Jewish Studies

My first encounter with Daniel Deronda (1876) was during a university undergraduate course in Victorian literature. The novel was almost shocking for its romanticised Jewish eponymous hero and its deep evocation of Judaism and modern Zionism’s stirrings. This was a singular experience when it came to reading Jewish characters by writers who were not themselves Jewish. Fictional Jews of this period were more likely to be permutations of vile stereotypes, Shylock or Fagin-like. They induced a feeling of shame, even when arguments could be made for the work’s nuance and literary brilliance. In Genius and Anxiety: How Jews changed the world, 1847–1947, we meet Daniel Deronda’s unlikely muse along with a profusion of other personalities, some famous, others whose legacies have been unnoticed or suppressed.

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For most of my life I have thought of myself as a secular Jew; fascinated by the turbulent history of the Jews, not part of synagogue life. All that changed in 2012. We were living in Goulburn, New South Wales, at the time. My husband was on the point of retirement and we were about to move back to Victoria. During winter ...

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Towards the end of this handsome work, Mark Dapin makes the following observation: ‘There are many more holocaust memoirs written by Jews who emigrated from Europe to Australia than there are personal histories of Australian-born or raised Jewish soldiers. Everywhere in the world the Jewish story is focussed on persecution – the plight of refugees; the unspeakab ...

The title of this book has a resonance that would not occur, for example, in a text called ‘Paris for Jews’. Most readers will approach the work with understandings and expectations shaped by Hitler and the Holocaust. The title suggests that Berlin is a different city for Jews than for other visitors, and that Jewish Berlin itself is different from ecumenical Be ...

Forbidden Music by Michael Haas & Hollywood and Hitler by Thomas Doherty

by
August 2014, no. 363

For all their differences of subject matter and approach (not to mention style), both of these studies can be seen as belonging to the category of what might be termed archaeological history. That is, they are concerned with retrieving and bringing to the surface a gallery of characters and set of important stories and connections which have been either suppressed or ignored.

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In one of the most haunting phrases contained in Inside Outside (1992), the Australian Jewish autobiographer Andrew Riemer comments on the persistent sense of loss that still shapes him, many years after his entry to Australia as a child immigrant. He writes, ‘exile seals your eyes, allowing you to see only what your longings and your sense of loss will permit’. Earlier, Riemer reflects on his longing for a vanished world, ‘a country of the mind, fashioned from powerful longings and fantasies’. With the undercutting of his own position, so characteristic of his writing, he writes: ‘Perhaps I am merely describing the human condition. I have come to learn that this sense of displacement, of not belonging ... is shared by many …’ And yet, he adds, the experience of migration ‘brings that predicament into sharper focus than might otherwise be the case’.

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