Red, Black, and Jew: New Frontiers in Hebrew Literature

Synopsis

Between 1890 and 1924, more than two million Jewish immigrants landed on America's shores. The story of their integration into American society, as they traversed the difficult path between assimilation and retention of a unique cultural identity, is recorded in many works by American Hebrew writers. Red, Black, and Jew illuminates a unique and often overlooked aspect of these literary achievements, charting the ways in which the Native American and African American creative cultures served as a model for works produced within the minority Jewish community. Exploring the paradox of Hebrew literature in the United States, in which separateness, and engagement and acculturation, are equally strong impulses, Stephen Katz presents voluminous examples of a process that could ultimately be considered Americanization. Key components of this process, Katz argues, were poems and works of prose fiction written in a way that evoked Native American forms or African American folk songs and hymns. Such Hebrew writings presented America as a unified society that could assimilate all foreign cultures. At no other time in the history of Jews in diaspora have Hebrew writers considered the fate of other minorities to such a degree. Katz also explores the impact of the creation of the state of Israel on this process, a transformation that led to ambivalence in American Hebrew literature as writers were given a choice between two worlds. Reexamining long-neglected writers across a wide spectrum, Red, Black, and Jew celebrates an important chapter in the history of Hebrew belles lettres.