Rebekka Grossmann

My PhD research deals with the emergence of a Jewish “National Optics” in Eretz Israel between 1920 and 1960, and the impact of visual material on the awareness of the Jewish state in the making. In particular I am interested in the ways the imagination of the Jewish national landscape was constituted through Zionist imagery abroad. I will look at films and photographs that were made in Israel by artists from different backgrounds and with different purposes, and that were exported to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences in Europe and North America, as part of the Zionist propaganda effort.  The different origins of the artists resulted in a varied depiction of the industrial, cultural and social development in the Yishuv. Moreover, Jewish Palestine was envisioned and framed in conspicuously different ways to match the respective expectations, hopes and fears of the different target audiences. I argue that the Yishuv’s emerging national optics served not only as a means of ideological edification in the Zionist world but also as a signifier for an emerging new transnational political entity that communicated with its partners and observers around the globe through pictures and symbols, no less than through the written and spoken word.

My approach is informed by theories on the politics of visual imagery, from Roland Barthes to Ariella Azoulay, as well as considerations of transnational politics and cultural transfer. By tracing the development of a Zionist national optics in different historical, political and cultural contexts, I will be able to touch on major questions of historical research today, such as the impact of immigration on the political culture of states and political movements; the history of transnational cultural and political frameworks; and the history of Jewish nationalism inside and outside of Israel.

In addition to my PhD Dissertation, I participate as a research assistant in the research project of Ofer Ashkenazi, which deals with the concept of “Heimat” in the visual materials produced by immigrant filmmakers and photographers who were trained in Central Europe before 1933 and emigrated thereafter. My focus in this project is photographers and filmmakers who settled in Palestine or chose Palestine as a place of transition during the 1930s and 1940s. By analyzing the works of photographers such as Helmar Lerski, Tim Gidal, Yaakov Rosner, Lu Landauer and Shmuel Josef Schweig—as well as those by some less known photographers—we want to trace changes in their perception and presentation of landscapes and scenes of daily life, asking in what ways their training and education prior to immigration influenced their choice of motifs and techniques in their new home. Furthermore, we ask whether those who left Palestine for other countries took their ideas of this new “Heimat Eretz Israel” with them. In a first step, I will consult and map the different collections of immigrant photographers located in archives all over Israel. The second step will be to analyze the different biographies of the artists and the characteristics of their works in comparison to immigrant photographers who contributed to the visual arts scene in other cultural realms.

Before starting my PhD at the Hebrew University I completed undergraduate studies at the University of Freiburg and an MPhil at the University of Oxford. I wrote my master’s thesis on the influence of Israeli intellectuals on the changing perceptions of Germany and the German people during the 1950s and 1960s. My main research interests are the history of Jewish thought in the 20th century, Jewish politics, the history of Jewish nationalism, history of film and visual culture, and European intellectual history.