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Divergent Jewish Cultures

Divergent Jewish Cultures: Israel and America

Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Divergent Jewish Cultures
    Book Description:

    Two creative centers of Jewish life rose to prominence in the twentieth century, one in Israel and the other in the United States. Although Israeli and American Jews share kinship and history drawn from their Eastern European roots, they have developed divergent cultures from their common origins, often seeming more like distant cousins than close relatives. This book explores why this is so, examining how two communities that constitute eighty percent of the world's Jewish population have created separate identities and cultures.Using examples from literature, art, history, and politics, leading Israeli and American scholars focus on the political, social, and memory cultures of their two communities, considering in particular the American Jewish challenge to diaspora consciousness and the Israeli struggle to forge a secular, national Jewish identity. At the same time, they seek to understand how a sense of mutual responsibility and fate animates American and Israeli Jews who reside in distant places, speak different languages, and live within different political and social worlds.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13021-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. viii-x)
    David B. Ruderman
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    Two creative centers of Jewish life emerged in the twentieth century. These divergent centers in Israel and in the United States claimed selfsufficiency, authority, and competence. Jews living in the United States established an alternative mode of cultural expression to that of Jewish citizens in the sovereign state of Israel, instead of yet another classic Jewish diaspora linked to other peripheries by trade in commerce, religion, and culture. Despite their common claims to centrality, Israeli and American Jews recognize shared Jewish concerns and connections. Ironically, these two diverse communities developed out of similar European roots. Eastern European Jews pursued very...


    • ONE The Construction of a Secular Jewish Identity: European and American Influences in Israeli Education
      (pp. 27-52)

      The curriculum of Zionist schools during the half century from the Yishuv (the pre-state Jewish settlement in Palestine) through the early years of statehood was a reaction to Jewish life as most educators experienced and remembered it in Europe. It reflected their impatience with the passive religiosity they identified as a prime target for reform. At the same time, it was rooted in what they admired and wished to retain from the culture of their birthplace. In debates over the content and structure of the new curriculum, educators openly expressed misgivings over their success in selectively rejecting and preserving the...

    • TWO Producing the Future: The Impresario Culture of American Zionism before 1948
      (pp. 53-71)

      Among the wealth of images featured in an exhibition catalog on Zionist visual culture in the pre-state era, published by Beth Hatefutsoth on the occasion of the State of Israel’s fiftieth anniversary, a 1937 poster for the U.S. Central Shekel Board in New York stands out. In some respects it is typical of Zionist propaganda during the years between the two world wars. This appeal to American Jews to purchaseshekalim(nominal contributions to the World Zionist Organization, which entitle purchasers to vote in Zionist Congress elections) features a sunlit Palestinian landscape, one of the most familiar images in Zionist...

    • THREE Moroccan Jews and the Shaping of Israel’s Sacred Geography
      (pp. 72-86)

      In the late 1970s Kenneth Brown, an anthropologist who had been working in Morocco among Jews and Muslims, made a photographed tour of Israel. In the publication that followed, designated “A Journey through the Labyrinth,” he sought to present and ponder the many faces of Israeli society he met on his way. Joining the pilgrimage to the popular shrine of Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yohai in Meron on Lag Ba’Omer (the thirty-second day after Passover), he made the following observations:

      The area around the shrine was filled with people who had camped there during the night. Most of them had set up...

    • FOUR Identity, Ritual, and Pilgrimage: The Meetings of the Israeli Exploration Society
      (pp. 87-106)

      During the 1950s and 1960s, the annual meetings of the Israeli Exploration Society¹ (henceforth, IES) drew audiences of thousands to hear academic lectures on the archaeology, geography, and history of the land of Israel. Presidents, prime-ministers, and army generals attended regularly, not only as honorary guests but also as active participants. Most meetings took place on the social and geographical periphery, places such as Beit Shean, Eilat, Ashkelon, Acre, and Safed, which were not easily accessible using the transportation means of the time. Israeli author and journalist Amos Elon, writing for an American public, tried to convey the uniqueness of...

    • FIVE Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Clothing, Identity, and the Modern Jewish Experience
      (pp. 107-122)

      “A great deal of happiness may be had from a study of dress and its requisites,” observed fashion doyenne Mary Brooks Picken in her 1918 bible of sartorial propriety,The Secrets of Distinctive Dress.“As we study, observe and apply, our inner selves will awaken to the artistic side of dress, and once awakened will develop to such an extent as to give us understanding and appreciation.”¹ In what follows, I take my cue from Picken, hoping to awaken and stimulate interest in sartorial matters on the part of Jewish historians who have been impervious to its charms and inattentive to...

    • SIX Sculpting an American Jewish Hero: The Monuments, Myths, and Legends of Haym Salomon
      (pp. 123-152)

      Myth-making and the creation of heroes are a part of every society. The legends of George Washington, Betsy Ross, and Abraham Lincoln have become staples of American culture. Their tales of heroism have been firmly implanted within popular narratives of American history and their images preserved in monuments and memorials.¹ Likewise, modern Jews have created their own icons, from Moses Mendelssohn to Theodor Herzl to Rebecca Gratz. Generations after their deaths, their images are continually reproduced and their legacies invoked by Jews seeking communal honor and legitimation for their own causes. American Jews have created a pantheon of heroes and...


    • SEVEN Imagining Europe: The Popular Arts of American Jewish Ethnography
      (pp. 155-191)

      “Practically everyone has seen the prize-winning musical about the lovable people in that little village in Old Russia called Anetevka [sic]. Well, as far as we’re concerned, ‘Fiddler’ made a GOOF!”Madmagazine’s irreverent parody of the Broadway show (1964) and film (1971) “takes this famous musical about the problems of people who hadnothing,and updates it with a version about the problems of people who haveeverything—mainly America’s Upper Middle Class.”¹ This 1973 spoof ends with the people of Anatevka arising from the depths of an American Jewish unconscious to haunt the nightmares of their dysfunctional descendants....

