Reconstructing Loss: Jewish Spaces in the Middle East and Beyond

MESA 2021

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11/29/2021 | 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM

Most Jewish communities from the Middle East experienced a loss of their former homeland, the dissolution of community structures, and at times are even unable to return to their places of origin. This geographical and psychological separation lends memories and spaces of the past special significance. This panel proposes a framework for the experiences of remoteness that have shaped and are shaping Middle Eastern Jewish communities. While focusing on specific countries such as Egypt, Iran or the Italian diaspora, the panel will present how space–either its recollection or new formation–serves to constitute present identities and communities. Infrastructures that remained in the regions where Jews lived, that were built and inhabited by them, have not just material but also symbolic impact on how the former home is remembered. Spaces, buildings, and maps are representations of constantly morphing narratives of identity, in which different actors are involved with different objectives. Methodology The analysis is twofold: first, it focuses on former Jewish homes, graveyards or synagogues, and how they live on in the present. Secondly, it presents the discursive spaces that evolve when these spaces are visited from or recreated in the diaspora. Spatial structures formerly or newly assigned as “Jewish” are imbued with changing meanings over time. The discussion includes a historical background of the places under consideration, the circumstances of leaving and return, as well as interviews with individuals regarding their memories of and relation to particular spaces. The results point to multiple ways of how space is part of creating meaning from a distance, or a meaningful present in the diaspora. This will enable a better understanding of how communities of Middle Eastern Jews locate themselves in their new homelands, how and what they remember, including tensions arising from competing forms of remembrance and identification. The panel introduces a new approach to the historiography of Middle Eastern Jewish communities by looking at the strategies of dealing with loss as a form of agency in the process of coming to terms with the old and new homelands. In order to understand contemporary Middle Eastern Jewish identities, different sites should be included: besides the individuals who left, the socio-political dynamics in their former and new homelands are involved in inscribing different meanings to the sites under consideration, providing a bigger picture of the issues at stake in the process of identity and community formation across time and space.

Michele Baussant

CEFRES

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Monica Mereu

University of Cagliari

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Ariane Sadjed

Austrian Academy of Sciences

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Piera Rossetto

University of Graz

Mind the Map: Locating Invisible Jewish Migrations


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