Bettina Berch, author of the recent biography, From Hester Street to Hollywood: The Life and Work of Anzia Yezierska, teaches part-time at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.
American Hebrew Literature: Writing Jewish National Identity in the United States
While Jewish-American and even Yiddish-American literature is well-known, the idea of Hebrew-American literature may seem puzzling. We are so familiar with the standard immigration saga, with Jews coming to America and either insisting on using English to better Americanize, or on Yiddish to retain Jewish identity, that this third possibility, of coming to America and retaining Jewish identity by writing in Hebrew, is unexpected. But as Weingrad reveals, American Hebrew literature has much to offer. Hebraists explored American traditions— Native American, Mormon, fundamentalist Christian, and African American — that their Jewish contemporaries often avoided. Hebraists, by marginalizing themselves from the Jewish mainstream, also offer a unique perspective on the choices made by the American-Jewish majority: Debating the ‘melting pot’ was of little interest to these Hebraists, while the Diaspora and Zion were major issues. Aware that modern readers have little access to the poetry and prose of these Hebrew writers, Weingrad summarizes, quotes, and translates enough of their work to give a sense of their styles and concerns. The focus is on writers of the early 20th century, with thematic chapters on the impact of Modernism, Hebraists outside of New York City, Native Americans and the Hebraist imagination, the role of Mordecai Manuel Noah, and the works of Shimon Halkin and Gabriel Preil. Although many readers may have little interest in a movement that by the end of the 20th century had either migrated to Israel or to ‘the world to come,’ Weingrad’s survey is both readable and thought-provoking. Bibliography, footnotes, index.
Jewish literature inspires, enriches, and educates the community.
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