The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Reading Mati Shemoelof’s Mizrahi Israeli Postmonolingual Poetics in Germany as Protest

In her article, “Nationalism and Monolingualism: the "Language Wars" and the Resurgence of Israeli Multilingualism” (2019), Melissa Weininger claims that “the revival of Hebrew in Berlin can be seen partly as a mode of remembering, or even recuperating, [Holocaust] history and a tool for reinstating Jewish history and culture into the troubled space of Germany” (632). Expanding Weininger’s ideas by focusing on the liberating potential of reclaiming modern Hebrew, I will explore the significance of multilingual literary practices for Mizrahi – Jews with Arab origins – identity in Germany. Taking “Ich bin Juden Dichtar” (I am a Jewish Poet) and בכפר שלם הרוס ובגירוש יפו (In an Entire Ruined Village and at the Jaffa Expulsion) from Mizrahi Israeli Berlin-based writer Mati Shemoelof’s new collection Bagdad, Haifa, Berlin (2019) as case studies, I will examine this phenomenon and seek to tease the following questions. How do Shemoelof’s poems simultaneously remember and protest against certain aesthetic and thematic conventions of canonical German-born Hebrew poets such as Nathan Zach and Yehuda Amichai? How do Shemoelof’s poems which express his familial postmemories (Hirsch 1996) of his parents’ expulsion from Iraq differ compared with his poems that exemplify his affiliative postmemories of the Holocaust? In which ways do Shemoelof’s metaphors and defamiliarizing aesthetics playfully and provocatively protest against ethnic based exclusions that occur(ed) in all three cities in which his book is focused? Beyond celebrating multilingual Jewish practices in the contested German landscape and reviving connections between Jews, Arabs, and Germans, Shemoelof’s poetics stage postmonolingual (Yildiz 2012) protests against the linguistic and cultural uniformity that both Israeli and German mainstream societies promote. Looking at Shemoelof’s focus on exclusions against Mizrahichim and Palestinians across generations opens up further research about multilingual poetics as intergenerational and intercultural protest.