Cover

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-x

During the many years it took me to write this book, I was blessed with a mighty stream of good council and encouragement from teachers, colleagues, friends, and family. The book began life in the English department at Columbia University, and, though it retains only a few sentences from its original version, I would like to thank those who saw this project...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-11

When the Puritan settlers claimed the New World as their ‘‘New Jerusalem,’’ they laid the foundation for what would later emerge as the central Idea of America: that this would be a land of new beginnings, where the burdens of the past would be shrugged off and the road to salvation opened wide. How did this radical Idea influence the self-understanding of Jews...

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Part 1: Breathing free in the new world: transcendentalism and the jewish soul

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pp. 13-15

A striking pattern emerges when we survey some of the representative literary works of American Jews from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: the men tend to be melancholic while the women are exuberant. Consider the final chapter of Abraham Cahan’s The Rise of David Levinsky (1917), where the protagonist, having just narrated his rise to financial success in the needle trade…

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1: Songs of a Semite: Emma Lazarus and the Muse of History

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pp. 16-36

When Emma Lazarus wrote ‘‘The New Colossus’’ (1883), her famous homage to the ‘‘huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’’1 nobody thought of calling her a ‘‘Jewish American writer.’’ That Lazarus herself might be called a Jew—or some other declension of the term that circulated at the time, such as ‘‘Israelite,’’ ‘‘Hebrew,’’ or ‘‘Semite’’—was hardly in question...

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2: Ecstasies of the Credulous:Mary Antin and the Spirit of the Shtetl

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pp. 37-52

In 1898, eleven years after Lazarus’s death, a firsthand account appeared in the New York weekly The American Hebrew by a sixteen-year-old girl named Mary Antin, in which she described her experiences as an immigrant en route to America. The text, later published in book form under the title From Plotzk to Boston, originated as a long letter Antin wrote...

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Part 2: Battling the nativists: mystics, prophets, and rebels in interwar america

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pp. 53-55

The history of American Jews from World War I through the 1920s isriven by two contrasting motifs: an increased movement into the middle classes and a pervasive new sense of unease. On the one hand, the children and grandchildren of immigrants were moving away from the congested streets where their ‘‘greenhorn’’ forebears had once lived; they were...

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3: ‘‘Pilgrim to a Forgotten Shrine’’: Ludwig Lewisohn and the Recovery of the Inner Jew

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pp. 56-75

Few writers in Jewish American history have labored as hard during their lifetimes for so little posthumous fame as Ludwig Lewisohn (1881–1954). From the 1920s through the early 1950s, he devoted himself tirelessly to the task of bringing American Jews back into the fold—not necessarily to the synagogue...

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4: Modernist Flasks, Jewish Wine: Waldo Frank and the Immanence of God

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pp. 76-92

Waldo Frank (1889–1967) has seldom been included in the history of Jewish American literature. Few critics discuss his works; anthologies omit him altogether. This is not entirely surprising, perhaps, since Frank’s explicitly Jewish writings are relatively few. Among his nonfictional works, he wrote a chapter on American Jews in Our America (1919); scattered essays on…

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5: Cinderella’s Dybbuk: Anzia Yezierska as the Voice of Generations [Includes Image Plates]

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pp. 93-118

In the early 1920s, Anzia Yezierska was a newly risen star in the firmament of American literature, having been dubbed the ‘‘sweatshop Cinderella’’ by the popular press upon the success of Hungry Hearts (1919), her first collection of short stories. These stories offered American readers a glimpse into the world of the Jewish immigrant, a world Yezierska decorated with a...

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Part 3: Yiddish interlude

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pp. 119-120

In the last chapter, we considered how Anzia Yezierska creates an ‘‘ethnic’’ literary discourse by evoking a shadow Yiddish syntax behind her English. Yezierska evokes Yiddish to symbolize an unassimilated, inner Jewish self, whose ‘‘fire’’ and passion cannot be contained by conventional English. The presence of Yiddish in subsequent English-language writings and...

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6: From Heine to Whitman: The Yiddish Poets Come to America

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pp. 121-142

In 1940, the Yiddish Cooperative Book League of the Yiddish International Worker’s Order published the most substantial collection of Walt Whit- man’s poetry and prose to appear to date in Yiddish translation, complete with a biographical sketch, photographs, and an appended monograph. The collection was called Lider: fun bukh: bleter groz (Poems: From the Book: Leaves of Grass)...

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Part 4: ‘‘Orating in New Yorkese’’: the languages of jewishness in postwar America

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pp. 143-146

In 1963, the scion of New England Puritans and reigning poet-hero Robert Lowell attended a public symposium on Hannah Arendt’s controversial new book about the Eichmann trial, published earlier that year. The symposium was sponsored by Dissent magazine and chaired by its polemical editor in chief, Irving Howe. Among those in attendance were a number of...

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7: ‘‘My Private Orthodoxy’’: Alfred Kazin’s Romantic Judaism

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pp. 147-170

When he died in 1998 at age eighty-three, Alfred Kazin left behind a smattering of notes for a book he was preparing on the cultural history of the Jews. Drawing on the work of his lifelong literary hero William Blake, he called his work-in-progress ‘‘Jews: The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.’’ He had also already chosen an epigraph for the book, which came from Philip Roth’s...

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8: The Jewish Writer Flies at Twilight: Irving Howe and the Recovery of Yiddishkayt

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pp. 171-191

In 1952, the Yiddish linguist Nahum Stutshkov met with literary critic Shmuel Niger in New York City to discuss the idea of compiling a multi-volume dictionary that would encompass the totality of the Yiddish language. It was the first time a project on such a scale had been proposed, a Yiddish answer to the Oxford English Dictionary, showing the full depth...

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Conclusion

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pp. 192-199

This passage from Adrienne Rich’s autobiographical poetic cycle, Sources, may be read as an allegory of the story of Jewish cultural continuity offered by this book. In Rich’s poem, history was ‘‘meant to stop,’’ either because America enforces cultural amnesia on all who enter, or because the ‘‘tracks’’ evoked by the poem are those that led to the Nazi extermination camps, or...

Notes

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pp. 201-224

Index

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pp. 225-239

Illustrations

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pp. 109-117