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Entangled Interfaith Identities and Relations from the Mediterranean to the United States: The St James Association and Its Transnational Christian-Jewish Network in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - REL-NET (Entangled Interfaith Identities and Relations from the Mediterranean to the United States: The St James Association and Its Transnational Christian-Jewish Network in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2021-08-31

Mixed religious identities and interfaith relations represent one of the most crucial and debated phenomena in the 21st century. The revival of the religious dimension in the world is evident in the growing religious implications in modern and contemporary wars. The conventional approach generally analyses actors, focusing on conflictual and dividing elements. The historical roots of these phenomena receive less attention, as does the study of local actors involved in promoting encounters between groups in conflict. The Middle East and the Israeli–Palestinian case in particular offer a crucial scenario where the main narratives have hitherto focused on religious inter and intra divisions. The REL–NET project tackles these global issues through the analysis of a significant case study that has been overlooked in the historiography: the history of Christian–Jewish transnational networks between Israel, the Middle East, Europe and the United States after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 to nowadays.
The overarching objective of my research is to provide a new framework of analysis of Jewish-Christian relations, including also Muslim communities (in the Palestinian territories and in the whole Middle East) in the 20th century, through the lens of the case of the international network built by the SJA. The latter is approached via the innovative study of unpublished public and private archives throughout the world.
REL-NET seeks to achieve a knowledge of the history of Jewish converts to Christianity in Israel after the Holocaust. Why did they convert? Which personal experiences and historic phenomena were relevant? Why did they move to and which kind of emotions, thoughts and fascination did they develop in Israel? What does the controversial label of “Jewish Christian” mean? I analyse the key participants in this context through archival and oral sources.
REL-NET investigates how the local Jewish and predominantly Arab Catholic communities reacted and interacted with these converts. I explore the ways in which the Palestinian communities (bishops, clergy, laity, intellectuals) opposed, assimilated or reworked these messages through publications, meetings and liturgies, but also the reaction of Israeli Jewish society and the Muslim leaders in the Middle East.
REL-NET historicise this transnational network and place it within the tremendously complex scenario of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict and international Christian–Jewish relations. Breaks and continuities are underlined, especially in correspondence with turning points such as the Second Vatican Council, the Six Day War and especially the Second Intifada.
REL-NET broadens this analysis to the larger historiographical and public discourse on Christian–Jewish relations in the 20th century. How can the analysis of this case revise the existing paradigms of analysis of Christian–Jewish–Muslim relations? How can history, religious studies and political science be interrelated?
Answering all these questions provides, for the first time, a complete appraisal of the relations between a community of Jewish converts to Christianity in the post-Holocaust era and within the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, of the elaboration of Israeli and European identities and, at the same time, the role of Jewish actors at a local level inside an Arab Church and faced with Russian and Asian migration, and, in the international scene, within influential European and American Catholic as well as Jewish circles.
During the first 24 months of the REL-NET project I carefully followed and respected the project development as presented and approved by the REA, in line with the structure of the Annex 1 to the Grant Agreement, in order to fulfil the project deliverables and milestones, in cooperation with my supervisors.
More specifically, through the actions outlined in the 6 workpackages, the project reached its first objectives, setting up the basis for the third year and the final results. Following the DoA, the largest part of my work was devoted to the study of unpublished public and private archives on a global scale, as well as to communication and dissemination activities through publications, conferences, workshops, public events.
The first product of the research was published at month 11 (D5.2): it consisted in the monograph A Liminal Church: Refugees, Conversions and the Latin Diocese of Jerusalem, 1946–1956, for the international publisher Brill. Chapter 5, “The Association of Saint James: a Hebrew-Christian Church in Israel”, presents the first phase of my research subject ( I presented the book during a joint Ca’ Foscari-Fordham online event entitled “Reframing Jerusalem’s History Through New Archives”, held on December 15, 2020. Due to the covid-19 pandemic and the closure of Fordham campus, the workshop at Fordham (WP 5.3) was organized online. I organized it with my supervisor Magda Teter and David Gibson, resulting in the webinar on “The Pius XII Archives and the Jews: First Notes and Research Hypotheses” (Fordham University, Centre for Jewish Studies – Ca’ Foscari University) (D5.3). During this webinar, held on May 5, 2021, I intervened together with the Pulitzer Prize David Kertzer and the historian Nina Valbousquet. The event received a huge attention, with 799 registered attendees, more than 450 participants, from 24 countries (US, Canada, Europe, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Australia) and it available online at the link The preparation of this events boosted my presentation skills; understanding public interest in research; organisational skills; management skills; team-working skills; problem-solving skills; dissemination skills.
Moreover, I attended and organised various workshops and conferences to communicate and disseminate my research to the academic and non-specialist audience.
To strengthen my digital skills, I carried out a secondment at the Center for Research on the Digital Humanities, University of Modena-Reggio Emilia, March 1st – May 31, 2020.
REL–NET goes beyond the state of the art and has scientific and social impacts in four main ways: (1) For the first time it fully addresses the networks of Jewish converts to Catholicism and their relations with Christian, Jewish and Muslim milieux in Israel, the Middle East, Europe and the United States and presents its whole experience; (2) As a consequence, REL-NET partially contributes to filling another historiographical gap, that is, the study of Catholic anti-Semitism after the Holocaust in a connected and global perspective; (3) REL-NET reconsiders the previous historiography on religious relations by challenging sectarian approaches. Daily interactions are treated and highlighted, through the centrality of a completely unpublished repertory of archives and records; (4) Crucially, the project is timely for its wider societal implications of the project: REL-NET highlights a significant episode of cultural connections and networks between Europe, Israel, the Arab world and the United States.
Jerusalem, view of the Old City and Mount of Olives, 1950s