Becoming Jewish Berlin-style

Vanessa Rau

This ethnography examines a newly emerging Jewish-Hebrew scene in Berlin, and investigates how religious and secular belonging are negotiated under specific discursive representations. In the context of the migrant group of ‘Israelis in Berlin’, the book shows diverse and complex affiliations and Jewishness(es) entangled with nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender, and sexuality. Through immersion in ‘Jewish’ and ‘Hebrew’ Berlin, it spans an interrelated ethnographic field that is construed as a sociological scene. Focusing on a choir, and its connections to a synagogue and a queer Shabbat event, it investigates “how the scene constitutes itself as Jewish”. Combining ethnography with biographical-narrative interviews, it analyses how this scene is enacted and performed, and formed by processes of migration and conversion. By way of mirroring the biographies of migrants and converts, I argue that Jewishness in the scene is constituted by complexity rather than unity, ambivalence rather than certainty, and contestation rather than agreement. The influence of Israeli migration on Berlin and the presence of Hebrew engenders the emergence of novel ways of ‘being Jewish’. Therefore, by way of mapping trajectories of conversion and migration and their embeddedness in their respective socio-political contexts, the project analyses processes of ‘becoming Jewish’ and their impact on this urban scene, and thereby contributes to the nexus of migration, diaspora, urban religion and secularism, as well as gender and sexuality. 

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