Saturday, March 31, 2007

La meme chose?

What makes German- and French-Jewish history different? The great thing about studying French Jews from within a French-French Studies program is that I now know a ton (but have, of course, an infinite way to go) about France generally, and thus have a better idea about where Jews, and minority groups generally, fit into French society at different points in that nation's history. However, my sense of what made and makes French Jews specifically French, what makes the French case different from others, is a bit blurry. Comparing the French and American cases is easiest, as I'm as aware as anyone about what it means to be an American Jew, and so when I learn about France, I can see what's the same and what's far from. But within Europe, things get confusing. I'm reading Amos Elon's The Pity of it All, about German Jews from Moses Mendelssohn's arrival in Berlin up to the rise of Nazism. Much that Elon says about the uniqueness of Germany, of the special ties Jews felt to Germany, of the whole "new Jerusalem"-type attitude about their new home, about a German-Jewish "symbiosis," real or imagined, could as easily be said about France. Do scholars with a particular interest in France or Germany, with reading abilities in French or German, simply conclude that their own case is the special one? Seems I have a ways to go in language/knowledge acquisition before I have even the slightest sense of what makes France different.

And that's just in the 18th and 19th centuries. How about the 20th? The more historians find about just how Nazi-like the Vichy regime really was, and just how similar French and German feelings were about Jews, the harder it is to see what, if anything, was fundamentally different.

And how about now? There's France, with its unique anti-Americanism. What could be more French? And yet, it sounds much the same in Germany.

So yeah, no real point to this post, other than to make clear that I do not have a clue.

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