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Author(s): Salamensky, S. I.
Date: 2013
Author(s): Salamensky, S. I.
Date: 2014
Abstract: A “Jew-themed” restaurant provides its patrons with broad-brimmed black hats with foot-long sidecurls to wear, and the menu has no prices; patrons must bargain, or “Jew,” the staff down. A play billed as a tribute to a lost Jewish community ends in a gag: Death throws back his shroud to reveal an open-brain-pate wig, à la the horror flick Nightmare on Elm Street. In a “traditional Jewish wedding dance,” “Jewish wealth” is represented by a local luxury: vacuum-packed juice boxes. In parts of the world where Jews, once populous, have nearly vanished because of oppression, forced exile, and genocide, non-Jews now strive to re-enact what has been lost. In this essay, I will consider three general cases of what I term “Jewface” minstrelsy and

“Jewfaçade” display, in Krakow, Poland; the village of Hervás in western Spain; and Birobidzhan, capital city of Russia’s far-eastern Jewish Autonomous Region, which is known as Birobidzhan as well. Jewface-resembling the “blackface” prevalent in the United States in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries-is the practice of music, dance, theatre, and/or extra-theatrical types of performance, primarily by non-Jews, intended to convey notions of historical Jewish life and culture. Jewfaçade involves architectural and decorative constructions, again mainly by nonJews, meant to evoke ideas of the Jew in similar ways. Ruth Ellen Gruber, the team of Daniela Flesler and Adrian Pérez Melgosa, and other journalists and scholars have documented what Michael Brenner has called “Jewish culture without Jews” in Poland and Spain, as well as elsewhere in Europe (Brenner 1997: 152). However, no comparative study has been made, and no scholar has approached this topic with regard to Birobidzhan. I will provide brief overviews of Jewface and Jewfaçade activities in Krakow, Hervás, and Birobidzhan. I will then demonstrate the ways in which the notions of the figure of the Jew and of local Jewish history are performed, or acted out in these three comparative geographical contexts. These cases, as, in conclusion, I will argue, represent three very different approaches to public memory and memorialization with regard to the Jew, and perhaps in regard to troubled historical legacies more generally.
Date: 2021