Based on a recent curatorial experience, I will explore how Jewish heritage is shaped by the multiple hands through which “Jewish” objects pass as they are collected, donated, categorized, and selected by curators for display. The process demonstrates significant assertions, desires, and dialogues about the boundaries of the category “Jewish.” Defining “Jewish” is hard enough when we speak of people or practices. But a book? A spoon? A painting? A hat? What makes these things Jewish? Scholars of “Jewish” art and literature have long struggled with the issue. Spoken and tacit “rules” – of art and craft, of connoisseurship and individual taste, of cultural dirty laundry vs. public self-presentation – circulate, constrain, and conflict. As “high culture” gives way to “material culture” in museums and collections, democratizing the notion of “Judaica,” we are confronted with hard questions and new contexts for understanding what many Jews consider their material heritage. For example, how do objects not visibly Jewish, or those made or widely-used by non-Jews, become “Judaica”? Conversely, why do some objects, widely-agreed upon as “Jewish,” elicit such tension or ambivalence that they are forced to remain “in the closet”? And what might these inclusions and exclusions tell us about the emerging Jewish memory culture?
|Keywords:||Collecting, Culture, Memory, Jewish|
Assistant Professor, History Department, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
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