Svenja Bethke – How to dress in Eretz Israel? Clothing, Fashion and Nation Building, 1880s–1948

Event Date: 19 November 2020
ZOOM meeting, recorded

European Leo Baeck Institute Lecture Series 2019-20

Acting Jewish: Between Identity and Attire

A lecture series organised by the Leo Baeck Institute London in cooperation with the German Historical Institute London.

The proposed 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?

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

The identities of many Eastern European and German Jews who immigrated to Eretz Israel between the 1880s and the foundation of the Israeli state in 1948 oscillated between their roots and identification with the new Zionist project. This lecture explores how immigrants expressed social, cultural and political belonging through clothing and, focusing on gender and visual materials, offers fresh perspectives on how clothing became fashion, or ‘anti-fashion’, and to what extent a consensual mode of dress emerged. It also explores how clothing habits of Arab people and changing Ottoman and British occupying authorities influenced ‘Jewish’ fashion.

Svenja Bethke is a Lecturer in Modern European History and the former Deputy Director of the Stanley Burton Centre for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Leicester. Her research interests include the Holocaust, legal history, the history of modern Palestine/Israel, visual culture and fashion history. She is currently a visiting Marie Curie Fellow at the Abraham Harman Institute for Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University Jerusalem for her project on ‘Clothing, Fashion and Nation Building in Eretz Israel’.

Introduction by Dr Daniel Wildmann (Director, LBI London):

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