Yudith Oppenheimer

Historical and hermeneutic study of a concrete space within the urban fabric of Jerusalem

Yudith Oppenheimer is a post-doctoral fellow in the Da’at Hamakom Center of the Hebrew University. She holds a PhD from the Hermeneutics and Cultural Studies Program at Bar-Ilan University. Her PhD dissertation, Zion Square – a Hermeneutic Study of a Public Space, constitutes the first comprehensive historical and hermeneutic study of a concrete space within the urban fabric of Jerusalem. In the methodological sphere, the dissertation employs multi-disciplinary methods in seeking to understand Jerusalem’s local characteristics through “the small place” and “everyday practices”. The study deviates from traditional perspectives applied in studies of Jerusalem, which are routinely subordinated to the city’s mythical and political meta-story. It instead seeks to highlight the urban environment as a diverse and dynamic fabric of social life, civic engagement and as a venue for violent incidents. At the core of the study lies a question regarding the feasibility of a worldly urban space in Jerusalem, and of a terrestrial Jerusalem a whole. Its comprehensive perspective paints a broad picture of the relationship between culture and place in the Israeli space. Her understanding of the differentiated aspects of national conflicts further draws from her Master’s thesis, written while residing in post-apartheid South Africa (1996-2000), which dealt with the complex encounter between nationalism and gender in Third World anti-colonial struggles. She is a long time feminist and civil society activist and for the past ten years she has served as the Executive Director of Ir Amim – an NGO that seeks a peaceful solution to the conflict in Jerusalem.

The urban sphere in Jerusalem is both the locale of Yudith’s research and of her work. She believes that in the present state of hostility and political impasse, the weight of informal negotiations and dialogues between peoples through their daily engagements in the urban space increases. Moreover, it is precisely in this global era that the importance of the local, particularly that of the city, as a critical arena of identity, rights and citizenship assumes significance. Daily life is an arena of friction but also a space of new information revealed by its multifaceted interactions and encounters in which ethnic, political, socio-economic, gender and religious boundaries are stretched, crossed and redrawn. In her continuing research she strive to identify and analyze various models of integration and segregation, cooperation and differentiation, interdependency and autonomy in Jerusalem’s current urban sphere, their implied concrete and imagined conditions and relevance to the greater political context.