Homes Away from Home
Jewish Belonging in Twentieth-Century Paris, Berlin, and St. Petersburg
Sarah Wobick-Segev



In late August 1819, during the anti-Jewish Hep! Hep! riots that spread across German-speaking lands, a young Jewish man was accosted in a popular Hamburg café. In the police report that recorded the details of the altercation, the young man complained that an assailant had ripped the “Prussian medal that I wore on my breast,” a medal that he had been awarded while serving in the Prussian army during the anti-Napoleonic campaigns.1 It was neither random that the young man chose to wear his medal during the early days of the anti-Jewish riots in Hamburg, nor was it coincidental that he was accosted in, of all places, a coffeehouse. Rather, the violence, the prominent cafés where the anti-Jewish riots in Hamburg began, and the man’s military service medal all played symbolic parts in the larger debate, begun in the previous century, on the place of Jews in German and, in fact, European society.

Even though the Hep! Hep! riots were particular to Central Europe (spreading eventually to Denmark and Poland), a heated and emplaced discourse of the Jewish question was not. By the early nineteenth century, the place of Jews in the public had become a matter of both internal and external contentious debate, which sometimes would erupt into violence between rival factions. The presence of Jews in relatively new social spaces functioned as a synecdoche to their status in European society. The Christian refusal to accept the participation of Jews in sites of leisure and sociability often reflected anxieties about Jews’ place as would-be fellow citizens in the political sphere.

Russia also struggled with the question of the place of Jews in its empire, a question the government initially resolved by restricting Jewish settlement to the Pale of Settlement, thereby preventing Jews from residing in the central Russian provinces and two historic capitals. In France, despite emancipation, Napoleon’s “infamous decrees” challenged Jews’ very ability to integrate and become good French citizens. Napoleon created institutions to monitor the integration of the Jews and to coordinate with non-Jewish authorities. One such institution was the Consistoire (Consistory), which became the official space for a French Judaism defined exclusively on theological grounds. In this sense, the debate over the “Jewish question” was already always a question of space, and an emotionally charged one at that.

The story of Jews’ evolving place in European society has largely been seen and studied as a legal struggle over the abstract status of Jews as a group living in European society. Yet, in effect, Jews’ changing relationship with and to the state—based, first, on their status as a corporate body entitled to legal rights bequeathed to them as individual citizens—was at the core of that same emancipation process. In this book I show that the late nineteenth to early twentieth century was a key moment in the creation of the Jewish individual—a moment when forms and structures of religious, familial, and communal authority were replaced by and subsumed under the needs and concerns of the individual.2 By the end of the nineteenth century most European governments had enacted emancipation legislation or had at least significantly eased legal restrictions on Jews, permitting, though not guaranteeing, greater integration into non-Jewish society. New state laws in Germany and France permitted intermarriage without conversion, allowed Jews to leave the Jewish community without joining another religious group, thereby radically altering the definition and composition of the community.3

Jews at the fin de siècle were in an unprecedented position to determine for themselves the level and nature of their involvement in Jewish life and religious observance.4 For many European Jews, Halacha (or Jewish law) had ceased to serve as a normative set of guidelines and no longer governed everyday conduct. Personal desire increasingly defined the limits and scope of Jewishness, resulting in the creation of voluntary Jewish communities. As Shulamit Volkov reminds us, the ensuing “search for community” was, like emancipation itself, dependent on and “directed—primarily and fundamentally—at the individual Jew.”5 This individualized nature of the Jewish community was essential for the various reformulations of Jewish life that took place in the years that followed.

The emergence and evolution of the Jewish individual occurred roughly at the same time as another pivotal social and cultural development: Leisure sites were gaining increased popularity in European society as available free time increased. The number of cafés grew; restaurants became fixtures in major cities; hotels offered large meeting rooms and halls to gather and celebrate; children’s vacation camps proliferated; and associations flourished. In the context of a growing market of largely, though not exclusively, capitalist consumer spaces, Europeans of all stripes and confessions had new and greater opportunities to meet and socialize publicly and informally. At the same time, leisure and sociable spaces were not neutral sites, even if they were increasingly open to different members of the larger public.

As Lucette Valensi has noted about the Jews of North Africa under quite different political circumstances, modern states, including new colonial regimes, witnessed an opening of “places for socializing independent of religious differences, whether these were schools, outdoor cafés, theaters, or athletic clubs.” Although these new spaces for socializing did not dissolve the barriers between various ethnic and religious communities, they did lower them. Importantly, the same places “permitted a certain freeing of individuals from the constraints of their group and their religion.”6 In this sense, it is important to recall that the individuation of Jewish communities was not exclusive to Western European “assimilated” Jews. Across Europe and even beyond, Jews came to have multiple loyalties, as fissures became increasingly apparent in their once purportedly unified identities.7 Self-selection and exclusion played important roles for the various would-be participants of any site of leisure, be it on religious, economic, or political grounds.

These were momentous changes and ones that elicited often profound emotional responses. Some contemporaries greeted the new spaces with enthusiasm and curiosity. Nostalgia colored other individuals’ perceptions of the past. Still others were anxious about the clear alterations made to communal and private life; they looked with uncertainty at the world around them and the future in front of them. Numerous European Jews debated the morality and properness of entering leisure establishments and participating in the various social activities found within their walls. As Shmuel Feiner has noted, already by the late eighteenth century maskilim “preached against the pleasure-seekers, wine-drinkers, and merry makers who neglected their souls” and warned against the changes wrought to Jewish society with the “total abandonment of tradition.”8 Numerous nineteenth-century rabbis wrote against the pernicious effects of wasting time, which was instead supposed to be spent on the performance of religious duties.

