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American Hebrew Literature: Writing Jewish National Identity in US (Judaic Traditions in Literature, Music, and Art) Hardcover – February 7, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"Wonderful and thought provoking."-Jewish Ideas Daily --Jewish Ideas Daily

"Fascinating"- Tablet --Tablet

"Wonderful and thought provoking." --Jewish Ideas Daily

"Fascinating" --Tablet

"Through explication of Hebraists poetry, fiction, and essays, Weingrad... charts their opposition to hybrid and highly Americanized forms of Jewish identity and their ardent advocacy of Jewish national renewal through Hebrew language and cultural rather than political activism.... This study expands understanding of American Jewish literary achievement by addressing hitherto neglected writing and demonstrating Hebraists place in American literary history and their countermovement to major Jewish American Voices. ...Recommended. - CHOICE Current Reviews for Academic Libraries --CHOICE Current Reviews for Academic Libraries

Weingrad s book is a very welcome addition to scholarship on the permutations of Jewish culture in modernity, to the cultural history of the United States, and not least, to the development of a self-critical school of thought in American Jewish studies: a subtle but nonetheless edgy assessment of what may be missing in American Jewry s sense of itself as the heir to a larger Jewish heritage. --American Jewish Archives Journal

Michael Weingrads excellent and enthusiastic study introduces the reader to American Hebrew literature: a little-known element of twentieth century American Jewish culture that was neither American nor American Jewish in its identity. Weingrad was attracted to this un-American Jewish tale not only because this noteworthy body of literature is one of the best kept secrets of Jewish American Cultural History, but precisely because it stands in contrast to the success story of Jewish immigration and assimilation in the United States.
These largely unsung Hebrew writers hailed from well-educated backgrounds in Eastern Europe and brought with them to America a strong allegiance to the Hebrew language and Jewish nationalism. Their literary output reveals how they rejected the mainstream culture and exposes their scornful attitudes towards their fellow American Jews who they castigated for ignorance of Judaism, materialism and coarseness and assimilatory values. At the same time, however, these ardent Jewish nationalists had to fight for recognition of their art, particularly from their rather dismissive Israeli counterparts.

Rejecting urban America, New York in particular, American Hebrew writers often turned their literary attention to rural America and to an idealized Native American past. The search for an authentic American subject for their art engendered a curious trend towards writing epic poems about American Indians, modeled on Longfellow s Hiawatha. Yet such a marginalized counter culture could not continue to survive, and it died out after most of the writers moved to Israel.
Weingrad should be congratulated for reinvigorating the study of American Hebrew literature and for adding an important new dimension to our notion of what constitutes American Jewish culture and writing.- Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews --Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews

About the Author

Alan Mintz is Kekst Professor of Hebrew Literature at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. His books include Translating Israel: Contemporary Hebrew Literature and Its Reception in America (2001) and The Boom in Contemporary Israeli Fiction (UPNE, 1997) .

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Product Details

  • Series: Judaic Traditions in Literature, Music, and Art
  • Hardcover: 275 pages
  • Publisher: Syracuse University Press (February 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0815632517
  • ISBN-13: 978-0815632511
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,232,569 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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They lived in America and wrote in Hebrew. They never came close to achieving the numbers or the cultural impact of their Yiddish counterparts, and you might be tempted to dismiss them as a footnote in the vast and varied archives of twentieth-century literature.

Why did they do it? A hundred years ago, Hebrew was nobody's mother tongue; it was a language still being re-invented. Classical Hebrew education still held sway in the Old World, but America, for literate Jews, was a place of banishment. To write in Hebrew in America, then, was to be a minority within a minority. No normal person would write modern literature in a dead language, for an audience that did not exist.

But these weren't normal guys.

They were people who lived halfway in a world of dreams. Take Shimon Ginzburg (1890-1944). We have from him three long poems about America: "In the Tower" (1912), "On the Temple Mount of Colombia" (1916), and "No-York" (1917). Through a succession of dreams, visions, and nightmares, he gives us America as he sees it. These visions interpenetrate with the concrete world: a museum intrudes in a vision of an edenic Zion; a dream-ship carries immigrants to the rebuilt Jewish nation, and that nation's thanks are returned to the American president; an enormous city ruled by Moloch is overthrown in a "messianic conquest".

Their relationship with modernity was strained and paradoxical; the American Hebrew poets tended to be more conservative in style (p. 30) than the European Hebraists. The last thing Shimon Halkin (1899-1987) wanted to write poetry about was "this mediocre country with its commonplace reality" (p. 34), so he resorted to a "literary schizophrenia" or "double bookkeeping" (p.
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