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Klezmer America

Klezmer America: Jewishness, Ethnicity, Modernity

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    Klezmer America
    Book Description:

    Klezmer is a continually evolving musical tradition that grows out of Eastern European Jewish culture, and its changes reflect Jews' interaction with other groups as well as their shifting relations to their own history. But what happens when, in the klezmer spirit, the performances that go into the making of Jewishness come into contact with those that build different forms of cultural identity?

    Jonathan Freedman argues that terms central to the Jewish experience in America, notions like "the immigrant," the "ethnic," and even the "model minority," have worked and continue to intertwine the Jewish-American with the experiences, histories, and imaginative productions of Latinos, Asians, African Americans, and gays and lesbians, among others. He traces these relationships in a number of arenas: the crossover between jazz and klezmer and its consequences in Philip Roth's The Human Stain; the relationship between Jewishness and queer identity in Tony Kushner's Angels in America; fictions concerning crypto-Jews in Cuba and the Mexican-American borderland; the connection between Jews and Christian apocalyptic narratives; stories of "new immigrants" by Bharathi Mukherjee, Gish Jen, Lan Samantha Chang, and Gary Shteyngart; and the revisionary relation of these authors to the classic Jewish American immigrant narratives of Henry Roth, Bernard Malamud, and Saul Bellow. By interrogating the fraught and multidimensional uses of Jews, Judaism, and Jewishness, Freedman deepens our understanding of ethnoracial complexities.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51234-3
    Subjects: Religion, Sociology, Music, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-38)

    IN 1874 Oliver Wendell Holmes—doctor, essayist, Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, Boston Brahmin par excellence (indeed, the very figure who first gave that caste its name)—penned a poem that, among its many attributes, announces some of the key themes and variations of this book. Entitled At the Pantomime, the poem describes a proper Bostonian very much like Holmes himself attending a popular theatrical event in Boston. Already grumpy when he arrives, further irritated by the crowd in which he finds himself, he is particularly troubled by the arrival of “Hebrews, not a few” whom he then describes in...

  5. 1. ANGELS, MONSTERS, AND JEWS From Kushner to Klezmer
    (pp. 39-93)

    IN THIS PASSAGE from his resonantly entitled book, The Imaginary Jew, French critic Alain Finkielkraut neatly encapsulates the conundrum that Jews have long posed to the imagination of the West. Jews are doubtless different—but somehow differently different, in ways that differ markedly over time. To sample just a few of the major Western understandings of the Jew is to see how diverse and contradictory models of Jewish identity have been. Installed since biblical times in a position of national marginality, constructed by medieval theologians as outsiders to revealed truth, persecuted in the early modern period as usurers or pawnbrokers...

    (pp. 94-139)

    WHAT DOES IT MEAN to be a man—a father, a son, a husband, a lover? These questions were, until recently, central to the delineation of Jewish identity in America: as countless critics have reminded us, Irving Howe didn’t exactly entitle his groundbreaking book World of Our Mothers (a book with that inevitable title wasn’t published until 1988).¹ To be sure, generations of excellent feminist-inspired scholarship have challenged this masculinist tradition, altering both the canon and the very discursive frame in which the Jewish American experience has been construed. But the questions raised in and around the constitution of Jewish...

  7. 3. ANTISEMITISM WITHOUT JEWS Left Behind in the American Heartland
    (pp. 140-163)

    EVERY NOW AND THEN, I teach a course entitled “Jewish and Other Others,” and, to remind my largely assimilated, predominantly Jewish students that Jews were once something other than comfortable suburbanites like themselves, I begin with a conceptual tour upon which I now invite the reader of this chapter. I am writing these words from my office at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor—a leftist enclave in a liberal town in a moderately conservative “battleground” state. Forty miles or so east of here is the city of Dearborn, Michigan, in which Henry Ford published the Dearborn Independent in...

  8. 4. THE HUMAN STAIN OF RACE Roth, Sirk, and Shaw in Black, White, and Jewish
    (pp. 164-208)

    NO AUTHOR HAS WORKED as hard as Philip Roth to keep the novel alive as a socially significant form, all the more remarkably since he has done so at an age when many of his contemporaries have slid into self-parody or grumpy retrenchment. Defying the distractions of the body and energized by those of the body politic, he has addressed with uncompromising ferocity the central concerns of our moment—terrorism (American Pastoral), McCarthyism (I Married a Communist), soi-disant political correctness (The Human Stain)—while adding charged subjects like race (The Human Stain) and mortality (The Dying Animal) to his signature...

  9. 5. CONVERSOS, MARRANOS, AND CRYPTO-LATINOS Jewish-Hispanic Crossings and the Uses of Ethnicity
    (pp. 209-250)

    A FEW YEARS AGO I found myself with a seat at the table where most of the real work gets done at the contemporary university: on a hiring committee. This committee faced a more interesting challenge than most; we were charged with hiring a junior person, in any department, who specialized in any aspect of Jewish cultural or social life in America. Needless to say, the jockeying among representatives of the various fields was intense (I am happy to say that we literature folks prevailed). But the metajockeying was equally intense, or so I discovered to my doubtless naive shock...

    (pp. 251-282)

    THE PROCESS OF THOUGHT leading to this chapter began nearly a decade ago at my favorite Chinese restaurant in New York, Hop Li Rice Shop, 17 Mott Street. I was taken there by my wife Sara to meet for the first time her sister Koren, a high-powered attorney, one Friday night. While I was undergoing Koren’s friendly cross-examination—I am happy to say that I seem to have passed muster—I saw at the table next to us a striking five-some: a very well dressed white man, his father, his Chinese American wife, their two biracial children. When the dinner...

    (pp. 283-321)

    IN 1998, a second-generation Chinese American, Eric Liu, published a series of essays entitled The Accidental Asian. Graduate of Yale and Harvard Law School and a former presidential speechwriter, Liu would seem to be the very model of the model minority, and, not uncoincidentally (as my argument in the preceding chapter would suggest), he is readily at home with Jews and Jewishness. Liu, after all, grew up alongside many Jews in Poughkeepsie, a middle-class town in upstate New York; attended universities like Harvard and Yale chock-full of accomplished Jews; served in the most Jewish-friendly administration in history, that of Bill...

  12. CONCLUSION The Klezmering of America
    (pp. 322-332)

    AS I WAS PUTTING the finishing touches on this book in the fall of 2006, I found myself entering into the academic’s particular quadrant of the Twilight Zone. Whenever I opened the newspaper, surfed the net, went to the movies with friends—did any of the things that take me away from my writing, other than yelling at my kids—I kept encountering texts, events, and factoids that seemed uncannily to trump, complicate, or extend the arguments I had been laboriously putting together. Thus one fine morning I picked up the New York Times to learn that John Zorn, archrabbi...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 333-370)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 371-388)