German Historical Institute London

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European Leo Baeck Lecture Series London, 2019-20

Acting Jewish: Between Identity and Attire

This season’s lecture series investigates the complex nature of what it means to act or appear Jewish and for whom this appearance is important. Examples are drawn from a wide range of performative settings: on stage, on screen, in daily life. Under which conditions do certain elements of fashion and attire appear as ‘Jewish’? How do Jews consciously showcase or hide their identity by way of ‘acting’ and dressing in certain ways? And how were these elements conceptualised in the wider discourse: as ‘natural’ – self-expressions of an ethnical identity, as attire communicating a social role, or ‘prejudiced’ – as a ‘costume’ hiding the wearer’s true identity?

Organised by the Leo Baeck Institute London in cooperation with the German Historical Institute London.

Lectures will be held at the German Historical Institute London. Places are strictly limited and must be reserved in advance by contacting the Leo Baeck Institute, London
Email: info(ghi)
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7882 5690

Admission is free. Lectures will begin promptly at 6.30pm. Latecomers may not be admitted.


5 December

Henry Bial (University of Kansas)
Jewish on Demand: Representation and Difference in the Streaming Era

Classic Jewish film and television, from The Jazz Singer to Seinfeld, was shaped by the economic need to reach the broadest possible audience, leading to creative strategies that minimized or downplayed the difference between Jews and the rest of society. As Netflix and other streaming services have made more specialized entertainment commercially viable, new ways of acting Jewish on screen have emerged that highlight the quirkier and more contested aspects of Jewish identity.

Henry Bial is Professor and Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Kansas, where he has also served as Director of Jewish Studies, Director of the School of the Arts, and Chair of the Department of American Studies. He is the author of Acting Jewish: Negotiating Ethnicity on the American Stage and Screen (2005) and Playing God: The Bible on the Broadway Stage (2015).


23 January

Kerry Wallach (Gettysburg College)
‘Coming Out’ as Jewish in Weimar Germany

In the 1920s and early 1930s – as today – Jews in Germany were concerned about growing anti-Semitism, and many took precautions to conceal their Jewishness by dressing and behaving in certain ‘assimilated’ ways. Yet there were still occasions when it was beneficial to be openly Jewish. This lecture explores the tensions that came with being visible as a Jew – an identity play that often involved appearing simultaneously non-Jewish and Jewish. Drawing on a wide range of images and films, this presentation explores controversial aspects of German- Jewish visibility and invisibility, as well as the complex reasons why Jews chose to appear distinctly ‘Jewish’.

Kerry Wallach is Associate Professor and Chair of German Studies and an Affiliate of the Judaic Studies Program at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. She is the author of Passing Illusions: Jewish Visibility in Weimar Germany (2017) and a number of articles on German-Jewish literature, history, film, and visual and consumer culture. She serves as co-editor for the German Jewish Cultures book series published by Indiana University Press and sponsored by the Leo Baeck Institute London.

4 March

Adi Heyman (Fashion blogger)
The Big Cover-Up: Modest Fashion

What started out as religious niche has matured into a 250 billion-dollar industry largely pioneered by a group of diverse women embracing unique identities on social media. Fashion stylist turned blogger, Adi Heyman’s inspiration behind launching a Jewish fashion and lifestyle blog in 2010 stemmed from her personal and professional experience as an Orthodox Jew working in the fashion industry.

In her talk, Heyman explores the possibility of being an ‘Orthodox Fashion Influencer’, and reflects on the lack of authentic content highlighting modest fashion and the underrepresentation of women from minority cultures. As one of the leading religionfocused Jewish influencers she promotes conservative silhouettes with a contemporary twist that resonates with the religiously observant consumer. Her work interprets Western identities alongside religious belief in a way that enables women to feel empowered by personal fashion and lifestyle choices. In 2019, Heyman founded the Jewish Fashion Council (JFC) to build a global community of Jewish fashion professionals and to provide funding and support for the Jewish student life at the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Parson’s School of Design.

23 April

Paul Herzberg (Actor and Writer)
Acting Jewish: Perception and Reality

***   Please note that this event has been cancelled!   ***

21 May

Svenja Bethke (University of Leicester)
How to dress in Eretz Israel? Clothing, Fashion and Nation Building, 1880s–1948

***   Please note that this event has been cancelled!   ***


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