Sheila E. JelenApr 12, 2021
Post-Holocaust American Jewish Folk Ethnographies
In Salvage Poetics: Post-Holocaust American Jewish Folk Ethnographies (Wayne State University Press, 2020), Sheila Jelen explores how American Jewish post-Holocaust writers, scholars, and editors adapted pre-Holocaust works, such as Yiddish fiction and documentary photography, for popular consumption by American Jews in the post-Holocaust decades. These texts, Jelen argues, served to help clarify the role of East European Jewish identity in the construction of a post-Holocaust American one. In her analysis of a variety of "hybrid" texts-those that exist on the border between ethnography and art-Jelen traces the gradual shift from verbal to visual Jewish literacy among Jewish Americans after the Holocaust.
S. Ansky's ethnographic expedition (1912-1914) and Martin Buber's adaptation and compilation of Hasidic tales (1906-1935) are presented as a means of contextualizing the role of an ethnographic consciousness in modern Jewish experience and the way in which literary adaptations and mediations create opportunities for the creation of folk ethnographic hybrid texts. Salvage Poetics looks at classical texts of the American Jewish experience in the second half of the twentieth century, such as Maurice Samuel's The World of Sholem Aleichem (1944), Abraham Joshua Heschel's The Earth Is the Lord's (1950), Elizabeth Herzog and Mark Zborowski's Life Is with People (1952), Lucy Dawidowicz's The Golden Tradition (1967), and Roman Vishniac's A Vanished World (1983), alongside other texts that consider the symbiotic relationship between pre-Holocaust aesthetic artifacts and their postwar reframings and reconsiderations.
Salvage Poetics is particularly attentive to how literary scholars deploy the notion of "ethnography" in their readings of literature in languages and/or cultures that are considered "dead" or "dying" and how their definition of an "ethnographic" literary text speaks to and enhance the scientific discipline of ethnography. This book makes a fresh contribution to the fields of American Jewish cultural and literary studies and art history.
Sheila E. Jelen is associate professor of Hebrew and Jewish studies in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at the University of Kentucky, Lexington.
Schneur Zalman Newfield is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York, and the author of Degrees of Separation: Identity Formation While Leaving Ultra-Orthodox Judaism (Temple University Press, 2020). Visit him online at ZalmanNewfield.com.