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The University of Southampton
The Parkes Institute

Life after Life: "Virtually Jewish" 15 years on Seminar

Reverend Dr James Parkes
28 February 2017
Lecture Theatre C, Avenue Campus, University of Southampton SO17 1BF

For more information regarding this seminar, please email The Parkes Institute at .

Event details

Part of The Parkes Institute's Research Seminar Series for 2016/2017

Life after Life: "Virtually Jewish" 15 years on

The year 2017 marks the 15th anniversary of the publication of Ruth Ellen Gruber's book “Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe” - an exploration of non-Jewish interest in Jewish heritage and culture and of the development of Jewish culture in post-Holocaust, post-Communist Europe. (It also marks the 25th anniversary of the first edition of her book “Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe,” which put hundreds of long-neglected synagogues, Jewish cemeteries and other Jewish heritage sites on the map and drew attention to a rich patrimony that was largely destroyed, forgotten, ruined, or ignored.)

Today, there continue to be many persisting examples of the “virtual” - ranging from the astounding 50 or so Jewish culture festivals that take place annually in Poland, most of them in places where no Jews live; to the commercial catering conventions of Jewish-style cafes; to the “living shtetl skansen” project in Jew-less Bilgoraj, where a local businessman has spearheaded a commercial and cultural development that includes a fullscale replica of a destroyed wooden synagogue, set in a fabricated market square lined by replica shtetl houses.

At the same time, living Jews (be they tourists, congregants, pilgrims, students, teachers, performers, café-goers, seekers of family roots, commemorators of the Holocaust) and living local Jewish communities are staking claims and asserting voices in ways that have an impact on the definitions and manifestations of Jewish space, Jewish culture, and even the concept of “Jewish” itself.

Portrait Image of Ruth Ellen Gruber over looking Krakow
Ruth Ellen Gruber

Speaker Information

American author and journalist Ruth Ellen Gruber has chronicled Jewish developments in Europe for more than 25 years and writes frequently on Jewish heritage, revival and tourism in post-communist Europe. She also studies the European fascination with the American Wild West, its mythology and its music. With her 2002 book Virtually Jewish: Reinventing Jewish Culture in Europe , she coined the term “Virtually Jewish” to describe the way the so-called “Jewish space” in Europe is often filled by non-Jews. Among her other books are National Geographic Jewish Heritage Travel: A Guide to Eastern Europe , first published in 1992; Letters from Europe (and Elsewhere), and Upon the Doorposts of Thy House: Jewish Life in East-Central Europe, Yesterday and Today . A former correspondent for UPI in Poland and elsewhere in communist Europe, she has also written for the New York Times and many other publications. Her awards and honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship and Poland’s Knight's Cross of the Order of Merit. Currently she coordinates the web site , a project of the Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe. She was the Distinguished Visiting Chair in Jewish Studies at the College of Charleston (South Carolina) spring semester, 2015.

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