Writing French Jewish Ecumenism in Interwar France

By: Sally D Charnow  

French Jews volunteered and fought in the Great War in large numbers to prove their allegiance to France, as a result the war constituted an integrative experience for Jews into French life. Reflecting this new reality, French Jewish writers articulated a new, cultural definition of what it meant to be a Jew. The veteran poet, essayist, playwright, Edmond Fleg (1874-1963) was central to this “Jewish awakening.” This paper examines Fleg’s complex understanding of the impact of war violence on religious ecumenism as it was expressed through his interwar writing. He explored Jewish and Christian texts and consistently proposed an expansive notion of religious continuity. Fleg’s epic poem La Mur des Pleurs / Wall of Weeping (1919) expressed allegorically the violence of total war concluding with the possibility of reconciliation at the Communion Table. His play La Maison du Bon Dieu (1920) re-enacted the ecumenical spirit forged during the war through the care and comradery among Christians, Jews, and Muslims offering an alternative vision of France. Fleg’s retelling of the Jesus story, Jésus Raconté par le Juif Errant (1933), traced the continuities between Jews and Christians, with the memory of the war as the back drop he chastised contemporary leaders for their inaction in the face of remilitarization. Against the dominant ideological narratives that surrounded him—Catholic, Jewish, nationalist, communist— Fleg proposed a deep continuity among religious communities and the held out hope for demilitarization.

Ecumenism France Writing
Religious Commonalities and Differences
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Sally D Charnow

Professor of Modern European and Post Colonial History, History, Hofstra University, United States
United States

Sally Charnow is a professor of modern European history at Hofstra University. She is the author of "Theatre, Politics, and Markets in fin-de-siècle Paris: Staging Modernity" (Palgrave 2005); "Imagining a New Jerusalem: Edmond Fleg and Inter-war French Ecumenism (French History OUP, 2013); "Critical Thinking: Scholarly Readings of the Diary" in Anne Frank Unbound: Media, Imagination, Memory (2012); "French Jewish Identity, 1898-1931: The Story of Edmond Fleg in Europe" in Europe in its Own Eyes/Europe in the Eyes of the Other (2013). She is currently completing a manuscript titled A Universal Promise: Edmond FLeg and Jewish Encounters in Twentieth-Century France, which under review at Stanford University Press. She is on the editorial board of French History (OUP). Additional articles and reviews have appeared in Radical History Review, French History, the American Historical Review, Modern and Contemporary France, H-France, French Culture and Society among others. Her teaching areas include World War I studies, European cultural history, urban history, consumer culture, European empire.