Changing Jewish Communities

Call for Papers

Changing Jewish Communities in Germany: Objects, Spaces and Traditions as Reflections of Religious Transformations after the Shoah

International Conference, 15 – 18 March 2020
organised by

Bet Tfila – Forschungsstelle für jüdische Architektur, Technische Universität Braunschweig
Braunschweigisches Landesmuseum
Europäisches Zentrum für Jüdische Musik, Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien Hannover
Jüdisches Museum Augsburg Schwaben

Venue: Technische Universität Braunschweig

After the end of the Second World War, Jewish communities established themselves quickly in many places in Germany – in some cases only a few days after the end of the war. The small, heterogeneous Jewish communities often developed under difficult conditions but gave the survivors stability and hope. Approximately 15,000 German Jews lived in Germany by the end of the war – having survived the Shoah or having returned from emigration. The decades of reconstruction of Jewish life took place in different phases that were closely linked to the changing socio-cultural composition of the communities. In addition to the few German Jews and the DPs who had decided to remain in the country, were those who had returned to Germany in the 1960s after a failed attempt to emigrate. The latter group also influenced community life. The transformation process that has taken place since 1945 is reflected in many ways. Its impact on religious practice with its sacred spaces, objects and musical traditions will be in the focus of the conference.

Initially, the first religious objects and rooms used for worship services were temporary, but Jewish life had partly re-established itself with conversion of buildings and, at the latest, the first synagogues newly built in East and West Germany – in Erfurt and Stuttgart in 1952. Owing to the devastation caused by the Shoah and the subsequent new composition of the congregations, communal religious practice differed in terms of liturgy and prayer traditions from those of the pre-war communities. In addition, they were influenced by Jewish aid organizations (e.g. Joint Distribution Committee, Jewish Relief, Chief Rabbi Emergency Fund, Jewish Cultural Reconstruction JCR ...), which sent ritual objects and even rabbis and cantors to the congregations.

Ritual objects were replaced and new synagogues were built, the liturgy was largely influenced by the ‘Minhag Polin’ of the surviving generation. The demographic upheaval of the mid-1980s gave way to a standardized, international tradition of liturgical singing. It was not only the influx of Jews from the CIS states that changed Jewish community life and worship in the 1990s. The Abraham Geiger College in Berlin, which was founded in 1999 and has been training rabbis and since 2008 as well as cantors for Europe, has a significant influence on the religious self-image of the Jewish communities in Germany and their religious practice. The post-war period can thus be regarded as a phase of transformation of Judaism, which was and still is formative in terms of the further development of Jewish life and culture in Germany and beyond.
The conference will address how the re-emergence of Jewish life in Germany after the Shoah is reflected in objects, spaces and religious or musical practices. Possible subject areas could focus on answering the following questions:

  • Where did ritual objects and musical traditions come from?
  • How have ritual objects, synagogues, religious practices and music developed since 1945? What are the signs of possible ruptures or continuities in the history of the communities?
  • What value do “relics” of the pre-war period and the new beginning have for today's communities?
  • What role does the memory of the Shoah and their victims play in the synagogue and in religious practice?
  • To what extent do ritual objects, spaces, liturgical traditions and their music actually reflect the Jewish self-image in Germany or in the individual congregations today?
  • What differences can be identified between congregations?
  • How was and is Jewish religious life in the post-war period presented in museums?

The conference will take a critical look at research on Jewish objects, spaces, religious practices and music of the post-war period. Although the focus will be on Germany, comparative contributions on developments in neighbouring countries are welcome.
The individual contributions should not exceed a length of 20 minutes in order to be able to present the broadest possible spectrum of theses, methods and arguments for discussion. Please submit a summary (max. 2,000 characters incl. spaces) and a short CV with details of the institutional affiliation by September 30, 2019. A publication of selected contributions is intended.

Conference languages are German and English.

Please send your summary and curriculum vitae or any questions to the following address:    

Technische Universität Braunschweig
Bet Tfila – Forschungsstelle für jüdische Architektur
Pockelsstraße 4, 38106 Braunschweig
Tel. +49 (0)531 391 2526
E-Mail: Katrin Keßler


Last modified: 2019-06-28

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