One of the leading voices of the burgeoning neo-Orthodox movement, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, argued in his essay “Religion Allied to Progress” that “since the beginning of the century the ancient religion had been to them—ancient; it no longer fitted into the society of the sons and daughters of the new age with their frock coats and evening dresses. In club and fraternity, at the ball and supper party, at concerts and salons—everywhere the old Judaism was out of place.”9 These often younger Jewish Europeans who participated in the religiously and socially mixed environment of cafés and operas could thus find themselves transgressing communal expectations and challenging the authority of (older) religious and intellectual elites. These changes only accelerated as emancipation became a legal reality. In this increasingly porous social environment, a Jewish population in transformation was faced with its own Jewish question—what did it mean to be Jewish?—and many of the younger generation turned to many of these same social and leisure spaces to fashion an answer for themselves.

These public and semipublic spaces opened new ways for Jews to associate, congregate, and educate (both formally and informally) as a group and provided opportunities to celebrate Jewish holidays and rites of passage differently. Jews in Paris, Berlin, and St. Petersburg turned to many of these sites to create new forms of community. Moreover, as individual Jews began to make these spaces into Jewish sites according to their own fashion, the leadership of authoritative Jewish spaces, such as the synagogue, had to respond to these new needs and reposition itself. This is not to say that what we might assume to be “traditional” Jewish spaces had remained untouched over the modern era; the synagogue itself underwent an important transition in the nineteenth century from a “house of gathering” to a sanctified “house of God,” “a place of holiness separate from the secular world and a place of refuge from it.”10 In short, Jewish space and the Jewish use of space were in significant transition.

Too often the story of emancipation and of the historical development of Jewish society in its aftermath has focused on the questions of integration and assimilation (or the failure of both). As a result, these histories have been frequently inscribed into a quick and ready crisis narrative. I am less concerned with the successes or failures of such integration and more interested in exploring how Jews felt about these changes and how they sought to maintain senses of difference by harnessing new spatial solutions.

This book, then, is a story about the changing expressions of self-identification that took place as leisure time grew for those living across the continent. Although many of the sites were capitalist in nature and organization (e.g., cafés, restaurants, and hotels), others were philanthropic or not-for-profit institutions. The story that unfolds in the following pages therefore joins a nascent scholarship exploring the intersection of Jewish history and the histories of consumer culture, consumerism, and capitalism, but it pushes the questions animating that scholarship in new directions as well.11 As much as I can and do suggest that the demise of capitalist leisure and consumer spaces would have critical repercussions for Jews in such cities as Leningrad, more important was the simple variety and choice of spaces for Jewish interaction, not necessarily or simply their funding scheme.12

In this book I explore how Jews reconciled their growing inclusion into general European society with a desire to maintain an exclusive sense of belonging that marked them distinctly as Jews. The nature of Jewish self-identification, its limits and its boundaries, was of critical importance to Jews who lived in European urban centers. Jews might have spoken the vernacular and often dressed like other non-Jews, but they desired to maintain and transmit a sense of Jewish fraternity regardless of whether they kept the mitzvot (commandments). Faced with emancipation and the rise of nationalism and living in a significantly more open and porous society, Jews had to negotiate their place in society and, in so doing, were compelled to redefine what it meant to be Jewish in the modern era on an individual, familial, and communal level.

The redefinition of Jewish belonging did not happen primarily in synagogues or other religious spaces, though they have a part in this story. Rather, new Jewish spaces served as central sites for the expression of modern Jewish identity. In these sites European Jews sought to create social and cultural environments that would respond to their individualized needs as Jews. The relatively open and malleable nature of these sites further allowed Jews to gather and express their belonging to a community and to form an identity out of a sense of Jewishness that was not merely religious in nature. These places facilitated the option of secular Jewish self-identification, marking a distinction between Judaism and Jewishness that would have been next to impossible on a large scale in the pre-emancipation era.

The social, religious, and political changes of the nineteenth century helped provoke a search for new formulas and novel spatial solutions for Jewish self-identification. I argue here that the early twentieth century witnessed no less than a spatial revolution for European Jews. Zionists looked to Palestine, where they worked to build a macrospatial solution, whereas most European Jews looked to solutions within Europe and sought to build a microspatial Jewish environment in restaurants, cafés, and children’s camps and on sports fields. Alongside traditional-religious spaces—and, for some Jews, instead of them—leisure and consumer sites served as oases of Jewish life. This was not merely an “imaginary community” but one that existed in and through physical spaces.

Nevertheless, this story has remained largely invisible. Until recently, much of the historical literature on twentieth-century European Jewry did not talk about how Jews sought to create a Jewish home on European soil; rather, it focused on its destruction (for many good reasons). Yet this tendency conceals an important story. Even though the twentieth century did witness unparalleled persecution and violence against the Jews of Europe, it was also a vibrant and dynamic period of rebuilding and construction. Building on the recent scholarly move away from teleological narratives of persecution, I assess and uncover various renaissances of Jewish culture that began in the late nineteenth century and climaxed in the 1920s and 1930s.13

During this transformative period, changes occurred that would determine the face of Jewish life as we see it today. Patterns of leisure, celebration, and fraternity that continue today first evolved in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Moreover, these patterns became vital to the reconstruction of Western and Central European Jewish communities after the Holocaust. I therefore seek to uncover how European Jews confronted both the positive and the negative aspects of modernity, without viewing early-twentieth-century Jewish history as a prelude to a predestined set of tragedies. Urban European Jewish society was certainly in a state of flux, but it was not always in a state of crisis. For most participants the early twentieth century did not mark a crisis of identity—they knew they were Jews (and, to be sure, all individuals discussed in the following pages self-identified as Jews). Although a vocal minority experienced a crisis of meaning and sought to find and propagate alternative significance to their Jewish self-awareness, most did not experience an identity crisis.

