Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life

Published by: Brandeis University Press

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Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life

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Raising Secular Jews

Yiddish Schools and Their Periodicals for American Children, 1917–1950

Naomi Prawer Kadar

This unique literary study of Yiddish children’s periodicals casts new light on secular Yiddish schools in America in the first half of the twentieth century. Rejecting the traditional religious education of the Talmud Torahs and congregational schools, these Yiddish schools chose Yiddish itself as the primary conduit of Jewish identity and culture. Four Yiddish school networks emerged, which despite their political and ideological differences were all committed to propagating the Yiddish language, supporting social justice, and preparing their students for participation in both Jewish and American culture.

Focusing on the Yiddish children’s periodicals produced by the Labor Zionist Farband, the secular Sholem Aleichem schools, the socialist Workmen’s Circle, and the Ordn schools of the Communist-aligned International Workers Order, Naomi Kadar shows how secular immigrant Jews sought to pass on their identity and values as they prepared their youth to become full-fledged Americans.

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Suddenly Jewish

Jews Raised as Gentiles Discover Their Jewish Roots

Barbara Kessel

One woman learned on the eve of her Roman Catholic wedding. One man as he was studying for the priesthood. Madeleine Albright famously learned from the Washington Post when she was named Secretary of State.

"What is it like to find out you are not who you thought you were?" asks Barbara Kessel in this compelling volume, based on interviews with over 160 people who were raised as non-Jews only to learn at some point in their lives that they are of Jewish descent. With humor, candor, and deep emotion, Kessel's subjects discuss the emotional upheaval of refashioning their self-image and, for many, coming to terms with deliberate deception on the part of parents and family. Responses to the discovery of a Jewish heritage ranged from outright rejection to wholehearted embrace.

For many, Kessel reports, the discovery of Jewish roots confirmed long-held suspicions or even, more mysteriously, conformed to a long-felt attraction toward Judaism. For some crypto-Jews in the southwest United States (descendants of Jews who fled the Spanish Inquisition), the only clues to their heritage are certain practices and traditions handed down through the generations, whose significance may be long since lost. In Poland and other parts of eastern Europe, many Jews who were adopted as infants to save them from the Holocaust are now learning of their heritage through the deathbed confessions of their adoptive parents.

The varied responses of these disparate people to a similar experience, presented in their own words, offer compelling insights into the nature of self-knowledge. Whether they had always suspected or were taken by surprise, Kessel's respondents report that confirmation of their Jewish heritage affected their sense of self and of their place in the world in profound ways. Fascinating, poignant, and often very funny, Suddenly Jewish speaks to crucial issues of identity, selfhood, and spiritual community.

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Through the Sands of Time

A History of the Jewish Community of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands

Judah M. Cohen

In 1796, the Jews of St. Thomas founded the first Jewish congregation on this Caribbean island. By 1803, new arrivals from England, France, and the neighboring islands of St. Eustatius and Curaçao increased the original number from a handful of congregants to twenty-two families. Their small synagogue was destroyed by fires and rebuilt several times. The congregation numbered sixty-four families by the time the present synagogue was erected in 1833. It is by now the oldest synagogue in continuous use under the American flag. The congregation was also among the first to receive copies of the new West London Reform liturgy when it came out in 1841 and the first in this hemisphere to hold a Jewish confirmation ceremony, two years later. In addition, the St. Thomas Synagogue has produced its own unique religious literature relating to hurricanes!

While the synagogue has served for over 200 years as a central religious and social gathering place, the Jews of St. Thomas have been highly mobile members of a progressive, cosmopolitan society that at times rivaled any in the world. As an accepted part of the larger community, members were accomplished, model citizens in a highly tolerant Danish colonial society. Jews took positions in government, served as auctioneers, participated in the local Masonic lodges, and represented other countries as consuls in St. Thomas. As traders in a mercantile culture, the Jews contributed to the activity of one of the world’s busiest harbors and played a crucial role in St. Thomas’s nineteenth-century rise to prominence in the northern Caribbean.

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Woody on Rye

Jewishness in the Films and Plays of Woody Allen

Vincent Brook

Although Woody Allen's films have received extensive attention from scholars and critics, no book has focused exclusively on Jewishness in his work, particularly that of the late 1990s and beyond. In this anthology, a distinguished group of contributors--whose work is richly contextualized in the fields of literature, philosophy, film, theater, and comedy--examine the schlemiel, Allen and women, the Jewish take on the "morality of murder," Allen's take on Hebrew scripture and Greek tragedy, his stage work, his cinematic treatment of food and dining, and what happens to "Jew York" when Woody takes his films out of New York City. Considered together, these essays delineate the intellectual, artistic, and moral development of one of cinema's most durable and controversial directors.

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