Pointing to the larger claims of the book, the introduction argues that the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were a key moment in the creation of the Jewish individual—a moment when forms and structures of religious, familial, and communal authority were subsumed under the needs and concerns of the individual. As a result, personal desire increasingly defined the limits and scope of Jewishness, resulting in the creation of voluntary Jewish communities. Critically, the emergence and evolution of the Jewish individual occurred roughly at the same time as another pivotal social and cultural development: Leisure sites, including cafés, restaurants, hotel halls, and sports clubs, were gaining increased popularity in European society as available free time increased. The Introduction explores the relevant historiographic and theoretical debates connected to the spatial turn and highlights how they would become important for the Jewish communities of Berlin, Paris, and St. Petersburg.
The first chapter explores how Jews integrated into European society while at the same time used leisure and consumer places to maintain senses of group cohesion and collective identity. In aiming to preserve but also in effect to recreate a sense of collectivity, an increasing number of Jewish individuals turned to new social spaces to make and nurture friendships and solidify networks and solidarity. The chapter is thus about boundaries: the boundaries between Jews and non-Jews and the boundaries between different Jewish groups as they were expressed in social spaces. In particular, the chapter explores how writers, intellectuals, artists, immigrants, and the working classes used cafés to create friendship and fraternity, and how they used hotels and restaurants for new forms of conviviality and community building.
The second chapter examines the transition from arranged to companionate marriages among Ashkenazic Jews in the three cities and, in particular, as a reaction to the expanding market of leisure spaces in the process. The formation of the contemporary Jewish family underwent a dramatic shift as the notions of individual autonomy came to supersede the predominant influence of the extended family. In the process, the changing needs and expectations of the Jewish family imposed new expectations on the community as a whole regarding how and where the Jewish family was to be formed.
Chapter 3 examines the growing anxiety over the future of Judaism and Jewishness as it was expressed toward children and youth. Vacation camps and youth movements were seen as ideal venues for formal and informal education. Their creators and organizers hoped that such spaces would create bonds between Jewish children and instill in them a sense of Jewish belonging. Parents, too, had a role to play in this story. Just as they had come to use leisure and social spaces to solidify belonging with other Jews and to find a spouse, they hoped that children and youth would develop a sense of Jewish self-identification through social and leisure practices. Together, parents and leaders wanted children to develop a sense of Jewish belonging and for this reason encouraged them to participate in Jewish organizations and play in Jewish environments.
Chapter 4 explores how the largely Ashkenazic Jewish community began to alter the ways in which it celebrated holy days, weddings, and bar mitzvahs. The chapter examines the ways in which Jewish celebration patterns were changed as they were moved out of traditional Jewish spaces and into consumer and leisure spaces. Through an examination of these religious practices, the chapter reveals debates between religious authorities and lay members of the community. Religious leaders sought both to infuse rituals with new meaning and create new practices that would strengthen individuals' connection to the synagogue and to Judaism. The final part of the chapter explores how different Jewish groups began to change the celebration of Jewish holidays by taking a look at the popularization of holiday balls as a new means to celebrate Jewish holidays.
Chapter 5 demonstrates that the patterns developed before World War II were vital to the reconstruction of Jewish communities after the Shoah, especially in Paris and Berlin. By this time, the Jewish public had come to expect a wider social and cultural program that would cater to different guises of Jewish belonging beyond strict religious definitions. Individuals wanted Jewish sociability based not only on the synagogue but also on youth groups and children's summer camps and on social groups that met at local cafés or restaurants. At the same time, this chapter assesses the vast and critical changes wrought by the Holocaust and explores its repercussions in the postwar communities. Beyond pointing to these important historical continuities, however, this final chapter explores why these patterns were not replicated in Leningrad, despite periodic attempts to recreate public Jewish sociability in the former capital along similar models.
The epilogue returns to the theme of community building and the contexts under which Jewish life can and has flourished. It argues strongly against narratives in which persecution is seen as the cement that binds Jewish communities together over time. Instead, the Epilogue asserts that Jewish belonging thrives in places of choice and that Jews find more reasons and ways to remain connected to their culture and to each other in cities and countries with multiple viable options. It also asks an open-ended question regarding the future of Jewish belonging in a time of continued individualistic belonging. Taking an optimistic approach, the Epilogue concludes with a call for increased and pluralistic contexts for the perpetuation of Jewish belonging and self-identification.