Exploring Jews, Jewishness and Judaism in Contemporary Global Media, 1990-present
Submitting InstitutionBangor University
Unit of AssessmentMusic, Drama, Dance and Performing Arts
Summary Impact TypeCultural
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Creative Arts and Writing: Film, Television and Digital Media
Language, Communication and Culture: Cultural Studies
Philosophy and Religious Studies: Religion and Religious Studies
Summary of the impact
Bangor's research on stereotyping of Jews, Jewishness and Judaism in
contemporary global media significantly facilitates understanding on the
part of the public, media, religious educators and cultural industries of
challenges facing Jewish cultures and communities, thus impacting on civil
society, cultural life and public discourse. Bangor's work enhances
regional, national and international public awareness of contemporary
media's representations of Jewishness and stereotyping. Its presentation
of Jewish cultural heritage helps to preserve and conserve it while
increasing understanding of social and cultural identity and encouraging
This research has been conducted by Prof Nathan Abrams (at Bangor since
2006) since 2008 and focuses on representations of Jews, Jewishness and
Judaism in contemporary global media from 1990 to the present. The
research innovatively considered Jews, Jewishness and Judaism as
overlapping but often discrete categories within a tradition that largely
elides the ethnic/religious distinction evident in contemporary Jewish
life. It has covered themes not previously considered, such as:
- Judaism as religion in film, kashrut and food in film and the bathroom
as Jewish heterotopic cinematic space (3.1), 2008 — present;
- The role of Jews in front of and behind the camera in British film and
television 2011 — present (3.2, 3.3);
- Applying the oldest form of Jewish exegesis — midrash — to film, in
particular the work of Stanley Kubrick in order to place film studies
outside a Western-centric, European-focused framework, 2012 — present
- Pioneering exploration of Judaism in video games and social networking
sites, 2009 — present (3.6).
Facilitated by an AHRC Fellowship (£76,199), BA small grant (£10,000) and
Rothschild Foundation Europe grant (£3,000), since January 2012 Abrams'
research is focused on Stanley Kubrick as a New York Jewish Intellectual
and Auteur. It is the first project to use archival materials
systematically, including Kubrick's archives, to consider how Kubrick's
ethnic heritage and New York Intellectual pedigree influenced his
directorial vision and has already generated impact. Some of the results
of this research have already been published (3.2, 3.3) and will be
expanded in an edited collection (The Hidden Presence of Jews in
British Film and Television) in 2014 to be published by Northwestern
The most significant findings were in three areas:
1. Representations of Jews, Jewishness and Judaism (cinema/video
gaming/social networking). An assessment of changes in
the number and nature of representations of Jews, Jewishness and Judaism
in cinema globally since 1990 discovered a quantitative and qualitative
shift that represents a significant departure from the binary
representations of the past. A spectrum between formerly extreme poles of
stereotyping is now being populated. Exploration of stereotypical
representations in video gaming have been pioneered and research into
social networking, in particular Facebook, have opened up new areas to
consider how online activities have an impact in the offline world by
influencing congregational formation among young Jews (3.1, 3.2, 3.6).
2. Stereotyping and self-images of Jews, Jewishness and Judaism.
Identification of significant trends in stereotyping and self-images of
the above, both from the out-group and in-group perspective, including
fostering intergroup and interfaith relations. There is a move away from
more didactic edifying images to those that show less concern with what
out-group members think (3.1).
3. Implicit, conceptual, and sub-textual Jewishness.The
extension of research into new areas has considered Jewishness where it is
rendered implicit, conceptual, and sub-textual rather than overt and
explicit. In many films the `ethnicity' of the text is beneath the
surface, e.g. The Shining (1980) or the 007 franchise
(3.1, 3.5). The significance of the research lies in the widening of how
stereotyping can operate beneath the surface of media texts thereby
generating subtle but potentially insidious impacts on popular
understanding of ethnicities.
References to the research
3.1. Abrams, N. The New Jew in Film: Exploring Jewishness and
Judaism in Contemporary Cinema (London: I.B. Tauris, 2012; New
Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2012), 272 pp. Submitted to
REF2014 (REF Identifier 3501), this is the first monograph to cover
global Jewish output since 1990 (90,000 words).
3.2. Abrams, N. Journal of European Popular Culture 10.1
(2012). This special issue was the first of its kind to consider the
role of Jews both in front of and behind the camera in British cinema.
Published is an international peer-reviewed journal for European
3.3. Abrams, N. `Hidden: Jewish Film in the United Kingdom, Past
and Present', Journal of European Popular Culture 1.1 (2010):
53-68. Submitted to REF2014 (REF Identifier 3503), this article was
the first academic overview of UK Jewish film-making.
3.4. Abrams, N. `"A double set of glasses": Stanley Kubrick and
the Midrashic Mode of Interpretation', in De-Westernizing Film Studies,
ed. Saer Maty Ba and Will Higbee (London & New York: Routledge, 2012),
pp. 141-51. First essay to consider the sub-textual Jewishness of
Kubrick's work. This output can be made available upon request.
