Page 30 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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JOSEPH C. LANDIS
America and Yiddish Literature
T
h e
pr ev a il ing
o p in io n
am o n g
Yiddish writers and readers is
that modern Yiddish literature constitutes a single transoceanic
entity, transcending territorial borders, as East-European Jewish
culture was integral and transcended political geography. The
unity of the literature derives from the unity of the cohesive
Jewish culture which produced the overwhelming majority of
Yiddish writers. In addition, Yiddish writers have been bound
together by a sense of belonging to such a single entity, by an
overwhelming sense of allegiance to Yiddish literature as a cause
as well as a literary tradition.
Yet, in spite of the reluctance of Yiddish writers and critics to
think of Yiddish literature as anything but an integral totality,
there is also evident a recognition of the great bifurcation which
produced two major and very different streams of literature in
Yiddish, despite their common matrix and the constant contacts
and interactions between them. As Shmuel Niger observed,
“While European Yiddish literature was becoming Europeanized,
American Yiddish literature was becoming Americanized.”1
Americanization for Yiddish writers who emigrated here as
well as for the few who were born here clearly meant more than
literary subject matter. What requires assessment is the total
impact of America on the Jewish consciousness in general as well
as on the Yiddish literary mind. America entered into the very
marrow of its Yiddish writers and claimed them even when they
did not claim it; and what emerged was a wholly distinctive-
one might almost say “native”—American Yiddish literature. It
became outlook and spirit and mood, a platform for viewing the
world and a manner of viewing it and America itself. The world
looked different from behind the Golden Door and so did Jewish
destiny. America was an experience wholly different from that of
Europe, and what occurred was, as Joseph Opatoshu noted, “an
i Shmuel Niger, “Yiddish Literature During the Past Two Hundred Years,”
The Jewish People, Past and Present,
New York, 1952, vol. I l l , p. 204.
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