Introduction: Narrative Writing in Jewish Studies.
For this special forum, we invited scholars to consider what placing narrative aesthetics at the center of their work can achieve for the task of understanding and explaining. What happens when we tell stories about ourselves as scholars and practitioners, and about what we see as investigators? What is the function of deploying a more literary-inflected writing voice--whether ironic, questioning, humorous, or vulnerable--for the scholarly craft? How can anchoring our conceptual frameworks in stories and storytelling help us convey the ideas we seek to put forth? What is the obligation of the memoirist-scholar to hew to the truth when truth is sometimes clouded by the defenses of memory? Most fundamentally, can narrative writing enliven and deepen the relationship between scholars and their audiences, potentially enabling new modes of understanding, interpretation, and explanation to emerge? This forum brings together five scholars who deploy narrative-style writing in different ways: some voices are more vulnerable; others are more ironic. Some probe memory and nostalgia; others bring us into their immediate struggles. And some tell us stories about others.
These five contributions carry us from New York to Washington to Berlin to Soviet-era Kiev to pre-1948 Palestine and to contemporary Tel Aviv, from a casual conversation between colleagues to a therapist's office to a writer's archives to the curated space of an art museum, and into the intellectual and emotional space of the contemporary resistance. The authors are varied in their disciplinary and conceptual lenses; they investigate Jewish American literature and the possibilities of critical Jewish studies, religion and the feminist turn, race, whiteness, and contemporary US politics; cultural studies, intellectual history and Diaspora, immigration, and exile; presentation, nostalgia, and representation; Hebrew literature, Zionism, and emotion.
In "Illusory Diasporas," Yael Almog chronicles her experiences as an Israeli emigre to Berlin, investigating how political activism takes root within expat circles whose chosen home has a fraught and complex relationship to Israel and to contemporary Jewish identity. In "A Dancing Russian Bear," Olga Gershenson reflects on the nostalgic and anti-nostalgic impulses toward her own Soviet childhood while considering the work of Kiev-born Israeli artist Zoya Cherkassky. Her essay examines both the work itself and its presentation and representation in contemporary Israel. (7) Fragments about Melancholy and Zionism gives us Nitzan Lebovic's application of the craft of storytelling to resurrect the work of the pre-state Israeli author Israel Zarchi, as framed through the voice of his author-daughter, Nurit Zarchi.
In "The I in My Text: Revisiting Critical Feminist Identity Politics, Refusing the Allures of Purity," Laura Levitt probes the genealogy of her chosen first-person, feminist approach. She then considers the possibilities of this sensibility for enabling Jewish studies scholars to meet the contemporary challenges posed by the American Alt-Right. Finally, in "A Polemical Confession," Benjamin Schreier recounts his own chance meeting in New York City with a Rabbinicist and a Middle East historian. Through the ensuing conversation about the state of the field, Schreier invites readers to consider the possibility of a more robust critical Jewish studies.
What unites all of these authors is a commitment to the power of stories, conversation, and reflection to illuminate key themes and ideas in Jewish studies. I am delighted to present them here.
(1.) Sucharov, "Scholarly and Public Engagement."
Sucharov, Mira. "Scholarly and Public Engagement in Jewish Politics: A Journey through Liminal Space in Ten Short Chapters." Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 36, no. 3 (2018): 143-63.
Mira Sucharov is an associate professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. She is the author of The International Self: Psychoanalysis and the Search for Israeli-Palestinian Peace (SUNY Press, 2005); Public Influence: A Guide to Op-Ed Writing and Social Media Engagement (University of Toronto Press, 2019) and, with Aaron J. Hahn Tapper, is co-editor of Social Justice and Israel/Palestine: Foundational and Contemporary Debates (University of Toronto Press, 2019). She currently co-edits, along with Chaya Halberstam, AJS Perspectives, and is writing a memoir chronicling her path from Jewish summer camp to becoming an Israel-Palestine-focused scholar who frequently finds herself in the crosshairs of multiple and overlapping communities.
Mira Sucharov, Guest Editor