3.6. `Grassroots Religion: Facebook and Offline
Post-Denominational Judaism'. Co-authored with S. Baker (Bangor) and B. J.
Brown (DMU). In Social Media Religion and Spirituality, ed. M.
Gillespie, D. Herbert, A. Greenhill (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013): 143-163. First
essay to consider how young Jews use social networking in the offline
world. This output can be made available upon request.
Details of the impact
The underpinning research made a distinct and material contribution to
impact in the following ways:
- Generating new ways of thinking that influence creative practice;
- Informing and influencing the understanding of religious/ethnic
- Preserving, conserving, and presenting cultural heritage;
- Helping media, Jewish education and other professionals adapt to
changing cultural values.
Specifically, this research has:
Enhanced regional, national and international public awareness of
representations of ethnic minorities in contemporary media resulting
in cultural and intellectual enrichment of the wider public. The
Assignments Editor for Ha'aretz's English Edition stated: `Abrams
offers our publication a singularly interdisciplinary perspective (...)
Due to their quality and originality, his articles have featured
prominently on our website and attracted great interest from our readers,
sometimes garnering up to thousands of unique visitors. Thanks to his
ability to adapt it to our target readership, by highlighting Jewish- and
Israel-related issues in his myriad fields of expertise, his contribution
is greatly valued and cherished' (5.6; see also 5.7).
Contributed to social and cultural identity of the global Jewish
diaspora by reconfiguring media as a site of ethnic identification and
pride rather than simply negative stereotyping. According to the
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJJDC) (5.3), `by placing in
the center of his interest the way Jews and Judaism are portrayed by
contemporary films produced in the Western world, Dr. Abrams opened a very
interesting avenue whereby young adults were able to question their own
identity, culture, tradition, affiliation and prejudices.'
Encouraged social inclusion through greater public and media
understanding of how ethnic stereotyping works in media, particularly in
a non-US context. AJJDC: `Abrams' lectures resulted in a deeper
understanding of films as cultural products for many young adults, and
therefore capable of being analyzed as devices carrying social messages,
ideologies' (5.3; see also 5.7)
Changed popular film critics' interpretations and preconceptions.
Head Of Content, @TopFilmTip testifies that: `Abrams' work has provided
fascinating scope into the counter conventional depiction of Jewish
protagonists in cinema. In particular, his book (3.1) has provided much
influence for our content. His discussion of the Walter character in the
Coen Brothers film The Big Lebowski has directly influenced our
interpretation of this film to the point that we sold an article
incorporating some of his insights (`Could The Big Lebowski Be The
Greatest Film Ever Made?') to Siemens via SabotageTimes.com' (5.4). See
Pointed the public and media to how stereotyping can work on a more
sub-textual level, in particular where it concerns non-visible
minorities such as Jews, widening understanding of how texts can display
ethnic characteristics even when non-explicit. Referring to output 3.1,
the Bookeywookey blog wrote: `I tend not to be much of a fan of academic
criticism of film or literature. I find most of it reductive and the
language insular and convoluted, but what is interesting in this book is
Abrams's argument that post-1990 one sees Jews in film as nationals,
cowboys, skinheads, gay and many other categories and that the body of
work by and about Jews in this period conveys the message that "there is
more than one way to be Jewish." This is about as anti-reductive a message
as one could hope for and is the strength of this book for my money'
(5.10). (See also 5.7-5.9). As recognition of this, in September 2013,
Abrams was invited to join ITV Wales' diversity panel.
The main beneficiaries are media audiences (especially in Europe, North
America and Israel) with an interest in Jewish issues. The research has
also been used by UK synagogues to promote adult education and interfaith
relationships; by the Hebrew Union College, Cincinnati to educate a dozen
US rabbinical students; to promote the study of the bible and the Jewish
exegetical tradition of midrash through film, as well as how film can be
considered as midrash, among adult education audiences at Limmud and the
London School of Jewish Studies; for the education, in an informal
setting, of young adults in former communist countries in terms of media
stereotyping at Limmud for the American Jewish Joint Distribution
Impacts of the research were generated through numerous essays,
appearances in regional, national and international media, and extensive
public speaking to the general global Jewish diaspora since 2008. Its reach
is evidenced by the following:
The number of personal requests for information and consultation by
the mainstream media. Across 2008-13, Abrams has made over 40
invited media appearances on the subject of representations of Jews,
Judaism and Jewishness in international, national and regional outlets
such as BBC Radio Wales, BBC.co.uk; The Daily Post, The North
Wales Chronicle, Western Mail, The Camden New Journal, and Muswell Hill
Journal. Abrams appeared in the BBC documentary Coming Home
in December 2012.
Appearances in diverse and global Jewish media with a combined
readership of thousands generating wider discussion in the media/public
sphere. Publications include The Jewish Week, Jewish Press,
JBooks.com and Heeb Magazine. From 2011, Abrams had regular
columns in The Jewish Telegraph (circulation: approx. 50,000) —
the only dedicated newspaper for regional Jewish communities in Northern
England, Scotland and Wales; the Jewish Daily Forward (a historic
New York-based newspaper), and Ha'aretz Digital (the leading
Israeli platform whose print version has approx. 75,000 daily readers).
