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Jews and Shoes by Edna Nahshon, ed

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Jews and Shoes by Edna Nahshon, ed
  Book Review Jews and Shoes  . Edna Nahshon, ed. New York:Berg, 2008. 226 pp. GABRIELLE A. BERLINGER In a typical moment on the hit television show Sex and the City , witty fashionista Carrie Brad-shaw remarks that her best friend Charlotte has ashoe fetish. 1 By the end of the series, Charlotte hasconverted to Judaism. Coincidence? Edna Nahshonmight say no.Nashon concieved of   Jews and Shoes , her latestbook, during an unexpected visit to the Bata ShoeMuseum. In this an inspired exploration of the re-lationship between the title’s two subjects,Nahshon gathered scholars and artists from thefields of art history, fashion, anthropology, folklore,performance studies, theater studies, museumstudies, and Jewish studies to contribute to thismulti-voiced volume. The resulting essays master-fully trace how Jews have made, sold, worn,removed, admired, rejected, collected, designed,and immortalized shoes throughout their history.Structurally, the 14 essays are divided into fourparts: (1) Religion and the Bible, (2) Memories andCommemoration, (3) Ideology and Economics, and(4) Theatre, Art, and Film. The authors reveal thepotential for the rich diversity within each sectionthroughinterpretationsthatspanbothgenerationsand genres. The first section, for example, illus-trates such breadth. It includes an essay thattracks the eschewing of footwear in Biblical stories(Ora Horn Prouser); another essay that identifiessymbolic emasculation and female subjugation inthe  halitzah  ceremony, when a man who is unwill-ing to take his deceased, childless brother’s widowas his wife has his shoe removed by her (CatherineHezser); a third essay that analyzes shoe-shapedtombstones found in Western Ukrainian Jewishcemeteries (Rivka Parciack); and the last essay,which correlates native Israeli identity with thepopular Israeli footwear known as the ‘‘Biblicalsandal’’ (Orna Ben-Meir). Although these insight-ful articles are all grouped under the heading‘‘Religion and the Bible,’’ they consider the shoe inrelation to Jewish historical narrative, religioussymbolism, family ritual, public commemoration,individual creative expression, cultural memory,and political debate. They examine both the mate-rial and conceptual forms of the shoe, crossing theboundaries of the categorical headings.In her introduction to the volume, Nahshon jus-tifies broaching this srcinal topic. More than itsmaterial worth in the lives of people, for the Jews,the shoe possesses important symbolic and poeticfunctions. ‘‘There is hardly a better metaphor forwandering than the shoe,’’ writes Nahshon, there-by broadly linking the Jewish experiences of exile,immigration, and connection to the land with thephysical protection that has enabled them to walk,tomigrate,andtoreturn(p.1).Theshoe,shepointsout with myriad cross-genre examples, is a facilita-tor of social, cultural, physical, economic, andreligious action: as a legal instrument in Biblicalproperty cases, as a commodity exchanged for hu-man life in the  halitzah  ceremony, as a decorativeobject in the recently ‘‘invented’’ feminist  Brita  rit-ual, as a tool in the observance of Talmudicreligious law, and as a visual icon of the Holocaust.To the same extent that the shoe performs thesesignificant roles, so, too, does its absence signifymeaning. Nahshon devotes equal consideration tothe meaning of the shoe removed. Barefootedness,she observes, is connected to sacred space and re-velatory time,exhibitedduring worship,mourning,and in dreams of pre-exilic connection to the landand reclamation of it. With these varied examples,Nahshon evokes the spiritual, physical, emotional,and intellectual connections between the Jew andthe shoe that the remaining chapters detail.While each essay in this volume merits individ-ual praise, the cumulative effect is striking. Thisbook examines the shoe with scholarly analysis,articulate prose and engaging images, but alsoimagines the shoe through the senses of sight,sound, taste, touch, and smell. Mayer Kirshenbl-att’s painted childhood memories of shoemakingand shoemakers in Apt, Poland, before the war, for 171 & 2009 by the American Anthropological Association. All rights reserved.DOI: 10.1111/j.1548-1379.2009.01063.x  example, is a life recalled and an image re-envi-sioned (chapter 6). Yiddish proverbs and folksongsthat feature the imagery of shoes and shoemakersevoke the sounds of wit, will, and experience in ly-ric and music (chapter 7). Fulfilling the Zionistethos, generations of young Jews removed theirshoes to walk the land and reclaim their heritagethrough touch (chapter 5). And by reducing theshoetoafetishizedobjectorelevatingittoanobjectof desire, the visual art of Bruno Schulz and thecinematic direction of Ernst Lubitsch present theshoe through all five senses F taste, touch, smell,sight, and sound (chapters 11 and 14). For theseJewish artists, the shoe is a metaphor, a prop, andan instrument of communication.Thisbookprovidesvaluablelensesthroughwhichto examine the shoe in Jewish cultural and religioushistory: as the social biography of an ever-presentobject, as an historic examination of Jews in society,as a themed sampling of significant Jewish literaryand artistic expressions, and as a material entre´einto worlds of immateriality. Nahshon moves thereader through cultural histories, disparate lands,andartisticimaginationstotrackthefootprintsthatJews have made on the history of the shoe. Note 1.  Sex in the City . Episode no. 24: ‘‘La Douleur Exquise!,’’first broadcast 22 August 1999 by HBO. Directed by Alli-son Anders and written by Ollie Levy and MichaelPatrick King. Gabrielle A. Berlinger is a doctoral student in the De- partment of Folklore and Ethnomusicology. Her research focuses on vernacular architecture and the natureofreligiousspacesandplaces.HerrecentM.A.Thesis explored the Jewish holidayof Sukkotfrom the perspective of vernacular architecture and perfor- mance studies and her Raphael Patai Prize winning essay ‘‘770 Eastern Parkway: The Rebbe’s Home as Icon’’ is forthcoming in   Jewish Cultural Studies. 172  MUSEUMANTHROPOLOGY   VOLUME 32 NUMBER 2
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