#42 / Editorial


The great historian Simon Dubnow organized his world history of a people without territory and a state on the basis of the structuring of significant centers in continuous movement. He welded the Jewish people to a diasporic destiny, a sign of its exceptionalism, of its capacity to exist and to prosper without the material support that other nations obviously need. Entirely focused on the will of its members, the Jewish people is in his eyes the spiritual nation par excellence. If, for Dubnow, each era of the Diaspora is characterized by the crystallization of a significant Jewish center, our era cannot be easily deciphered according to this grid. However, it can be said that this center, since the Holocaust, has left Europe and has been split between the United States and the State of Israel. Julie Cooper and Dorit Geva return to Dubnow’s schema with a hypothesis that counters this widely-shared diagnosis. What if this historic American-Israeli people’s moment has run out of steam? What if the aged but still subsisting nationalized Judaism of Europe was succeeded by a new structuring of Jewish centers in the space of political Europe? Seen from Leopoldstadt, the Jewish quarter of Vienna, the era of national Jewish communities in Western Europe seems to be over according to Julie Cooper and Dorit Geva.

In her text on the German writer Jacob Wassermann, Barbara Honigman reminds us that this nationalization engendered ruptures, ambiguities, spite, as well as a prodigious intellectual productivity. The malaise palpable in Jacob Wasserman’s work anticipates the displacement of this powerful, but unstable European center, roiled by a trouble that will only deepen. It will lead to the search for ways out, sometimes in the direction of neo-orthodoxy, sometimes in the direction of Zionism, often leading to hesitation, indeterminacy, and paralysis. But from West to East, the Jews, emancipated or not, nationalized in their nations or still organized by their traditional communities, were in the end eradicated. Dubnow was shot in a forest near Riga in 1941, as were most of the Jews of Latvia. That a meaningful center should emerge again from the ruins of the old-style European nation-states, within the framework of a European political union, deserves close examination. In a Europe swept by headwinds, in a Europe still and perhaps irretrievably tainted by the Holocaust, there is something astonishing about this hypothetical possibility of an alternative, of a practicable path, of a new form in the world history of the Jews which would make Europe a center once again.

Irreparably tainted by the Holocaust, this is what Jonas is, the character whose story Mona El Khoury tells in her new short story. No doubt Jonah experiences the most abominable of ruptures with the Jewish people; cut off from all ties. The text will tell us why. And yet, he too seems to reproduce this perpetual peregrination of which Dubnow speaks. By atavism? What is he still looking for? Is there still something to look for? What if there is nothing left to do but to run away?

Is the revival of the Jewish community in Vienna a sign that a new form of diasporic Jewish existence is emerging? This is the stance of Julie Cooper and Dorit Geva who, following the schema of the historian Simon Dubnow, decipher the emergence in Europe of a new form of community, not nationalized, but inserted into a pan-European context. It could serve as a model, capable of becoming an alternative to the national form embodied in the State of Israel and that (perhaps in decline after having dominated) of American Judaism.

Barbara Honigmann portrays the writer Jakob Wassermann (1873-1934), who expresses the unease of a generation at the beginning of the twentieth century at the idea of being both Jewish and German – or of not really being either one or the other. Wassermann said he believed in a possible symbiosis of the two identities, while deploring the condition of the Western Jew of his time, cut off from his past. Barbara Honigmann’s text plunges us into the heart of a tension experienced as an internal tug of war.

He said, “You remind me of someone.” “But you don’t know me,” she snapped, amused. “I just mean your face,” he said. “Ah! Well then maybe we’ve met before.” “That’s impossible,” he said. “The person you look like died before I was born.” The sentence fell on both of them like lead rain. As they walked up Cambridge’s main artery, now silent, she considered how to respond to this—to what seemed, then, like pretty much the worst seduction enterprise imaginable. She remained speechless. “She was my grandmother,” he added quickly. “She died in Auschwitz.”

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