Memory vs history

Encounters with the Past: Remembering the `Bygone’ in Israeli Culture (website) is a 3-part lecture series which explores cultural memory, a concept that is distinct from history. While history is the study of past events, cultural memory looks at the way a society makes use of its past in public commemorations, education, literature and art.

This lecture series, the most recent of the annual University of Washington Samuel and Althea Stroum Lectures in Jewish Studies, is presented by Rutgers University historian Yael Zerubavel. She looks at the changing ways Israeli society makes use of its past as a way of understanding its present.

For example, she notes that the early Zionist settlers emphatically rejected the cultural legacy of the Diaspora and instead tried to find heroic role model in ancient Israel. This rejection of the Diaspora continued after World War II when some Israelis felt shame at the perceived “passivity” of victims of the Holocaust, and preferred to focus commemorations on heroic resistance fighters such as those in the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

However, after the 1973 war, Zerubavel says, when Israelis faced their own existential threat, they began to have a different attitude toward the Holocaust, and began seeing their nation as having more continuity with Diaspora Jewish culture. She presents many examples to back up her points and gives an intriguing picture of modern Israeli culture.

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