A Tale of Three Cities

My choice to compare Paris, Berlin, and St. Petersburg (later Leningrad) has provoked curiosity, surprise, and even deep skepticism. It was long assumed in the annals of Jewish history that Jewish life in Western and Eastern Europe had little in common; comparative analysis would only confirm what we already knew: that the communities were vastly different and in effect incomparable. Fortunately, these impressions have begun to change, and scholars are more willing to consider the possible similarities and points of contact between East and West, just as they are increasingly interested in carrying out comparative studies of Jewish communities.14 Yet, until now, no scholar has examined a Western, Central, and Eastern European Jewish community. On the basic level, Paris, Berlin, and St. Petersburg serve as clear and prominent examples of Jewish communities from those three geographic regions.15

The purported dichotomy between Eastern and Western European Jewish communities centers on perceived political and ethnoreligious distinctions, just as it relies on statements made by contemporary Jews themselves. We must consider these statements cautiously, however, because they frequently hinge on the imaginations of Eastern and Western Jews who imagined and popularized a distinction between the Jews of the “East,” whom they portrayed as being seemingly more religious and spoke Yiddish, and the purportedly more “secular” Jews of the “West,” who spoke the vernacular of the society and adopted “European” manners.

In the past scholars frequently echoed these stereotypes without considering several important factors. First, many of the Eastern Jews coming to major Central and Western European cities were not only migrating from one part of the continent to the other but also undergoing a process of urbanization. What we have long assumed to be differences between East and West are just as likely (if not more so) to have resulted from the migration from rural to urban spaces. Second, the Jews who left the Pale of Settlement in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were not necessarily significantly more “traditional” than those Jews who had come to Paris and Berlin from the rural hinterland of France and Germany a generation before. Indeed, the Jewish community of Paris at the beginning of the nineteenth century was insignificant, amounting to “a tiny unauthorized settlement of several hundred Jews.”16 Throughout the nineteenth century, the Jewish population of Paris rose, largely thanks to migration from the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. Similarly, before 1823, the Jewish community of Berlin rarely numbered more than 3,500. The Jewish population grew only after the 1820s, as Jewish migrants from Brandenburg and Pomerania moved to the city, joined a decade later by Jews from West Prussia, Posen, and Silesia.17 Linguistically these migrants often differed only in their dialect of Yiddish, not in their use of the language. The Eastern Jew, as historian Solvejg Höppner once pithily suggested, was simply the one who came “after me.”18

Politics has been another major contributing factor to the perception of an East-West divide. The popularity of distinctly (and ethnically) Jewish political movements, such as Zionism and Bundism, in the East seems to suggest a radically different sense of political selfhood and collective identity than the liberal or left-wing integrationist politics more common to Jews in Central and Western Europe. On the one hand, this difference cannot be overlooked and bears an important truth. On the other hand, Bundism, for example, was quite popular in early-twentieth-century Paris among the working class. And in St. Petersburg, many Jews, especially among the elites, were committed to a liberal, integrationist political vision.19 Jewish communities in major cities across Europe were politically diverse, and their members voiced political positions that spanned a wide spectrum.

The perception that ethnic politics dominated the Eastern Jewish political landscape and that integrationist politics dominated in the West is an outgrowth of assumptions made about the severity and pervasiveness of antisemitism in different parts of the continent and Jewish responses to it. By the 1880s and 1890s positive as well as negative interactions with non-Jews in all three countries had provoked changes in the politicization and political methods of the Jewish population, leading to discussions, debates, and practical work toward a new Jewish future.20 Nationalist, Bundist, and Zionist responses are well known and again are typically viewed as particularly Eastern European responses to antisemitism and antisemitic violence (even if we know that Bundist and Zionist voices could be heard across the continent).

Yet there were liberal Jewish responses as well, and they too spanned the continent. The Dreyfusard Republicans in France and the leading voices in the Obshchestvo dlia rasprostraneniia prosveshcheniia mezhdu evreiami v Rossii (Society for the Spread of Enlightenment Among the Jews of Russia, or OPE) in Russia21 and the Centralverein deutscher Staatsbürger jüdischen Glaubens (Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith, or CV) in Germany offered liberal, integrationist responses to the growing hostility from non-Jews. Moreover, these same organizations, rather than rejecting Jewish collective identity, came to express a closing of ranks among Jews and voiced strong Jewish pride just as they asserted the worthiness of Jews as fellow Europeans.22 Jewish collective consciousness was therefore not just the purview of nationalists; by the end of the nineteenth century liberals had also come to recognize the importance of strong Jewish identity and self-defense.

Furthermore, the long and bloody Great War influenced attitudes toward integration and the ways in which Jews felt attached to their Jewish roots. This led to a stark encounter with Jews from across the continent, one that would inform and alter self-perception greatly on all sides.23 If the activities of Jewish groups and organizations sought to respond to the new Jewish question, the interwar years witnessed an even more significant process of pushing at the boundaries of identity and community and, in so doing, redefined the status quo. Even for the outwardly acculturated Jews in the communities, the desire to create or give voice to a “new Jewish culture” was of growing import.

