#82 / Editorial


At the turn of the twentieth century, Vienna was the site of a fascination without end: the scene of a “joyous apocalypse”, to use Hermann Broch’s expression, which attempted to express the curious mix of an unprecedented artistic, scientific and political modernity and the view that the actors of this modernity had of the destruction of the world they were creating. Indeed, modernity was exalted in Vienna like nowhere else, and like nowhere else, the pathologies of the various modernization processes that were accused there at the dawn of the European catastrophe were revealed. It is therefore not surprising that even today “Vienna at the turn of the century [is] like a question mark in our past,” as Bruno Karsenti writes. To understand this insistent question mark, he rereads Michael Pollak’s great book: Vienne 1900. Une identité blessée (1984, Gallimard). Not to dwell on this “fin de siècle” past, but because Pollak’s work invites us to pursue a true socio-history of Europe and of the wounds that its modernization processes never stop imposing on Europeans, both “native” and “newcomers”. It is only by understanding what hurts identities in the promises of European modernity that have been betrayed, but also kept, that we will understand the current crises of the continent, of which anti-Semitism, including when it is declined into anti-Zionism, is only one of the symptoms – but certainly the most revealing of the global state of political Europe.

On the occasion of Sukkot, Ruben Honigmann once again shares with us one of his intimate testimonies. As in his previous texts published in K.“Is Your German Hebrew?” and “I pictured Austria as Germany without Nazism. A Childhood Fantasy.” – he manages to turn the most seemingly anecdotal memories into rich fables through which he reflects on his Jewish identity. In “My Father’s Sukkah,” he recalls the place of this holiday in his family history, the tête-à-tête with his father that it made possible as well as the often comical moments of promiscuity in the communal cabin. He is amused by the 50 shades of Jewish practice that Sukkot brings. “A cabin that flies away without collapsing, fragile but perennial, an onion – the human heart – pierced but out of reach, my father’s sukkah contains the essential: the Jewish condition in exile, precarious but tenacious.”

Finally, a report in the Balkans. The Israeli journalist Benny Ziffer went in search of the traces that Sabbataï Tsevi would have left in Albania. By following his journey, we discover an unknown country, long left out of the world under the iron hand of Enver Hoxha. However, from Gjirokastër to Tirana, passing through Berat, Jewish traces are very present: those of the self-proclaimed Messiah of the 17th century at the origin of Sabbataï Tseviism, those of the rescue of the Jews of Albania during the last war, those of a privileged relationship, still today, between Albania and Israel.

Vienna, 1900: the Austro-Hungarian Empire declines. Its German neighbor overshadows it, and the social mobility of the previous decades comes to a halt. In 1984, in a work that has become a classic, Vienna 1900, sociologist Michael Pollak analyzed the effects of this political and social crisis through the notion of wounded identity. Bruno Karsenti revisits this book this week in K. In his turn, he specifies the causes of this crisis and its main consequence: the development of an unprecedented anti-Semitism. More than a century later, the resurgence of anti-Semitism signals a new crisis in European liberal societies. But a crisis from which all the ways out seem to be blocked.

“I like Sukkot. For a week, Jews are required to eat their meals in an ephemeral dwelling, in Hebrew a sukkah, which is translated, for want of a better word, as “booth.” This draws the curiosity of children and perhaps softens the hearts of antisemites. (…) A clever solid-fragile construction to which one repairs three times a day to eat, dining cart in tow. By temporarily settling outside while keeping one foot at home, inside and outside merge, primary and secondary residence are reversed. In short, you stage your own exile. And as I never manage to feel totally at ease where I am, hoping at each station that the next one will be the right one, this festival of fidgeting suits me perfectly.”

In search of Sabbataï Zevi, his tomb, and above all his heritage, Benny Ziffer, Israeli journalist and author, invites us on a strange journey to the heart of the Balkans where the presence of the false Jewish messiah and the traces of Judaism continue to imperceptibly infuse the minds. Another way to visit Albania.

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Thanks to the Paris office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation for their cooperation in the design of the magazine’s website.