Academic journal article Sociological Papers

Weddings in the Town Square: Young Russian Israelis Protest the Religious Control of Marriage in Tel-Aviv [1]

Academic journal article Sociological Papers

Weddings in the Town Square: Young Russian Israelis Protest the Religious Control of Marriage in Tel-Aviv [1]

Article excerpt


The heroes of this article are members of the 1.5 generation of Russian-Jewish immigrants who moved to Israel during the 1990s and today are young adults between the ages of 25 and 40. Due to the size of the ex-Soviet immigrant wave (forming 20% of the Jewish population), Israel is particularly interesting for the study of these 1.5ers who now comprise a "critical mass" among its young citizens. Sharing common experiences and narratives, young Israelis of Russian origin apparently feel the need to connect and ex-press their specific forms of activism and creativity. This article casts light on one civic association that reflects their drive to assert their common (hybrid) identity--a club and community center called Fishka in Tel-Aviv. Our empirical analysis is informed by several theoretical perspectives: the politics of belonging in the urban space (Berg and Sigona 2013; Yuval-Davis 2011), performance studies (Eyerman 2006), cultural theory of alternative lifestyles, street protests, and urban festivals (Firat and Kuryel 2010; Giorgi et al. 2011; Hetherington 1998; Melucci 1996). The article will present and discuss the aesthetic and festival forms of public protest events organized by the young immigrants in Tel-Aviv, their spatial and temporal dimensions, their specific locations and meanings, and their role as a vehicle of social recognition and visibility of Russian-Israeli subculture in Israel's most fashionable and trend-setting city. We will explore two main questions: How do the children of immigrants make claims to iconic public space in their new society? How are social performances deployed to make those claims visible and legitimate?

Theoretical Framing

Urban Diversity and Performance of Belonging

The presence of immigrants and ethnic minorities is evident in every major metropolitan area; they became an integral part of the social landscape also beyond the traditional gateway cities like New York, London, or Melbourne. Urban sociologists have produced multiple local studies about, for instance, Pakistani immigrants in Manchester (Werbner 1996), young Turkish immigrants in Berlin (Soysal 2002), Russian immigrants in Haifa (Fialkova and Yelenevskaya 2011), and generally about diverse immigrant groups in Europe (Martiniello 2014) that examine the specific forms of their participation in these cities' public spaces. A key question often posed in this context is "how diversity, in its various dimensions, is experienced locally, and what new forms of local belonging emerge in contexts where places are closely connected to so many non-proximate 'elsewheres,' either through migration, trade links or other ways" (Berg and Sigona 2013:5). Yuval-Davis (2011:10) examined the urban diversity and inter-cultural encounters as "specific political projects aimed at constructing belonging to particular collectivity/ies which are themselves constructed in these projects in very specific ways and in very specific boundaries." These boundaries are often spatial and relate to concrete locality.

Researchers pointed to the importance of the cultural sphere in the period of dramatic global transformations spearheaded by economic and humanitarian migrations currently occurring around the world. They examined the relevance of popular art forms, such as music, cinema, theater, dance, literature, urban festivals, and street shows in diverse post-migration urban settings (Delhaye and Van de Ven 2014; Martiniello 2014; Salzbrunn 2014; Sievers 2014). The idea is that the cultural sphere and specifically street-level arts can help to build bridges, facilitate the encounters among different populations sharing the same urban space, and reinforce the immigrants' belonging to the new place. In other words, arts, culture, and rituals can become a means of communication and dialogue between different individuals or groups sharing the city or its neighborhood, facilitating integration and social cohesion (Martiniello 2014; Vanderwaeren 2014). …

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