Structurally as well, by the end of the nineteenth century the three capital cities of the leading European empires—Paris, Berlin, and St. Petersburg—served as the primary centers of Jewish life in their respective countries. Demographically, Paris was the undisputed center of French Jewry and was predominantly, though not exclusively, Ashkenazi in character. Berlin, too, had the largest Jewish population in Germany, even if other cities, including Frankfurt and Hamburg, had historically important and demographically significant populations.

St. Petersburg’s growing Jewish population was smaller than that of Paris or Berlin and also smaller than the overall Jewish population in the Pale of Settlement. Only in the middle of the nineteenth century, during the era of the Great Reforms under Tsar Alexander II, were certain professional categories of Jews permitted to settle in St. Petersburg (first-guild merchants in 1859; those with university degrees in 1861; guild-registered artisans in 1865; and Jews who had completed their military service in 1867). Despite these restrictions, the Jewish population of the city grew substantially. By 1897 the guberniia (province) of St. Petersburg had an official Jewish population of 21,122 (most of whom lived in the city itself). Unofficial estimates place the Jewish population at roughly double the official figure.24 Although the population in absolute numbers was smaller and although gaining residence privileges was more complicated in St. Petersburg, the Russian capital, like Paris and Berlin, was home to the intellectual and business elites and both symbolically and institutionally served as the center for the most significant Jewish organizations, including the thriving Jewish press.

Moreover, the Jewish communities of Paris, Berlin, and St. Petersburg were well versed in the experiences, practices, and even histories of each other. The cultural world that many middle-class Jews of St. Petersburg established and inhabited resembled that of other bourgeois urban Jews across Europe. This was no accident, because they frequently strove to imitate their coreligionists in Western Europe, and Western European Jews also adopted practices and attitudes that had foundations further to the east.25

Finally, we must consider the sheer number of Jewish individuals and institutions that traveled between these cities. The histories of the three cities and the Jewish individuals and institutions residing in them were deeply intertwined. On the most obvious level, the pogroms of 1881–1884 catalyzed a massive wave of immigration to the West that continued well into the 1920s. These migrations brought members of the communities together and radically changed the demographic composition of the Jewish communities of Paris and Berlin. Thus, by the eve of World War II, France was home to the third largest Jewish community in the world, and the Jewish population of Paris was split nearly 50–50 into those who were born in France and those who were born in Eastern Europe.26 In 1890 Berlin had a Jewish population of 108,044 individuals. Yet by 1925 the population had risen to 173,000 people, thanks largely to immigration from Eastern Europe. This immigration wave meant that the Eastern European Jews living in Berlin accounted for a little more than one-fourth of the Jewish community.27

Organizations and newspapers also made this westward journey. The Society for the Protection of the Health of the Jewish Population (Obshchestvo okhraneniia zdorov′ia evreiskogo naseleniia, or OZE), founded in St. Petersburg in 1912, developed into an international organization that by December 1923, three years after the closing of its Petrograd office, had its headquarters in Berlin. Later, the head office relocated to Paris, where the organization was renamed OSE: l’Oeuvre de secours aux enfants.28 The Russian-language Zionist newspaper Razsviet (The Dawn) made a similar journey. The successor to Evreiskaia Zhizn′ created in 1904, Razsviet, formally came into being in St. Petersburg in 1907.29 In 1922 its central office moved to Berlin, under the editorial direction of Zeev Jabotinsky, and then to Paris several years later.

Although this book is a comparative work, it was never my intention simply to point out the similarities between the three cities and ignore the differences. Inasmuch as we can and should note certain commonalities between the three cities, the general political distinctions between the three countries are responsible for many of the differences that emerged during the period under discussion and were pivotal for the ultimate differences between them in the 1920s and 1930s (as well as after the Shoah). National, state, and local politics played a key role in delineating the parameters of what was possible or impossible for Jewish communities and their expressions of belonging.

A New History of Jewish Space

Philosophers and theoreticians have long reminded us that we live in an “era of space.”30 Although the geographic turn has actively redirected our attention to narratives of place, much of Jewish history has long been concerned with place—from religious and institutional spaces to cultural and associational spaces. Indeed, a spatial narrative about the transformation of European Jewish communities had already emerged by the 1990s, at the latest, suggesting that Jews altered their patterns of affiliation and solidarity in response to processes of political, cultural, and social modernization.31 At the same time, many historians and scholars of Jewish studies have made only indirect or tangential reference to space and place without placing them at the heart of their intellectual mission.32 Only more recently can we discern a growing body of literature that foregrounds place in historical analysis.33 This academic development is linked to a growing awareness that place truly matters and does not merely provide a colorful backdrop to the “real” story.34 Yet all scholars of place recognize that places without people—without people talking about them, thinking about them, or interacting in them—do not really matter.35 This book, then, is not an architectural guide of Jewish Paris, a history of Jewish institutions in St. Petersburg, or even the story of the Jewish café in Berlin. Rather, I seek in the following pages to offer a history of individualized Jewish being through a spatial analysis, taking the three cities as case studies and settings for these developments.36

As such, I find resonance, perhaps unexpectedly or even ironically, in Martin Heidegger’s discussion of place and the search for authenticity. His famous essay “Building, Dwelling, Thinking” explores the imbricated search for home and a unified identity that can be located in the individual’s quest for harmony with her surroundings in a time of displacement. Heidegger wrote his article after World War II, in a period of significant housing shortages in Germany. His text seeks to connect building, being, and dwelling in space. Thus Heidegger reflects a desire, if not to turn back time, then to re-emplace the displaced. He offers a bridge between spatial and emotional understandings, reminding us of the modern challenge of fractured identities and urban displacements.37

The search for rootedness in the face of fracturing and fractured identities reflected a basic reality of many European Jews across the twentieth century. As Mary Gluck has noted in the case of the Jews of Hungary—an observation that holds true for communities across Europe—“Jews had become unalterably modern selves, who inhabited a fractured world, in which religious and national identities, private and public loyalties; economic and civic activities no longer formed a harmonious whole.”38 Facing this fundamental alteration, Jews frequently harnessed retrograde imaginations of a harmonious past to create a sense of stability and belonging.

