in Germany, Herz sees the eruv as a provocative and necessary disrupter of the unfortunately enduring historical tendency to "concentrate" all its institutions in one locale: "Apart from the localization of synagogues within the urban fabric, an architectural strategy based on the eruv would lay importance on the mundane . . . of the everyday. With . . . few exceptions, there are no Jewish bakeries, butchers, cafes, or bookstores in...


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