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Rachel Merrill Moss

Exploring Jewish Theater as a Performative Link between Pre- and Post-War Generations in Poland

In thinking about performances of Jewishness and Jewish culture in contemporary Poland, we might channel performance studies scholar Diana Taylor’s provocative question: “How does performance transmit knowledge about the past in ways that allow us to understand and use it?” What can we understand about pre-war Polish culture through post-Soviet Polish performances, and likewise, what can post-Soviet Polish performances help clarify about the fleeting, culturally-intermingled past? Does what gets performed (in Jewish culture festivals throughout Poland, at Teatr Zydowski, etc.) bring forth the DNA of its content; is it faithfully connected to a legitimate and legible past? Rather than disappearing, both in the sense of post-performance and post-historical breakage, if we see performances in Poland as a way to understand the past, there exists a trans-historical, generational connection. In Poland, in a Jewish cultural context, there is a clear genealogical chain that, in spite of other extreme historical factors, remains expressed in certain capacities—including the aforementioned Jewish culture festivals (principally, the Jewish Culture Festival in Krakow and Singer Festival in Warsaw) and other such commemorative/restorative cultural activity, such as recent productions at Warsaw’s Teatr Zydowski and POLIN’s Akcja Zonkile. In attempting to trace cultural genealogies, this paper will attend to current performances of Jewish culture in Poland, along with a discussion of their pre-war connections—the “repertoire” of the past, in Taylorian terms.

Rachel Merrill Moss is in her second year of the interdisciplinary PhD program in theatre and drama at Northwestern University. She holds an MA from CUNY Brooklyn College in theatre history and criticism, and has worked professionally as a dramaturg, producer, critic, and general manager for off-Broadway theatre in New York City. Rachel’s research is an examination of the relationship between interwar Jewish and Polish culture in Poland, via theatrical performance, and the post-Communist re-materialization of Jewish cultural performance that is ongoing throughout contemporary Poland, with particular emphasis on performances of Jewishness and Jewish body in urban spaces (i.e., festivals, commemorations, etc.). At Northwestern, Rachel is affiliated with the Jewish studies cluster and the Russian and Eastern European Studies Buffett Institute working group.