Home, Burden or Desire? the Multiple Meanings of Hebrew in Individual Biographies.

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Vanessa RAU, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
“My house is in the language” says Inbal in reference to Hebrew. Despite five years as an Israeli migrant in Berlin, the German language cannot provide what Hebrew signifies for her. Inbal is a member of a Hebrew Choir in Berlin, where Israelis, Jews and non-Jewish Germans sing Hebrew Choral music. The group is part of my on-going PhD research, which seeks to unravel the interwoven relations and dynamics of belonging, religion, secularity, conversion and community building in a new Jewish scene in Berlin. While Inbal exemplifies a case of unease with the German language, other Israelis are diligently seeking to obtain fluency in German eager to lose their “Hebrew accent”. Indicating the place of origin, the accent is seen as a marker of difference. At the same time, the Hebrew language and represents something exotic and very much desired for non-Jewish Germans. Their biographies reveal that it was through Hebrew, that they developed an interest in Judaism. In my paper, I will take the example of the diversity of the Hebrew choir and show the differing significations, which a language (Hebrew) can take. Relating it to the biographies of Jewish Israelis and non-Jews with a desire for things Jewish, I will show how Hebrew can attain multiple significations within a single group. As a bonding tie of a multi-national and multi-ethnic group, Hebrew equally becomes “home”, marker of difference and object of desire and representation of ‘the exotic’. Contrasting collected biographies, I will demonstrate how language (Hebrew) has influenced biography and trajectories on a personal and political level. Hereby, I will argue that language should not only be understood in its interpersonal function, but also as symbol with context-specific significations. By means of Hebrew, my paper discusses biographic trajectories (Routes and Roots) of individual and collective belonging.