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Members of the Tribe

Native America in the Jewish Imagination

Rachel Rubinstein

Publication Year: 2010

In Members of the Tribe: Native America in the Jewish Imagination, author Rachel Rubinstein examines interventions by Jewish writers into an ongoing American fascination with the “imaginary Indian.” Rubinstein argues that Jewish writers represented and identified with the figure of the American Indian differently than their white counterparts, as they found in this figure a mirror for their own anxieties about tribal and national belonging. Through a series of literary readings, Rubinstein traces a shifting and unstable dynamic of imagined Indian-Jewish kinship that can easily give way to opposition and, especially in the contemporary moment, competition. In the first chapter, “Playing Indian, Becoming American,” Rubinstein explores the Jewish representations of Indians over the nineteenth century, through narratives of encounter and acts of theatricalization. In chapter 2, “Going Native, Becoming Modern,” she examines literary modernism’s fascination with the Indian-poet and a series of Yiddish translations of Indian chants that appeared in the modernist journal Shriftn in the 1920s. In the third chapter, “Red Jews,” Rubinstein considers the work of Jewish writers from the left, including Tillie Olsen, Michael Gold, Nathanael West, John Sanford, and Howard Fast, and in chapter 4, “Henry Roth, Native Son,” Rubinstein focuses on Henry Roth’s complicated appeals to Indianness. The final chapter, “First Nations,” addresses contemporary contestations between Jews and Indians over cultural and territorial sovereignty, in literary and political discourse as well as in museum spaces. As Rubinstein considers how Jews used the figure of the Indian to feel “at home” in the United States, she enriches ongoing discussions about the ways that Jews negotiated their identity in relation to other cultural groups. Students of Jewish studies and literature will enjoy the unique insights in Members of the Tribe.

Published by: Wayne State University Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-viii

This project began as a dissertation in the Department of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University, and I thank those who saw it into and through its first incarnation: teachers Lawrence Buell, Marcus Moseley, David Roskies, and Marc Shell and mentors and advisors Sacvan Bercovitch, Elisa...

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pp. 1-19

In 1991, in anticipation of the Columbus quincentenary, Chippewa/Anishinaabe author Gerald Vizenor published The Heirs of Columbus, in which Christopher Columbus is reimagined as a “crossblood,” a Mayan Indian and a Marrano Jew, whose descendants, led by Stone Columbus, the protagonist of the novel,...

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1 Playing Indian, Becoming American

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pp. 21-58

Ben Katchor’s 1998 graphic novel The Jew of New York: A Historical Romance begins in 1830, five years after the sovereign Jewish nation of Ararat envisioned by diplomat, journalist, and playwright Major Mordecai Noah in upstate New York failed. The New York City in Katchor’s graphic novel, like his contemporary...

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2 Going Native, Becoming Modern

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pp. 59-86

The imaginary Indian offered a convenient and infinitely flexible figure upon which to work out questions of American identity, from the seventeenth century up through the fledgling twenty-first. In the twentieth century in particular, Indians, as well as other so-called primitive peoples, would additionally come to serve...

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3 Red Jews

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pp. 87-116

The title of Tillie Olsen’s novel Yonnondio: From the Thirties (begun in the 1930s but published in 1974) and its opening dedication are both borrowed from Walt Whitman’s 1888 poem “Yonnondio.” Whitman understood the Iroquois word yonnondio to mean a lament for the dead.1 Unlike Whitman’s poem, however,...

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4 Henry Roth, Native Son

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pp. 117-145

Allen Ginsberg’s poem “America” satirizes cold war paranoia through the Pidgin English of the stereotypical Indian. The voice of Ginsberg’s Indian fantasizing a Russian takeover of Chicago and filling stations, however, emerges out of a cacophony of Yiddish cadences (“Scott Nearing was a grand old man / a real...

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5 First Nations

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pp. 147-178

Jerusalem, 2007: two images, one from a local English-language newspaper and the other from a T-shirt store on Ben Yehuda Street, the pedestrian mall downtown usually thronged with tourists. In the newspaper, a group of Palestinian protestors are dressed in buckskin, fringed shirts, and feather headdresses. The...

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pp. 179-183

In the mid-1990s, a delegation of rabbis visited Arizona for a “spiritual gathering” with Navajos.1 Photographer Frédéric Brenner’s image of this meeting appears in his photography collection titled Diaspora: Homelands in Exile. Brenner’s photograph was taken from a car window. On the left, a group of Jewish men...


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pp. 185-238


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pp. 239-252

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780814337004
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814334348

Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 12
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1
Volume Title: N/a