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Multiple-Identity Politics: The Passing Narratives of Dahn Ben-Amotz

Wednesday, February 24
4 – 5:30 p.m.

Please join us for the Salo Baron New Voices in Jewish Studies Award Lecture in partnership with Columbia University’s Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies. The lecture will feature Roy Holler, an assistant professor of Israel Studies in the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Florida, and Gibel Mevorach, a professor of anthropology and American studies at Grinnell College.

In 1938, Mussia Thilimzogger’s parents put their 13-year-old son on a boat from Poland to Palestine. Three years later, they perished in the Holocaust. Alone, rejected, and failing to fit in, the young Jewish Polish immigrant adopted a new biography, changed his birthplace from Rivne to Tel-Aviv, and Hebracized his foreign-sounding name into Dahn Ben-Amotz (1924-1989). Ben-Amotz was one of many immigrants forced to change their identities and conform to the Zionist vision of the Hebrew: heroic and rough idealist, with a shared hatred of the Jewish diaspora. With his new persona, Ben-Amotz became a cultural icon for generations. But this author who shaped Israeli culture was haunted by little Mussia to his very last day, and the central trauma in his 1968 autobiographical novel, Lizkor veliskoakh (To Remember, to Forget), was not the Holocaust, but his own act of passing.

For the purposes of this talk, passing describes the turning away from the Jewish past to belong to a new Hebrew identity in Israel. Focusing on the integrationist demands of the Zionist narrative and the transformations of Jewish identities, this talk will introduce the concept of passing to Ben-Amotz’s novel, arguing that the resettlement of the Jewish diaspora in Palestine did more than move physical bodies in and out of the land: It also called for the erasure and restructuring of one’s identity in an effort to create a new Israeli culture and an improved Jewish race. Ben-Amotz’s fiction is obsessed with lost identities, showing that when a Jew wished to pass as a Hebrew, all prior ethnicities, memories, languages, and cultural heritage had to be erased.

About the Speakers

Holler received his M.A. and Ph.D. in comparative literature from Indiana University, Bloomington, and his B.A. in English from the City University of New York. His current book project, Passing and the Politics of Identity in Israeli and African American Literatures, explores the phenomenon of passing in a comparative context. A part of a chapter from this project is forthcoming in Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History.

Gibel Mevorach received her B.A. and M.A. in African Studies from Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Israel. She is the author of Black, Jewish and Interracial: It’s Not the Color of Your Skin but the Race of Your Kin, and Other Myths of Identity (1997), and her articles, review essays, and position papers have appeared in journals including American Anthropologist, American Ethnologist, Biography, Developing World Bioethics, Identities, Cultural Studies, Research in African Literatures, נוגה (Noga: Israeli Feminist Journal), עתון אחר (Iton Aher), and The Jerusalem Post (Israel).


This event is open to alumni, faculty/staff, parents, students, and the public.