Being and becoming Jewish: kinship, memory, and the politics of Jewishness in post-socialist Slovakia
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date06/08/2021
This thesis, based on fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork, examines the entanglement of kinship, religion and politics among Jews in Bratislava. It uses marriage as a lens to explore how young Jews identify with their often newlydiscovered Jewishness and secure its socio-cultural reproduction into the future. Studying the lived experience of three generations of Slovak Jews – Holocaust survivors, their children, and grandchildren – I describe the intergenerational transmission of knowledge about Jewishness and Jewish heritage, marital preferences and practices, and choices and decisions involved in the upbringing of children in the context of changing political regimes. I focus in particular on the generation of Jews who reached adulthood after the Velvet Revolution of 1989, and explore how their families’ memories and experiences of the Holocaust and Socialist persecution, as well as the current socio-political situation and rising extremism influence the ways young Jews navigate their Jewishness – both within the Jewish community, and in the unpredictable non-Jewish public sphere. To demonstrate their allegiance to this community while keeping it hidden from non-Jews, I argue, young Jews stretch and shrink the boundary between the ‘public’ and ‘private’, complicating the distinction between these categories, and allowing the emergence of new ‘publics’ and ‘privates’. The chronic uncertainty affecting Slovak Jews’ everyday lives exacerbates the fragility of trust, and underpins a constant need to negotiate their Jewishness across this elastic boundary, as well as within their intimate relations. The thesis sheds light on the role of social distinctions and processes of boundary-making and maintenance that characterise the politics of Jewishness in post-Socialist Slovakia. It shows how, for young Jews, discovering their Jewishness, demonstrating their devotion, and gaining recognition, is more a matter of becoming than of simply being Jewish.