The search for authenticity and home is a recurring motif in the modern Jewish experience. Historian Richard I. Cohen has noted how for some “the rapid move from the relatively slow-moving Jewish community to the pulsating life of Europe’s capitals and cities tended to produce feelings of disorientation and emptiness, which certain Jews tried to counteract by reestablishing an attachment to that ‘ghetto’ world which they or their parents had abandoned.”39 Klaus Hödl has noted a similar search for an authentic but ultimately invented past among the founders of the Jewish museum in Vienna.40 This practice reflects essentially modern experiences and the creation of modern values (like authenticity) as resulting from a dislocation from previous communities and spaces.41

These examples also highlight how the theoretical study of space and place can implicate our emotional senses.42 Places are social processes, concrete in their physicality but extended through discursive representation and through human imagination.43 Yet materiality, representation, and imagination are not distinct fields. They overlap: “It is only in the social practices of daily life that the ultimate significance of all forms of activity is registered.”44 They come together because we do not just live in spaces; we think about them and we represent them. They are the spaces of our “fantasies, desires, fears and longings” and “are expressed in actual behavior.”45 And although “emotions are inevitably personal and individual,” groups and communities “can, and do, influence and coordinate how and what their members feel and how they may express their feelings. They can encourage and discourage them to feel shame, pride or honour; they can support them to show or withhold rage, hatred, and compassion.”46 Emotions are thus a window into motivations and collective attitudes.47

However, the study of emotions can pose obvious challenges to academic expectations of cool and rational objectivity. I have tried not to take emotional statements at face value; instead, I have sought to explore what personal statements reveal about expectations, hopes, and beliefs. For instance, statements about love frequently tell us more about the individualization of the community and the growing expectations of self-fulfillment and personal growth than they do about the actual love felt or perhaps feigned. Other challenges emerge in studying the emotional registers and expectations of cultures that highly resemble our own. The anthropologist of distant cultures will quickly notice the radical differences in the emotional vocabulary or manners of that culture, even if it might take her longer to explain those same differences. This is not our challenge. The Jews of Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries frequently experienced and voiced emotions that resonated and made sense to other Europeans at the time and, importantly, continue to do so today. Our challenge is to pay attention to their emotional expressions and not take them for granted because of their sameness; in fact, it is their sameness that we should appreciate.

Thanks to memoirs, autobiographies, personal archives, and the Jewish press—which account for the majority of primary sources used in this book—we know that individual European Jews valued personal satisfaction, self-fulfillment, and autonomy. They expected that their encounters with Jewish religion and culture would be entertaining and varied—both for themselves and their children—and not simply educational or instructional. They expressed the desire to find personally fulfilling companionship and a sense of togetherness and meaning with like-minded individuals. Religious and lay leaders often voiced anxiety and fear in the face of social and cultural changes. They wrote and spoke of their wish not only to encourage good religious behavior and norms but also to instill pride, love, and belonging to Judaism and the Jewish community. Even though we can argue that these statements, especially those made in the Jewish press, were proscriptive in nature and intended to direct and alter patterns of behavior, I try through these different sources and texts to offer a broader picture of the emotional messages and expressions conveyed. Where possible, I note the agendas behind them, highlighting the motivations behind the creation of certain spaces and practices.

It is also important to recall that it was not always up to individual Jews to determine the market of available spaces. Political regimes would rise to power across Europe that, for different reasons, would close down or prevent access to spaces that hitherto had been useful for creating and maintaining Jewish solidarity. Returning to theories of space and place, many of the places discussed in this book can be understood as what Michel Foucault dubbed heterotopias: spaces that are “in relation with all the other sites, but in such a way as to suspect, neutralize, or invert the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror, or reflect.”48 Cafés, hotel halls, summer camps, and other sites of leisure in effect “juxtapos[e] in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible.”49 Summer camps took children away from the family home and the community with the aim of reinforcing communal identities, in the hope that the children would take this identity back into the community and continue their allegiance to it. Cafés, as Hermann Kesten long ago observed, functioned as “home and country, church and parliament, desert and battlefield, cradle of illusions and cemetery. . . . In exile the café becomes a single, continuous place.”50

These sites invited the possibility of inverting or destabilizing relations, suggesting the subversive (and thus socially beneficial) role of heterotopias. In other words, the openness of these spaces to multiplicity and diversity could potentially destabilize the aims of nefarious, homogenizing regimes. As Foucault succinctly opined, “The ship is the heterotopia par excellence. In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates.”51 Open, flexible, and creative places of dreams—spaces determined by individuals and the relations between them—have been necessary for Jewish life to flourish and continue in the modern era. In cities (and countries) where “police take the place of pirates,” spaces for the practical expression of Jewish life close and Jewish life caves in on itself in the process.

