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Conference Prompts Re-imagining of the Jews of Ireland

10 July 2017 -  ‘Re-imagining the Jews of Ireland: Historiography, Identity and Representation,’ examined the critical issues around the representations of the Irish-Jewish community in history and literature in a two-day conference organised by Dr Zuleika Rodgers, Director of the Herzog Centre in Trinity’s Department of Near and Middle Eastern Studies, with sponsorship from the Herzog Centre and the Trinity Long Room Hub’s Research Incentive Scheme.

Zuleika Rodgers and Bryan Cheyette

Following swiftly on the heels of Bloomsday, the conference brought together scholars from diverse disciplines to shed light on its central questions, including topics such as anti-Semitism and nationalism – both Jewish and Irish. In the keynote lecture, ‘Lost Tribes: Jews and Irish in Modern and Contemporary Literature’, Professor Bryan Cheyette asked whether we might be experiencing a ‘renaissance of Irish-Jewish studies,’ adding, ‘just as the community is passing away there is this flowering of new novels, new poetry, new histories.’

Beginning with James Joyce, Professor Cheyette commented on the strong Jewish presence in all of Joyce’s fiction ‘from Dubliners through to Finnegans Wake.’ In Joyce’s Ulysses, a novel more commonly known for its exploration of Jewish identity through the key character of Bloom, Professor Cheyette commented that ‘up until the 1990s Bloom wasn’t really thought of as Jewish at all, he was thought of as a kind of universal everyman’, this changed in the 1990s as ‘Bloom’s Jewishness became more and more important.’

Professor Cheyette also looked at writers such as Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter, Edna O’Brien, Bernard Shaw, Israel Zangwill, Djuna Barnes, Simon Lewis, T.S Elliot and Francis Stuart.

While there has been a growing scholarly interest in the critical study of the cultural, social and economic history of Jews in Ireland who settled as subjects of the British Empire and became citizens of an independent republic, the Jewish experience in Ireland has not been examined within the context of Jewish history or from the perspectives brought from Jewish Studies. Irish historical studies of Ireland’s Jews have not engaged with issues specific to the study of European Jews or theoretical questions posed by those working in areas related to Jewish Studies.

Assistant Professor and Director of the Herzog Centre Dr Zuleika Rodgers said, ‘For the first time in Ireland, we are bringing together scholars from across the humanities to discuss important questions relating to the history, identity politics and representations of the Jews of this island, from Jewish converts of the 18th century to Joyce and beyond.’

See here for more information on the Herzog Centre.

Media coverage of this event can be viewed here.  


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