The success of the Vilner Trupe (Vilna Troupe) in interwar Poland lay not only in its maximalist, modernist, and Yiddishist pronouncements but also in its oft-conflicted practices. After all, the troupe traveled regularly to reach its audiences—the Yiddish-speaking masses and their main financial and artistic supporters. It never received state funding, unlike its Hebraist rival Habima in the Soviet Union. It changed staging styles with new directors: whereas some strove to Europeanize the Yiddish stage (which meant different things to different directors and playwrights), others sought to turn it into an avant-garde, highbrow theater with a “Jewish soul” (even as they made use of middlebrow Yiddish texts and Yiddish translations of European literature). Many thought of theater in terms of a “national institution,” in line with the Polish romantic tradition. In short, the troupe constantly found itself caught up in debates about the aesthetic and cultural-national character of a “better” Yiddish theater.
Jewish Social Studies plays an important role in advancing the understanding of Jewish life and the Jewish past. Key themes are issues of identity and peoplehood, the vistas opened by the integration of gender as a primary category in the study of history, and the multiplicities inherent in the evolution of Jewish societies and cultures around the world and over time. Regular features include work in anthropology, politics, sociology, religion, and literature, as well as case studies and theoretical discussions, all of which serve to rechart the boundaries of Jewish historical scholarship.
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