Structure of This Book

In Chapter 1, I explore how Jews integrated into European society but used leisure and consumer places to maintain a sense of group cohesion and collective identity. In aiming to preserve but also in effect re-create a sense of collectivity, an increasing number of Jewish individuals turned to new social spaces to make and nurture friendships and solidify networks. The chapter is thus about boundaries: those between Jews and non-Jews and those between different Jewish groups as they were expressed in social spaces. I explore 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.

In the second chapter I examine the transition from arranged to companionship marriages among Ashkenazi Jews in the three cities; in particular, I look at this transition as a reaction to the expanding market of leisure spaces. The formation of the contemporary Jewish family dramatically shifted 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.

In Chapter 3, I look at how, by the late nineteenth century, growing anxiety over the future of Judaism and Jewishness expressed itself in a redirection of efforts toward children and youth. Vacation camps and youth movements were seen as ideal venues for formal and informal education, and their creators and organizers hoped that such spaces would create bonds between Jewish children and instill in them a sense of Jewish belonging. Yet social and cultural anxiety was only one part of the story. Just as parents had come to use leisure and social spaces to solidify belonging with other Jews and to find a spouse, the hope was that children and youth would also use such social and leisure practices to develop a sense of Jewish self-identification. This growing demand created a new market for social and leisure programs that responded to the rapid change in family life and the structure of the community.

I explore how the largely Ashkenazi Jewish community began to alter the ways in which it celebrated holy days, weddings, and bar mitzvahs in Chapter 4. In the chapter I examine 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 the bar mitzvah ceremony and newer initiation rites, I reveal debates between religious authorities and lay members of the community. Religious leaders sought both to infuse older rituals with new meaning and to create new rituals that would appeal to children. Families, for their part, brought the celebrations out of the synagogue, often making rites of passage into family affairs. A similar story is revealed when I examine the changing patterns of wedding celebrations, changes that also included moving the services out of religious spaces. Finally, I explore how different Jewish groups began to change the celebration of Jewish holidays. In particular, I note the popularization of holiday balls as a new means to celebrate Jewish holidays, including Hanukkah balls and even anarchist Yom Kippur balls.

In the final chapter of the book I explore how pre–World War II models for creating Jewish solidarity were used to reestablish togetherness for Jewish adults and children after the Holocaust. This last chapter 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 wider social and cultural programs that would cater to different guises of Jewish belonging beyond strict religious definitions. I also assess the vast and critical changes wrought by the Holocaust, exploring its repercussions in the postwar communities and why these social patterns were not replicated in Leningrad, despite periodic attempts to re-create public Jewish sociability in the former capital along similar models.

This book is thus the story of how a religious and ethnic community sought to establish spiritual and physical homes alongside their primarily Christian neighbors by using new social outlets, which were becoming increasingly fashionable in the late nineteenth century. Yet leisure and consumer spaces did not just offer sites for entertainment and diversion. They afforded the opportunity to refashion Jewish solidarity, religious and cultural identity, and community at a grassroots level. The forms of sociability and patterns of community building that emerged between the 1890s and the 1930s would lay the foundations for a legacy that can still be felt across much of Europe and the Americas today.


1. Staatsarchiv Hamburg, Polizeibehörde-Kriminalwesen C Jahrgang 1819, Nr. 199, pp. 1–4.

2. In many ways this book is an investigation of the multifold secularization processes among European Jews. I have taken preliminary inspiration on the nature of secularization from the work of Karel Dobbelaere, who notes several overlapping definitions that are relevant to my study. I see secularization as linked to the decline of community and the rise of the individual—a process that is related to autonomy and freedom, according to which the “‘autonomous’ individual is free to follow his own subjective preference.” Of equal importance is the fact that this same process has generally taken place in the capitalist West, where “the private sphere is consumer-oriented” and “the ‘autonomous’ consumer selects certain religious themes from the available assortment” (Dobbelaere, Secularization, 33, 34). For more on secularization and Jewish history, see Joskowicz and Katz, “Introduction.”

3. On the diverse paths to emancipation, see Birnbaum and Katznelson, Paths of Emancipation.

4. Again, Dobbelaere notes the personal search for meaning. See Dobbelaere, Secularization, 143.

5. Volkov, “German-Jews,” 5.

6. Valensi, “Multicultural Visions,” 198.

7. In his introduction to Hannah Arendt in Jerusalem, Steven Aschheim cites Dan Diner’s distinction between the Western and Eastern Jewish narratives: Western Jews’ identity is fragmented, whereas Eastern Jews’ sense of self is based on collective, national experience. This strikes me as a false dichotomy that romanticizes the Eastern European experience and overlooks the radical changes to that society and the sense of dislocation expressed. Aschheim, “Introduction,” 2–3.

8. Feiner, “Pseudo-Enlightenment,” 67.

9. S. R. Hirsch, “Religion,” 224. These transformations began slowly in the eighteenth century and have been noted by such historians as Azriel Schochat (Shohat), Jacob Katz, Jay Berkovitz, and Shmuel Feiner. See Schochat, Der Ursprung; Katz, Tradition and Crisis; Berkovitz, Rites and Passages; and Feiner, Origins of Jewish Secularization, 7–10. Feiner provides in the cited pages a historiographic survey of this debate.

10. M. A. Meyer, “How Awesome,” 59.

11. On the history of consumerism, see Williams, Dream Worlds; Auslander, Taste and Power; Grazia, The Sex of Things; Roberts, “Gender”; V. Schwartz, Spectacular Realities; Strasser et al., Getting and Spending; Tiersten, Marianne in the Market; Confino and Koshar, “Regimes of Consumer Culture”; and Reuveni, Reading Germany. On consumption and consumerism and Jewish history, see Heinze, Adapting to Abundance; Wobick-Segev, “Buying”; Wobick-Segev, “German-Jewish Spatial Cultures”; Lerner, Consuming Temple; Stein, Plumes; Kobrin and Teller, Purchasing Power, esp. the introduction; and Sutcliffe, “Anxieties of Distinctiveness.”

