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Contesting the Secular and Converting Space in Berlin? Becoming Jewish in an Urban Scene.



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Rau, Vanessa M. 


In recent years, Berlin has witnessed an ever-growing internationalization, predominantly through migration flows from all over the world. Its Jewish population has equally diversified: Berlin is now populated by Jews from the Americas, Europe and also by young Israelis who permanently live in the city. The migrant group of ‘Israelis in Berlin’ has attracted significant media attention in Germany, Israel and beyond and has often been portrayed as detached from the existing local Jewish community. My thesis interrogates this assumption and presents an ethnography which shows diverse and complex affiliations and Jewishness(es) entangled with nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender and sexuality. Through the immersion in ‘Jewish’ and ‘Hebrew’ Berlin, I span an interrelated ethnographic field which I construe as a scene. Focusing on a choir, and its connections to a synagogue and a queer Shabbat event, I investigate ‘how the scene constitutes itself as Jewish’. Combining ethnography with biographical-narrative interviews, I present how this scene is enacted and performed, embedded in the respective historical and socio-political contexts, and constituting itself by 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 to Berlin and the presence of Hebrew engenders the emergence of new ways of ‘being Jewish’. Under the specific representations of Jewishness in Germany, ‘being Jewish’ is always co-constructed alongside the negotiation over ‘being German’. Thus, by way of mapping trajectories of conversion and migration and their embeddedness in their respective socio-political contexts, I analyse processes of ‘becoming Jewish’ and their impact on this urban scene. In the framework of urban scenes, diaspora and secularism, I describe transformations towards new forms of urban (religious) socialities and aesthetics (music) and show how biographical research and the study of urban scenes offer profound insights towards new understandings of contemporary societies in the light of global transformations.





Lehmann , David
Altglas , Veronique


Migration, Identity and Belonging, Jewish Studies, Gender and Sexuality, Race and Ethnicity, City Space, Berlin/Germany, Israel, Biography/Biographical Research, Judaism, Religion, Conversion, Urban Scenes


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge