Friday, October 24, 2008

Jewish spaces and places -- my new Ruthless Cosmopolitan column

My new Ruthless Cosmopolitan column deals with the concept of Jewish space(s) and Jewish place(s). It's a bit peripheral to concrete issues of Jewish heritage and Jewish heritage travel, but it fits within the broad context of the discussion and in the rich tapestry of culture, history and heritage. I also describe some surprising new places to "travel"... (By the way, you can see all my columns aggregated on my Ruthless Cosmopolitan blog.)

Places and spaces: Exploring
what makes up the Jewish tapestry
Ruth Ellen Gruber
Avner Gruber, the first cousin once removed of Ruth Ellen Gruber, visits a Jewish cemetery in Hamburg, Germany.
ROME (JTA) -- We've all played the "Jewish geography" game -- you know, questioning someone we've only just met in order to discover common Jewish connections, friends or even family.
n doing so, we are mapping out our experiences, delineating a sort of Jewish topography of interlinking

backgrounds, histories and far-flung mishpocha.

Somehow I feel a sense of profound satisfaction when I discover an unexpected link with a stranger. It's like a gift, an almost magical sense of communion with the densely woven tapestry of Jewish life -- or at least with an individual or a place that helps make up that tapestry.

The idea of Jewish topography and the spaces and places -- physical and metaphysical -- in which Jews live, dream and interact forms the basis of a fascinating new book.

“Jewish Topographies: Visions of Space, Traditions of Place” (Ashgate Publishing House, 2008) is a collection of essays by a score of international scholars who participated in a six-year research project at the University of Potsdam in Germany.

Called Makom, or "place" in Hebrew, the project aimed to explore the relevance of space and place in Jewish life and culture.

In my own writing, I have dealt frequently with "Jewish space" in the way that the Paris-based historian Diana Pinto framed it. She coined the term in the 1990s to describe the place occupied by Jews, Jewish culture and Jewish memory within mainstream European society, regardless of the size or activity of the local Jewish population.


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