12. It is particularly interesting to note the historiographic interest in leisure culture in Imperial Russia. See Stites, Russian Popular Culture; and McReynolds, Russia at Play. Jeffrey Veidlinger notes that “the commercialization of leisure through theaters, nightclubs, restaurants, tourist groups, and movie houses transformed the ways that middle-class Russians spent their time” (Veidlinger, “Jewish Cultural Associations,” 199).

13. This statement might come as a surprise when we include the Soviet Union in the investigation. Yet, as David Shneer has correctly noted, we cannot or should not back-project the purges and antisemitism of the late 1930s or the post-Shoah period onto the 1920s. Jeffrey Veidlinger, David Shneer, Kenneth Moss, and Anna Shternshis, among others, have shown how “Soviet Jewish cultural activists were actively, not passively, fostering Jewish identity” (Shneer, Yiddish, 3). See Moss, Jewish Renaissance; Shternshis, Soviet and Kosher; and Veidlinger, Moscow State Yiddish Theater.

14. For example, Endelman, “Introduction”; Caron et al., Jewish Emancipation Reconsidered; Green, “Modern Jewish Diaspora”; Sorkin, “Enlightenment”; V. B. Mann, Tale of Two Cities; Stein, Making Jews Modern; Knörzer, Expériences croisées; Kleinmann, Neue Orte; and Hyman, “Two Models.” Finally, the awareness of internationalism and connections among Jewish communities and organizations across national borders is another important turn in the research. See Leff, Sacred Bonds.

15. Based on secondary literature, it would appear that Warsaw, for example (along with other cities), could offer an equally illuminating and comparable case study. For example, Scott Ury’s recent work on the revolution in 1905 explores the importance of the Jewish public sphere, including cafés and theaters. See Ury, Barricades and Banners, esp. ch. 4. Yet, including Poland in this monograph would exceed my linguistic competencies.

16. By 1872 the Jewish population of Paris amounted to 25,172 individuals, according to the census. See Hyman, Jews of Modern France, 1, 58; and Philippe, Les juifs à Paris, 20.

17. The migration wave had significant repercussions on the Berlin Jewish community more broadly, as the number of native-born Jews became proportionally much less than the number of Jews born in other provinces. See Lowenstein, Berlin Jewish Community, 3, 11; and Königseder, Flucht nach Berlin, 19, 21.

18. Höppner, “Ostjude ist jeder.” Höppner ascribes the phrase to a “bon mot” of Jacob Toury.

19. Horowitz, Empire Jews. For a discussion of the overlap between liberalism and nationalism among Jews in Russia, see Horowitz, Jewish Philanthropy.

20. Acculturation and liberal politics were also options that motivated and inspired European Jews, even in Russia. See Horowitz, Empire Jews. Also, on the influence of antisemitism on the increased sense of Jewish solidarity, see Wiese, “Modern Antisemitism,” 145.

21. To be sure, Brian Horowitz’s book on the OPE also refutes a simplistic view of the OPE as a “liberal” organization. It was politically far more complex: “The activity that took place in the society cannot simply be categorized as bourgeois, nationalist, radical, liberal, or conservative. Some individual members fit in several categories at once, and as people changed, so their classifications also changed” (Horowitz, Jewish Philanthropy, 11).

22. Charnow, “French-Jewish Identity,” 66–67. By the 1920s we can find any number of examples of greater interest in Jewish topics and an overall process of closing of ranks. On changes made in Germany to the CV in interwar years, see, for instance, Barkai, “Deutschtum and Judentum,” 78. The Bnai Brith in Germany also turned inward in certain ways. Consider the small but revealing example of a concert of Jewish folk songs hosted in the large hall of the Kleist Lodge by the cantor Leo Gollanin. See Monatsschrift der Berliner Logen (June 1927): 43.

23. For example, consider Zweig, Face of East European Jewry; and Ansky, Enemy at His Pleasure. Russian and German Jews especially found themselves writing about the war and a renewed sense of collective Jewish belonging. Jews in France joined in this desire for explicit togetherness in the interwar years, and this influenced the interactions between “natives” and new Jews. See Malinovich, French and Jewish, 108–15.

24. For a full discussion of this process, see Nathans, Beyond the Pale, 45–79; and Altshuler, Soviet Jewry, 219. Problems concomitant with census data are well known and are nowhere more acute than in Russia, where these data often reflect censuses asking about religion and mother tongue. For a critical discussion of these censuses, see Kleinmann, Neue Orte, 136; and Nathans, “Mythologies,” 108. On top of these more local challenges, population statistics are always troublesome and certainly are no less problematic in the field of Jewish history. Questions of identification, self-identification, religious or ethnic origin, and language all come into play in Jewish census data. Issues of official communities and illegal ones in St. Petersburg make the data even more complicated and only partly reliable. The situation in France is particularly complicated because official censuses ceased inquiring about religion in 1872.

