With the 1930 publication of her first book Kimshonim (Thistles), Esther Raab entered the Modern Hebrew literary canon as the first native poet of the Yishuv. Raab’s native status not only obscured her heterogeneous linguistic and cultural background but also attenuated her affiliation with the Yishuv’s immigrant literary culture and her involvement in Modern Hebrew’s emerging modernism. Through a close reading of select prose texts and poems, I trace Raab’s shifting and ambivalent relation to her multilingual beginnings, her native writer status, and the “diasporic burdens” of the Yishuv’s immigrant writers. I show that Raab’s experiences in Cairo and Paris, which preceded the publication of Kimshonim, not only allowed her to problematize her native status, but also, ultimately, enabled her to claim her own diasporic ties and assume a literary identity that was both native and immigrant.
This article challenges the myth of a “golden age” of Jewish cultural creativity in Vienna limited by time and gender, by considering the lives and works of Jewish authors who were active there, especially in the period during and following World War I. Jewish women authors such as Else Feldmann and Veza Canetti, among others, became regular contributors of short stories and essays to prominent Viennese newspapers such as the Arbeiter-Zeitung, and also published numerous novels and dramas. Their willingness to depict vividly the stark poverty and harsh violence pervasive in Viennese family life, as well as their emphases on the constantly shifting boundaries between their characters’ public and private lives and the borders of class-based sections of the city, did much to illuminate the complexities of urban life. By focusing on those sections of the city located on the margins, or “in between” the urban center and the rest of Austria, these authors underscored the instabilities of a city in the transitional stages between the collapse of empire and the founding of a new nation, and a period of particular uncertainty for Austrian Jews. Examination of Veza Canetti’s and Else Feldmann’s writings also reveals a complicated web of interrelations between “socialist” and “Jewish” identities in “Red Vienna” and helps clarify how and why Jewish women writers’ portrayals of the city from the interwar period should be included in any consideraation of Jewish cultural creativity in twentieth-century Vienna.
In the spring of 1926, David Bergelson changed his affiliation, breaking with Abraham Cahan's Forverts and joining the writers who grouped around the pro-Soviet Frayhayt. By the end of the same year, Bergelson (a Berlin resident in 1921–33) was dispatched to the Soviet Union to report the achievements of the Communist country. In the meantime, the Forverts sent its Warsaw-based corresspondent I. J. Singer to the Soviet Union. The article introduces and analyzes Bergelson's and Singer's Moscow travelogues, translated for this publication.
This article examines a variety of literary representations of Jewish life in Łódź, beginning with Władysław Stanisław Reymont’s seminal Polish novel The Promised Land (1898) through the German and Yiddish work of Jewish authors such as Joseph Roth, Yisroel Rabon and I. J. Singer in the 1920s and 1930s. These works all draw upon Łódź’s teeming social and ethnic diversity to create vivid portraits of Jewish protagonists operating within the multilingual arena of the city. The article also discusses Andrzej Wadja’s 1974 cinematic adaptation of Reymont's work in light of postwar preoccupations with Polish identity, ethnicity and anti-semitism.
How did East European Jewish immigrants in America remember, depict and recreate the cities of Eastern Europe? Through an examination of selected articles and poems from landsmanshaft (hometown associational) publications, this article examines the metaphors, images and idioms summoned by immigrant writers in the interwar landsmanshaft press to describe their former urban homes. Though many question landsmanshaft publications’ aesthetic value, this article argues that they vividly capture the voice of the people, providing a lens through which to glimpse the inner world and popular culture of Jewish immigrants in earlytwentieth century New York. Some writers reinvented their former urban homes by deploying the leitmotif of the shtetl, while others used motherland imagery; all, however, used their recreations of the East European city to ponder the price of migration and to ruminate on the promise of America.
