Coping with Life and Death: Jewish Families in the Twentieth Century

Coping with Life and Death: Jewish Families in the Twentieth Century

Coping with Life and Death: Jewish Families in the Twentieth Century

Coping with Life and Death: Jewish Families in the Twentieth Century


How has the Jewish family changed over the course of the twentieth century? How has it remained the same? How do Jewish families see themselves--historically, socially, politically, and economically--and how would they like to be seen by others? This book, the fourteenth volume of Oxford's internationally acclaimed Studies in Contemporary Jewry series, presents a variety of perspectives on Jewish families coping with life and death in the twentieth century. The book is comprised of symposium papers, essays, and review articles of works published on such fundamental subjects as the Holocaust, antisemitism, genocide, history, literature, the arts, religion, education, Zionism, Israel, and the Middle East. Published annually by the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Studies in Contemporary Jewry series features current scholarship in the form of symposia, articles, and book reviews by distinguished experts of Jewish studies from colleges and universities across the globe. Each volume also includes a list of recent dissertations. Volume XIV: Coping with Life and Death: Jewish Families in the Twentieth Century will appeal to all students and scholars of the sociocultural history of the Jewish people, especially those interested in the nature of Jewish intermarriage and/or family life, the changing fate of the Orthodox Jewish family, the varied but widespread Americanization of the Jewish family, and similar concerns.


From the day they are born, all human beings cope with life and death, and to a very large extent they do so in family units. They must learn to live with themselves and with others, to be individuals and members of families, and of the other groups to which they or their families belong. Moreover, it is within these manifold family and group settings that individuals deal with the particular exigencies encountered at the various stages of the life cycle. At the same time, they constantly confront dying and the deaths of others—near and far, at all ages, due to a variety of natural and unnatural causes—illness, degeneration, suicide, disaster, accident, crime and war. However it occurs, death ruptures the individual life cycle, rends the bonds to family and sometimes destroys the family unit itself.

Just as individuals act in life and encounter death as members of family units, so, too, the family functions as a unit in taking into account the life needs, and dealing with the death, of their members. And yet, while death is always terminal for the individual, it is usually not so for the family and the other groups to which the individual belongs. These continue to function as collective units, and maintain their existence over succeeding generations. What is more, the death of an individual enters into the life of the group—in a direct personal sense in the case of the surviving members of the family, and as part of the collective memory and identity of broader groups, especially if the circumstances surrounding that death are associated with group membership, and even more so if the ultimate survival of the group is threatened.

Above and beyond the universals, the particular character of the challenges of life and death reflect broader social contexts and historical circumstances. Persons, families, groups and societies do not face the same challenges, and they react to them differently. This volume examines the role of families and of family relationships in contributing and reacting to, and in coping with, distinctive aspects of life and death among Jews in the twentieth century. The approach is multidisciplinary, offering anthropological, sociological, demographic, political, economic, cultural, literary and historical analyses of challenges to, changes in, new forms of, and alternatives to Jewish family life in a variety of different social and national contexts. Its focus is extemely broad—on family and family-type relationships among Jews rather than on “the Jewish family, ” actual or mythical.

Thus, it analyzes what goes on inside families and between families: how and why families are formed, how they socialize their members into the larger ethnic and national environment; how they equip their members to cope with external necessities and challenges, and protect and threaten their individual members in normal times and in extremis; how they serve as means and vehicles, and obstacles, for a variety of individual aspirations and desires, and for collective goods and needs, while being . . .

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