25. See Stanislawksi, For Whom Do I Toil, 109; and Nathans, “Mythologies,” 122.

26. Weinberg, Les juifs à Paris, 8. Scholars estimate that the Jewish population in Paris rose to the low 40,000s between 1880 and 1890. Philippe, Les juifs à Paris, 20; Nord, Republican Movement, 64. The bulk of the Russian Jews who settled in France did so after 1905 and left as a result of worsening economic conditions. Scholars mark 1905 as another year of pogroms and, of equal significance, as the year that Great Britain closed its borders to refugees. Patrick Weil, “De l’affaire Dreyfus,” 107. From 1906 to 1939, between 150,000 and 200,000 Jews came to France and predominantly settled in Paris. Hyman, Dreyfus to Vichy, 31.

27. Maurer, Ostjuden in Deutschland, 76.

28. For a history of the OSE near the end of and after World War II, see Hazan, Les orphelins.

29. This was the third newspaper to bear this title. Beizer, Jews of St. Petersburg, 25. On the detailed history of the various names changes—and there were several—of this journal, see Slutsky, Ha-itonut, 203n3.

30. Foucault, “Of Other Spaces.”

31. Accordingly, the earlier model of religiously based and sociopolitically autonomous kehillot was replaced by a model of voluntary associations, which could include religious institutions but was not centered on them. Philippe, Les juifs à Paris, 81–82, 119–23. In a similar vein, since the 1990s, historians have made extensive inroads into the associational history of the Jews in Germany and France, and somewhat more recently historians of Russian Jewry have taken up a similar task. For several examples, see Pickus, Constructing Modern Identities; Hofmeister, Selbstorganisation; Lässig, Jüdische Wege ins Bürgertum; Baader, “Rabbinic Study”; Sorkin, Transformation of German Jewry; and Mosse, German Jews. For further examples of how sociability, leisure, and associationalism have made their way into the recent historiography, see Brenner, Renaissance of Jewish Culture; Malinovich, French and Jewish; Veidlinger, Jewish Public Culture; Veidlinger, Moscow State Yiddish Theater; Moss, Jewish Renaissance; Shneer, Yiddish; Shternshis, Soviet and Kosher; and Nathans, Beyond the Pale. And no work of this kind could be conceivable without the groundbreaking contributions of Marion A. Kaplan; see M. Kaplan, Jewish Middle Class.

32. The early interest in specific spaces was sparked in no small part because of the publication and later translation of Jürgen Habermas’s Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit, published in English as The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. In this work Habermas paints a narrative of a bourgeoning, politically active public sphere, the foundation of democracy. The politics of associations and certain spaces of gathering, such as coffeehouses, thus caught the attention of historians. Since then, the popularity of Habermas’s thesis has waned, but historians have continued to be interested in connections between behavior and social spaces. Other theoreticians, such as Pierre Bourdieu, have been invoked, and scholarly discussions have been reoriented to focus on practices in which all forms of consumption are conspicuous and create distinction. Bourdieu, Distinction, 31, 55.

33. Lipphardt et al., “Exploring Jewish Space,” 2; Kümper et al., Makom; Schlör, Das Ich der Stadt; B. Mann, Place in History; Gilman, “Introduction”; Baker, Rebuilding; Benain, “Bâtissez des maisons”; Fonrobert and Shemtov, “Introduction”; Herz, “Institutionalized Experiment”; Roemer, “City of Worms”; Gregor et al., German History; Pinsker, “House of Study”; Pinsker, “Urban Literary Café”; Miron, “Lately.”

34. Space, a seemingly “neutral, pre-given medium,” a companion to time, is frequently presented as the field on which “the particularities of culture and history come to be inscribed, with place as the presumed result.” Accordingly, human experience and culture emerge in the context of a “blank ‘space’ to which placial modifiers . . . are added” (Casey, “How to Get from Space to Place,” 14, 15).

35. Edward Casey reminds us that knowledge emerges from experience and that experience is by its nature localized and specific. Places themselves are not merely locations but are linked to our interactions in them; places “happen” just as much as they exist. Casey, “How to Get from Space to Place,” 16, 27.

36. In addition to a growing interest in space, there has been a clear increase in the number of studies on the cities themselves. For several notable examples, see Clark, Petersburg; Buckler, Mapping St. Petersburg; Steinberg, Petersburg; Kelly, St. Petersburg; Webber, Berlin; Föllmer, Individuality; Harvey, Paris; and Rearick, Paris Dreams.

37. Heidegger, “Building, Dwelling, Thinking.”

38. Gluck, “Budapest Flâneur,” 8.

39. Cohen, “Nostalgia,” 131.

40. Hödl, “Turning to History.”

41. Cohen, “Nostalgia,” 131–32. David Harvey notes that authenticity as a concept is modern. See Harvey, “From Space to Place,” 12.

42. Mark Steinberg’s recent and excellent study, which explores modernity in Russia through the case of St. Petersburg, offers an extended analysis of modern urbanity, its spaces, and the emotional experiences and rhetorical utterances made about them. See Steinberg, Petersburg.

43. Harvey, “From Space to Place,” 17, 21.

44. Harvey, “From Space to Place,” 23. On everyday life and its connection to emotions, see Matt and Stearns, “Introduction,” 3.

45. Harvey, “From Space to Place,” 22. Much of this thinking has its origins in the works of Henri Lefebvre, more recently interpreted by David Harvey and Edward Soja. See Soja, Thirdspace. Lefebvre suggests a three-way dialectic between the materiality, representation, and imagination of a given place. Lefebvre, Production of Space.

46. Frevert, Emotions in History, 213.

47. Matt and Stearns, “Introduction,” 2.

48. Foucault, “Of Other Spaces,” 24.

49. Foucault, “Of Other Spaces,” 25.

50. Kesten, Dichter im Café, 12–13; translation mine.

51. Foucault, “Of Other Spaces,” 27.