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In Search of American Jewish Culture (Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life) Hardcover – August 1, 1999

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Product Details

  • Series: Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life
  • Hardcover: 333 pages
  • Publisher: Brandeis; First Edition edition (August 1, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0874517540
  • ISBN-13: 978-0874517545
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,551,049 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

American Jewish culture is both omnipresent and in danger of extinctionAthese are the messages of Brandeis American Studies Professor Whitfield's (American Space, Jewish Time) scholarly and entertaining yet confusing book. We never learn exactly what he means by "American Jewish Culture," despite an early chapter devoted to the definition. Instead we are taken on a whirlwind tour, yo-yoing through the 20th century as our guide points out all the talent of Jewish descent. "The role call," he gushes, "is awesome." The bulk of this bookAin thematic chapters on such topics as music, theater and raceAasks us to give warm congratulations to the great service done America by the Jews. Where cultural studies at its best offers analysis of the interplay between historical and cultural trends, this book abandons historical analysis and degenerates into stereotyped ethnic triumphalism. For instance, Whitfield compares the exemplary Jewish "hospitality" of I.B. Singer to less welcoming non-Jews Nabokov and Mann. Later chapters are more on target, focusing on the sociological ramifications of shifts in Jewish identity and faith and less on locating the elusive Jewish qualities in American culture. But resting on the book's shaky conceptual foundation, these reflections come too late. 14 illustrations. (Sept.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The title begs the question: what is American Jewish culture, anyway? Whitfield (American studies, Brandeis Univ.; American Space, Jewish Time) attempts to answer by arguing that it is binary, an insider/outsider dilemma. Since a Jew in America is a Jew by choice, cultural identity is in constant flux. The Jew is no longer defined by theology, biology is a tenuous tie, and sacredness disappears. Therefore, insists Whitfield, American Jewish culture is found in the popular arts. Whitfield works his way through the performing arts, which is perfectly valid, although those chapters read like laundry lists. He flounders, however, when attempting to view the Shoah in terms of popular culture, offering a long discourse on The Diary of Anne Frank and some shallow thoughts on Schindler's List. He never addresses the daily life of American Jews or what Jewishness inherently meansAan issue considered by the likes of Chaim Waxman, Robert Seltzer, Neil Gabler, and Sanford Pinsker. Not essential.AIdelle Rudman, Touro Coll. Lib., Brooklyn, NY
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dennis S. Ross on September 10, 2008
Format: Paperback
If Oscar Wilde was right when, as quoted In Search of American Jewish Culture, he said that Jews, "only believe in things that you cannot see," then author Stephen J. Whitfield not only punctuates an argument with precision but captures the 4,000 year-old central theme of Jewish life. Faith in an invisible God blossomed into an affinity for the intangibles of culture.
Whitfield's writing --- concise, clear and flowing --- displays an impressive command and synthesis of the topic. After examining basics of Jewish culture, Brandies University Professor Whitfield turns to musical theatre, music and theatre. At times, he breezes through arguments and, at times, focuses on specifics , such as Leonard Nemoy over Jewish cultural artifacts in Star Trek. A chapter on Jewish-Black relations overstates. Another chapter, on "Faith," inadequately explores Jewish theology.
Whitfield's presentation of the Holocaust is most remarkable and extremely engaging. An initial decades long silence moved from the starkness of Eli Weisel to popularizations about Anne Frank and Oscar Schindler; newer books, plays and movies dabble in the horror while avoiding the cold, cruel heart at the center. He asks: Was the Holocaust a crime against all humanity or a particular Jewish story? Above all, Whitfield boldly enters into the inexplicable without making the futile effort to try to fully explain what cannot be understood.
On the whole, the book demonstrates that Jews are a distinct people with a robust culture.

Rabbi Dennis S. Ross serves at Temple Emanuel of Worcester, Massachusetts. His latest book is God in Our Relationships: Spirituality between People from the Teachings of Martin Buber. His website is [...] God in Our Relationships: Spirituality Between People from the Teachings of Martin Buber]]
Pittsfield, MA
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having just finished reading Dr. Whitfield's AMERICAN SPACE JEWISH TIME, this reviewer was prepared for the mind adjustment certain to be provided to the reader in IN SEARCH OF AMERICAN JEWISH CULTURE. The author poses in this volume the question of whether there is, or isn't, an American Jewish culture? If there is, how can it be identified and described? If an American Jewish culture is verifiable, is it more American or more Jewish? This reviewer is a broadly assimilated Jewess, more observant in her younger years than in her current life, never questioning if there is or isn't an American Jewish culture. There just is. Everyone the reviewer knows well -- Jew or gentile -- knows there is. Given the chance to describe or explain it, however, poses a new question in every attempt. Barely a quarter of the way into the book, a paradigm shift is expected. Such was the gift in Professor Whitfield's earlier book. This well-researched and beautifully written scholarly text is also surprisingly witty and genuinely humorous.
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