Maurice Shammas (Abu Farid) stands out among writers whose literary works represent Jewish life in modern Egypt. His collection of short stories Al-shaykh shabtay wa-ÿikayat min ÿarat al-yahud [Sheik Shabbtai and Stories from Ḣarat al-Yahud (1979)] and his memoir ‘Azza, hafidat nifirtiti [‘Azza, Nefertiti’s Granddaughter (2003)], written in Arabic, represent not the wealthy cosmopolittans, but rather the poor residents of Cairo’s ḥarat al-yahud. This article explores Shammas’s representations of the city, arguing that for Shammas the city’s textuality is not primarily visual or material, but aural. The spaces of the city are defined by the sounds that fill them: Arabic music and the musicality of Arabic, verbal and non-verbal human expression, and the noise of the structures of the city themselves. This article also traces and unpacks the intertwined tropes of nationalism and urban localism, cosmopolitanism and parochialism, language and identity in Shammas’s writings.
“Maybe there is something in Baghdad that ties him to the city like an umbilical cord, something that he is powerless to extract from his heart,” muses the narrator of Eli ‘Amir’s Mafriaḥ hayonim (The Pigeon Keeper). What does it mean to identify so passionately with a home from which you were ejected, a home that has become “enemy terrain?” How do you “write the city” of your youth from a vantage point of no return? How does the remembered space of the city interact with and mediate memories of self and community? This article explores how the literary writings of Baghdadi Jews in Arabic, Hebrew, French, and English foster a dialectical relationship between self and the city, one in which Baghdad is the plaster cast of identity, suddenly imploded, yet indelible in its imprint.
Jerusalem figures in an astonishing number of the late Yehuda Amichai’s poems precisely because the poet himself found it impossible to write the definitive Jerusalem lyric. In the city’s embodiment of both the highest achievements of the human spiritual imagination and the rocky altar to which human beings and their ancestors have returned to sacrifice one another again and again, Jerusalem is necessarily the beating and wounded heart of his parabolic and beguiling poetic practice. Amichai continually tests the notion of ‘belonging’ to Jerusalem (with all its political, social, religious, and cultural complexity), against alternative avenues of identity in ways that ultimately implicate the reader as well, particularly in their original Israeli context. At the same time, the poems frequently pay heed to the indelible ways that Jerusalem’s cycles of destruction cohabit with diasporic continuity; each Jewish realm ultimately sustaining and at times interrogating the reality of the other.
Critics have tended to consider Yaakov Shabtai an artist who succeeded in portraying Tel Aviv as a secular Hebrew city, in the manner of Yitshak Danziger who “invented a face” for the “new Hebrew man” in his well-known sculpture Nimrod. They thus made Shabtai into the “secular prophet” of Tel Aviv, whose life work delineated a “proposal for a secular culture.”
Close consideration of the critical output over the years shows that the wish to read Shabtai's writings as a secular opus involves a tight knot of complex, and at times contradictory, positions. Shabtai is portrayed as a secular artist who labored to puncture myths, as someone who put a question mark behind Zionist as well as religious teleologies. But he is seen, too, as an author whose work offers the model for a “secular pilgrim,” or, alternatively, whose work “almost rose to the status of myth”— a secular myth.
This article argues that the tangled, and even contradictory language of Shabtai criticism originates in a doubleness characteristic of Israeli cultural discourse. This doubleness moves between secularism, or the disavowal of the language of religion, and, at the same time, the use of the language of religgious revelation. A closer look at the language of Shabtai criticism reveals how this discourse actually reproduces a tension in Shabtai’s own literary output. This article shows that Shabtai's Tel Aviv emerges from a combination of two opposing approaches toward secularism, pointing out how they are reflected in a “dual image” of the city’s relationship to the Zionist enterprise.
Not only have critics so far been unaware of this doubleness: through “identificatory reading,” studies have tended to reproduce it. What we need here is a critical reading of the Tel Avivan space that Shabtai creates, from a political, national, ethnic, as well as a gendered point of view. The present reading unpacks the secular image of Tel Aviv by means of revealing the disavowals and identity politics that underlie such presumably “nonideological” notions as secularism or normalcy.