    • EIGHT The Shoah as Israel’s Political Trope
      (pp. 192-216)

      Locating a place for the Shoah in Israel’s national narrative proved complicated and controversial from the beginning.¹ However, only in recent years has the placement and displacement, centrality and marginality, and use and misuse of the Shoah been subjected to critical analysis. Of course there is nothing particularly surprising that a time span of fifty years would yield changes in the ways in which a past event is remembered and understood. Organic lapses in memory, modified self-understanding, new research findings, and the creation of expectations as a result of social and political transformations can alter not only our relationship to...

    • NINE ‘‘I Am Other’’: The Holocaust Survivor’s Point of View in Yehudit Hendel’s Short Story “They Are Others”
      (pp. 217-237)

      A central dichotomy in Israeli culture between Diaspora Jew and Hebrew Israeli aims to eliminate Israeli culture’s hybridity and consolidate a homogeneous Hebrew identity. Zionism fashioned the Hebrew-Israeli identity by negating everything that threatened this homogeneity, especially the Jewish Diaspora. This dichotomy of Diaspora Jews and Israeli Hebrews is most saliently expressed in works dealing with Holocaust survivors. In these texts, the Holocaust survivor embodies Diaspora culture and history, and his identity, cultural world, and fate contrast with Hebrew culture, the history ofEretz Israel(the land of Israel), and the Zionist program.

      Many stories, novels, and films written and produced...

    • TEN “A Drastically Bifurcated Legacy”: Homeland and Jewish Identity in Contemporary Jewish American Literature
      (pp. 238-255)

      In a telling scene in Philip Roth’s novelThe Counterlife,the protagonist, Nathan Zuckerman, detects what he describes as a familiar “American-Jewish inferiority complex” in a fellow passenger on the plane leaving Tel Aviv.¹ Having been overwhelmed by Israeli attempts to persuade him that “the one place in the world that’s really Jewish and only Jewish is Israel,” his seatmate asks him anxiously, “WhydoJews persist in living in the Diaspora? . . . After everything I’ve seen, I don’t know what to say. Does anybody know? Cananyoneanswer?” With characteristic flippancy, Zuckerman dismisses him with a short reply: “Because...

    • ELEVEN The Impact of Statehood on the Hebrew Literary Imagination: Haim Hazaz and the Zionist Narrative
      (pp. 256-274)

      The intimate relation between modern Hebrew literature and the development of the Jewish community in Eretz Yisrael, first in the Yishuv (the Jewish community in Palestine) and then in the sovereign State of Israel, is one of the fundamental, intriguing phenomena of modern Jewish history. During the pre-state period, the Hebrew literary establishment was one of the salient components of “ha-medinah baderekh,” the crystallization of interlocking institutions which grew from the First Aliya onward and were in place and operative when the state was declared. In fact, most of the Hebrew literary establishment—writers, publishers, booksellers—had settled in mandatory...


    • TWELVE Becoming Ethnic, Becoming American: Different Patterns and Configurations of the Assimilation of Eastern European Jews, 1890–1940
      (pp. 277-303)

      Few historians would question today the diversity of the ways in which Jewish immigrants and their offspring incorporated themselves into the local societies in which they settled. Most historical studies of different American Jewish communities that have accumulated over the past two decades—obviously important contributions to our knowledge of American Jewish history—are community or case investigations, focused exclusively on one place. Enough material now exists to take a comparative approach and examine the specific situations that generated and sustained (or weakened) particular patterns of Jews’ adaptation to the host American society in various localities. This chapter is intended...

    • THIRTEEN Strangers No Longer: Jews and Postwar American Political Culture
      (pp. 304-318)

      My subject is a radical shift in the standing and self-consciousness of Jews in the United States during and just after the Second World War. What Arthur Hertzberg has called “four centuries of an uneasy encounter” became far less watchful. During the 1930s, he noted, the morale of America’s Jewish community had touched bottom. The Depression, resurgent anti-Semitism, a decline in immigrant, primarily Yiddish, cultural institutions, and the grim news from Palestine and especially from the heartland of Europe diminished Jewish confidence. By the middle 1950s, by contrast, when the tercentenary of Jewish life in America was being commemorated, the...

    • FOURTEEN Changing Places, Changing Cultures: Divergent Jewish Political Cultures
      (pp. 319-332)

      This chapter starts by posing a question that cannot help but fascinate students of human culture and behavior—in our particular case, Jewish culture and behavior. How is it that Jews from the same communities in the Old World—in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, or the Mediterranean world—within a relatively short time after their emigration to the new worlds of the United States and Israel came to manifest significant political cultural differences, at least overtly? How do we account for those political cultural transformations or shifts? This question poses a problem both in the study of culture, particularly political...

  8. Epilogue: On Living in Two Cultures
    (pp. 333-350)

    These recollections are grounded in those extraordinary years in the aftermath of the Second World War when American Jews mobilized their resources in support of the Yishuv’s struggle for statehood. The story has been told and retold: how American Zionists spearheaded the creation of an American Jewish consensus, wrung political support from a reluctant administration, raised unprecedented sums to purchase the ships to transport displaced persons to Palestine and war materials for the Haganah, and how a remarkably disciplined organization activated the thousands who participated in the political rallies, protest marches, and picket lines. Indeed, eminent public figures once indifferent...

  9. Index
    (pp. 351-358)