Jews and Cities group
Jews have often been represented as the consummate example of an urban people. In Europe and north America, observers as diverse and influential as Karl Marx, Georg Simmel, Robert park, John Higham, Arthur Ruppin, Walter Benjamin, and seminal figures in the arts from Franz Kafka, to Philip Roth, Woody Allen, and the painter R.B. Kitaj, have all claimed that Jews not only preferred to live in cities, but also that their long and seemingly "imprinted" pattern of urban dwelling actually shaped the way they lived, interacted with and reflected on their world. Jews were not only a prime case of urban adaptation, but served, indeed, as a prototype for an entire range of new social thought about and cultural representation of the urban experience and the modern world. In the jew-as-urbanite we are often faced with rhetorical gestures that recall older archetypical "Jewish" representations, such as the wandering Jew able to move freely (and therefore easily depicted as "rootless"). In the postmodern and post-colonialist theories of Jean-Francois Lyotard, Homi Bhabha and others, the "small-j jew" is so emblematic as to risk becoming invisible as a real protagonist in the world.
Critical analysis of the fluid intersections, connections and influences between Jews and their urban environments has become a staple of contemporary scholarship on individual countries and cities. It is rare, however, for such scholarship to venture more widely into cross-cultural terrain. We believe that the nexus between Jews and cities offers a marvelous opportunity to survey the range of urban Jewish connections both diachronically and synchronically across the modern Jewish cultural map. Therefore, in the proposed interdisciplinary research group on Jews and cities, we intend to undertake a fresh examination of the fascinating yet often simplified connections between Jews and the urban environment. Among the many questions to be addressed are:
How (and when) did Jewish newcomers experience new urban environments in Europe, north America and the middle east?
How were these new arenas represented by generations of Jewish artists, writers and intellectuals?
How does the position of Jerusalem in the Hebrew imagination complicate the experience and representation of 'cities' for Jews in Israel and abroad?
What role did the image of the city have on emerging concepts of nation and community among Jews around the world as well as in the state of Israel?