In This Article American Hebrew Literature

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews: English Bibliography
  • General Overviews: Hebrew Bibliography
  • Representation of Native Americans: English Bibliography
  • Representation of Native Americans: Hebrew Bibliography
  • Encountering African Americans: English Bibliography
  • Encountering African Americans: Hebrew Bibliography
  • The Big City: English Bibliography
  • The Big City: Hebrew Bibliography
  • Nostalgic Hindsights: English Bibliography
  • Nostalgic Hindsights: Hebrew Bibliography
  • American Landscapes: English Bibliography
  • American Landscapes: Hebrew Bibliography
  • Hebrew Education/Textbooks: English Bibliography
  • Hebrew Education/Text Books: Hebrew Bibliography
  • Holocaust: English Bibliography
  • Holocaust: Hebrew Bibliography
  • Rearguard Pioneers—Zionism American Style: English Bibliography
  • Rearguard Pioneers—Zionism American Style: Hebrew Bibliography
  • Strange Hebrew: English Bibliography
  • Strange Hebrew: Hebrew Bibliography

Jewish Studies American Hebrew Literature
by
Stephen Katz
  • LAST MODIFIED: 31 July 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0188

Introduction

Over two million Jewish refugees immigrated to the United States between 1880 and 1924, escaping poverty and persecution of the tsar and similar anti-Semitic regimes, until the 1924 Johnson-Reed (Immigration) Act constricted the passage through the country’s open gates. That migration included established and future Hebrew (Yiddish and English) literati whose contributions presaged the establishment, supplementing earlier immigrations by Sephardi, German, and other Jews, of a new world center of modern Hebrew literature and culture, much in keeping with its predecessors, large and small, back in Berlin, Italy, Galicia, and Russia. This one took root in the United States, waxed, and briefly competed with its growing “sibling” in Eretz Yisrael, only to wilt and wane, leaving behind virtually no progeny by the 1960s. When active, this geographically scattered center produced a considerable literary oeuvre, much of which remains the purview of the few able or interested to read it, while little has been translated and thematically marginalized in the shadow of Eretz Israeli concerns, modernisms, linguistic deviations, and nationalist programs. Hebraists in America identified with and saw themselves as direct heirs to their European Hebrew literary roots, drawing inspiration from the likes of S. Tchernichovsky and H. N. Bialik, poetry being the leading genre in the first decades. Yet, after a period of nostalgic looking-back, they also drew on models from English literature and the new landscape that opened before them. While depicting the world left behind, Hebraists also sought to Americanize their works and settings. Looking about them, they focused on the experience of the Big City, the great outdoors, and exotic locales from east to west. Perplexing though it might not have been, their palette also ran to the encounters with Gentiles, and, most intriguingly, they represented in Hebrew the lives and folk culture of Native and African Americans in lengthy compositions that rivaled those written in English. So while the nostalgic glances initially gave rise to a pessimism about America being the land that devours and assimilates its inhabitants, these soon gave way to an Americanization of Hebrew letters that became the expression of a settled community looking at the here-and-now in its representation of the Jewish (or Hebraic) experience and a mature sensibility that gave rise to the Bellows, Malamuds, Roths, Ozicks, Hellmans, and Ginsbergs from the second half of the 20th century onward. Though all Hebraists of those generations have passed away, a few new writers of Hebrew—Maya Arad, Reuven Namdar, and Robert Whitehill-Bashan among them—call America their home today (with other expatriates spending a long or short time outside Israel, among them Shelly Oria in the United States; Ayelet Tsabari in Canada; Yonatan Sagiv in the UK; Yossi Avni-Levy in Poland; and Adam Coman, Mati Shemoelof, and Itamar Orlev in Germany). Studies of American Hebrew literature are few in English, though some have recently appeared, prompting, hopefully, closer scrutiny of this center that was.

General Overviews: English Bibliography

Early studies and reviews of American Hebrew literature and culture were made, in English, through biographical profiles of authors, poets, and essayists for consumption by local scholars of Hebrew, as well as to enlighten the general, English-reading student, as illustrated by Kabakoff 1955 and Silberschlag 1973. Recent presentations of American Hebrew literary accomplishments have featured surveys of the gamut of both literary analysis and the history of its rise and fall, as in Weingrad 2011, or a mix of its history, themes, and close readings, as in Katz 2009 and Mintz 2012.

  • Kabakoff, Jacob. “Hebrew Culture and Creativity in America.” In Jewish Life in America. Edited by Theodore Friedman and Robert Gordis, 170–196. New York: Horizon Press, 1955.

    E-mail Citation »

    The chapter summarizes the history of and profiles the leading literati who have formed the American Hebrew center, outlining issues of education and the chief themes contained in the poetry and prose in the Americanization of Hebrew literature.

  • Katz, Stephen. Red, Black, and Jew: New Frontiers in Hebrew Literature. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009.

    E-mail Citation »

    While focusing on the image of African Americans and Native Americans in the poetry and prose of writers, this study also considers such issues as the evolving chasm between American and Israeli Hebrew, Zionism in American Hebrew writings, and the decline of the center.

  • Mintz, Alan. Sanctuary in the Wilderness: A Critical Introduction to American Hebrew Poetry. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012.

    E-mail Citation »

    A seminal study of the major themes running through American Hebrew poetry, accompanied by close readings and analyses of key poetical works by the leading American practitioners of the art in Hebrew literature. It is set in the broader context of American Jewish and Israeli cultural life.

  • Silberschlag, Eisig. 1973. “Minor Centers of Hebrew Literature in America.” In From Renaissance to Renaissance I: Hebrew Literature from 1492–1970. By Eisig Silberschlag, 249–328. New York: Ktav, 1973.

    E-mail Citation »

    A contextualization of Hebrew literature in America within the tradition of Hebrew literary life since the Spanish Expulsion. Some good personal insights about literati and their contributions in the New World.

  • Weingrad, Michael. American Hebrew Literature: Writing Jewish National Identity in the United States. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2011.

    E-mail Citation »

    An overview of American Hebrew literature, including significant analyses of key writers, works, and leading themes. Particular attention is paid to the role of Mordecai Manuel Noah, Simon Halkin, and Gabriel Preil, and includes assessment of the few female contributors to the American center.

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