The taste of trauma: reflections of ageing Shoah survivors on food and how they (re)inscribe it with meaning
Abstract: Drawing on ethnographic research in the UK’s only support facility for ageing Jewish Shoah survivors, this paper charts the ‘foodways’ in a Centre where satiety is experienced as an emotional as well as a physical need. How the experience of genocidal violence and displacement give rise to particular tastes of trauma is explored, firstly through the symbolism of bread which is metaphorically leavened with meanings and memories of survival – both in Judaism and for the survivors interviewed. Bread is positioned as a true reflection of lived experience for survivors of both ghettoes and concentration camps, who construct a specific and salient relationship with food. This illustrates the perceived difference between them and members of the Centre who escaped the Nazi regime as refugees or by the Kindertransport. Foods associated with the concentration or extermination camps are (re)inscribed with new meanings, as a steaming bowl of Polish barley soup ultimately embodies the ingredients of memory but also the recipe of survival. It can also stew the nostalgia of pre-war lives for Eastern European Jews and their recollections of the heym (Yiddish, home). Food is a conscious strategy of care in the Centre that mediates the embodied trauma of participants, and this paper draws on comparative examples to argue that refugee and survivor communities more generally may possess culturally-significant relationships with food that remain poorly understood.
Positioning oneself and being positioned in the 'community': an essay on Jewish ethnography as a 'Jew-ish' ethnographer
Abstract: This article offers a reflexive and anthropological contribution to the current volume of Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis. It reflects on the experience of conducting anthropological work at home – or across homes – I considered this research to be an experience of ‘Jewish ethnog-raphy’ as a Jewish ethnographer. However, my own ‘Jew-ish’ background meant that I had become ‘neither- fish nor fowl’ within the field-site, which proved both to be an obstacle to, and an opportunity for, conducting the research. It utilises this experience to challenge the conceptual use of the term ‘community’, which encapsulates considerable diversity but obscures the nuanced differences that can pervade a social body. These reflections demonstrate how positionality can be used as a tool for postgraduate students to untangle the complexities of conducting ethnographic research at ‘home’ or in relation to religious minority groups, where significant intra-group differences of practice and worldviews exist, but may otherwise be concealed by the image of ‘community’.
Abstract: Jewish musical practices stemming from Kabbalah and Hasidic mystical traditions are currently the object of growing attention among a variety of different Jewish communities in Europe and North America, as well as in non-Jewish spiritual circles. This article focuses on contemporary practices of niggunim – the (mostly) wordless melodies with roots in Hasidic Jewish traditions, sung, chanted and sometimes danced in preparation for, or as a form of, ardent prayer. The practice is seen as an example of the expressive, engaging, emotional and embodied forms of prayer that currently attract many Jews of different institutional attachments. As niggunim travel into new contexts, they are reframed and reconsidered in order to meet the needs and expectations of contemporary religious communities, characterised by a liberal and egalitarian, global and transformative religiosity. The article seeks to explore the different functions niggunim are put to today and the motives which drive different people to engage in the practice. The analysis is based on ethno-graphic material in the form of in-depth interviews conducted among progressive Jews in the London area. As a conclusion, the article suggests an approach to contemporary niggunim practices that incorporates perspectives from both literature and ethnography in order to deepen the understanding of the motives for and functions of singing niggunim today
Abstract: This article presents a student’s perspective on Jewish studies in Sweden over the past ten years. By identifying the milestones of her own educational and professional path, the author discusses three questions of particular interest for a student wanting to pursue any kind of Jewish studies in a Nordic country, using Sweden as an example, namely: 1) How to compose a curriculum that leads to doctoral studies? 2) What can be said about the ‘identity’ of Jewish studies in Sweden? 3) Can a degree in the subject field of choice also lead to a career outside the academic framework?