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The Past in the Present: The Role of the Holocaust in Modern Jewish American Identity

Hampton, Sarah Katherine (2014)
Honors Thesis (80 pages)
Committee Chair / Thesis Adviser: Nilsson Stutz, Liv
Committee Members: Chio, Jenny ; Berger, Michael
Research Fields: Anthropology, Cultural
Keywords: Ritual; Practice Theory; Identity; Holocaust
Program: College Honors Program, Anthropology
Permanent url:


This case study looks at the ways in which Holocaust memory is incorporated into the identity of a specific Reform Jewish congregation in Atlanta, Georgia. Ritual practice and commemoration theory were used to examine the physical acts congregants performed and how this praxis affected their worldview. Through participant observation at this synagogue, 7 in-depth personal interviews with congregants, 3 interviews with Jewish educators, and a site visit to a Holocaust Museum in Atlanta, data was collected and examined for larger themes. Findings suggest that structured narrative and experiential encounters transform physical bodies into living memories. The ritualization of these practices is seen to shape the identity of participants while participants are simultaneously shaping the practices they ritually perform. Upon the conclusion of the practice, conscious memory slips into the realm of the subconscious, but can be triggered through external stimuli. In conclusion, ritualized practices surrounding Holocaust narratives are seen to shape the identities of the participants in this study.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Preface and Introduction...1

The Temple...5
Study Rationale...6

Chapter 1: Judaism and Praxis...8

Jewish Beliefs...8
Ritual Theory...13

Chapter 2: Memory...26

Ritualized Remembrance...26

Chapter 3: Transmission of Knowledge...39

The Religious School...39
Experiential Learning...42

Chapter 4: The Breman Museum...46

Labyrinth to the Hall of Heroes...46
Don't Be a Bystander...53

Chapter 5: Discussion...55

Survivors and Sacred Space...55
Concluding Thoughts...65



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