Abrams recorded a podcast for the website cartoonkippah.com, one
of the largest online young media outlets focusing on Jewish culture in
the UK which has 1,647 subscribers and a further 79 downloaded the
individual episode. His talk at Limmud Conference 2012 to an audience of
over a hundred was also podcasted live.
The number of times Abrams is requested to speak to international and
diverse audiences. Abrams is often requested to give popular talks
based on his research at schools, synagogues, adult education conferences
and societies, local history societies and film festivals, in the UK,
Europe, North America and Israel. Abrams has delivered over 100 talks at
synagogues, Jewish adult education conferences (the annual Limmud
Conference attracts over 2,500 people world-wide), events in Bulgaria,
Serbia, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, and the Jewish Museum in London to
audiences ranging from 10-300. His public lectures and popular talks to
audiences have totalled approx. 5000 members of the public.
Consultation with leading figures in the Jewish youth, adult and
informal education, museum, film festival, cultural and rabbinical worlds
(e.g. providing programming advice).
Daily tweets on these issues, generating sustained on-going public
engagement with a highly-interested, self-selecting group. Abrams
currently has over 600 unique followers on Twitter and tweets regularly to
the film site @TopFilmTip, which has around 3,000 followers checking its
daily feed, often getting upwards of 150-200 re-tweets a week.
The translation and publication of the research abroad. The
research leading up to 3.1 has been translated and published in
non-academic magazines such as Ha'aretz, Szombat
(Hungary), Judiska Kronska (Sweden), and a Hebraica
The setting up of a dedicated International Film Festival. A
Welsh-Jewish mini film festival, organised by the First Minister for
Wales's representative in New York, entitled `Jewish Tales from Wales' was
held in New York City in March 2012. Directly arising out of the research
(3.2, 3.3), issues covered Welsh-Jewish identity and how this was
expressed through a cinematic medium. The Welsh Assembly Government,
Bangor University and the Museum of Jewish Heritage (MJH), New York
jointly sponsored the festival. Abrams was involved in all post-screening
discussions. The event received media coverage (5.9) and 270 people
attended over two days, including the First Minister for Wales and
high-profile entertainment industry figures. The Director of Public
Programs at the MJH, stated `the series cast light on the relatively
unfamiliar Welsh experience and the still-more unfamiliar Welsh-Jewish
connection' (5.1, 5.5).
Overall, the significance of the research stems from how
it facilitates public understanding of how films challenge ethnic
stereotyping, as evidenced by testimonials from opinion-leaders (5.1-5.5).
Further recognising the significance of his impact, Abrams was appointed
as a Public Engagement Ambassador by the National Co-ordinating Centre for
Public Engagement in 2011 and was also selected to be part of the Welsh
Crucible 2013 programme of personal, professional and leadership
development for highly promising research leaders of the future who are
building their careers in Wales.
Sources to corroborate the impact
5.1. Director of Public Programs, Museum of Jewish Heritage
5.2. Chief Executive of the Jewish Community Centre for London and
Former Executive Director of Limmud,
5.3. Operations Director, AJJDC International Centre for Community
Development and Director, Regional community development-Europe, OJN,
Croatia & Slovenia, AJJDC Europe. The AJJDC is a New York-based relief
agency supporting essential welfare services amongst Jewish communities of
Central and Eastern Europe and advising on community capacity-building,
Jewish innovation, and leadership development.
5.4. The Head of Content @TopFilmTip can corroborate claims on
Abrams' tweets in a statement available upon request.
5.5. Former Assignments Editor for the Ha'aretz Digital
5.6. Alexander Kafka, `Spies, Shtarkers, and Sex Gods: Film's New
Jews', May 20, 2012, http://chronicle.com/article/Spies-ShtarkersSex/131890/.
The Chronicle's audited Web-site traffic is more than 12.8 million
pages a month, seen by more than 1.9 million unique visitors. The print
newspaper is subscribed to by more than 64,000 academics and has a total
readership of more than 315,000.
5.7. Oliver Gruner, `Books: Review — The New Jew in Film.
By Nathan Abrams', The Camden New Journal, 2 February 2012, http://www.westendextra.com/reviews/books/2012/feb/books-review-new-jew-film-nathan-abrams.
5.8. Alan Montague, `Review: The New Jew in Film', The
Jewish Chronicle, January 13, 2012, http://www.thejc.com/arts/books/61928/review-the-new-jew-film.
The Jewish Chronicle (est. 1841, it is the world's oldest and most
influential Jewish newspaper distributed in print and online via TheJC.com
with approx. 112,000 readers), and independent journalists.
5.9. George Robinson, `Jewish Princes Of Wales?', The Jewish
Week, 14th Feb. 2012, http://www.thejewishweek.com/special_sections/arts_preview/jewish_princes_wales.
5.10 `Representations of Jews changing in film (but only for Jews
and only in film?) — (Books The New Jew in Film by Nathan Abrams)', Bookeywookey:
Literature good and bad, theater, and neuroscience....no really, http://bookeywookey.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/representations-of-jews-changing-in.html,
21 Feb. 2012.