The 1950s and early 1960s have not traditionally been viewed as a particularly creative era in American Jewish life. On the contrary, these years have been painted as a period of inactivity and Americanization. As if exhausted by the traumas of World War II, the American Jewish community took a rest until suddenly reawakened by the 1967 Six-Day War and its implications for world Jewry. Recent scholarship, however, has demonstrated that previous assumptions about the early silence of American Jewry with regard to the Holocaust were exaggerated. And while historians have expanded their borders and definitions to encompass the postwar decades, scholars from other disciplines have been paying increasing attention to the unique literary, photographic, artistic, dramatic, political, and other cultural creations of this period and the ways in which they hearken back to not only the Holocaust itself but also to images of prewar Eastern Europe.
Reconstructing the Old Country: American Jewry in the Post-Holocaust Decades brings together scholars of literature, art, history, ethnography, and related fields to examine how the American Jewish community in the post-Holocaust era was shaped by its encounter with literary relics, living refugees, and other cultural productions which grew out of an encounter with Eastern European Jewish life from the pre-Holocaust era. In particular, editors Eliyana R. Adler and Sheila E. Jelen are interested in three different narratives and their occasional intersections. The first narrative is the real, hands-on interaction between American Jews and European Jewish refugees and how the two groups influenced one another. Second were the imaginative reconstructions of a wartime or prewar Jewish world to meet the needs of a postwar American Jewish audience. Third is the narrative in which the Holocaust was mobilized to justify postwar political and philanthropic activism.
Reconstructing the Old Country will contribute to the growing scholarly conversation about the postwar years in a variety of fields. Scholars and students of American Jewish history and literature in particular will appreciate this internationally focused scholarship on the continuing reverberations of the Second World War and the Holocaust.
Eliyana R. Adler is an associate professor of history and Jewish studies at the Pennsylvania State University. She specializes in modern Eastern European Jewish history with an emphasis on gender, education, religion, and migration. Her publications include In Her Hands: The Education of Jewish Girls in Tsarist Russia (Wayne State University Press, 2011) and Jewish Literature and History: An Interdisciplinary Conversation, co-edited with Sheila Jelen.
Sheila E. Jelen is an associate professor of English, comparative literature, and Jewish studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. She specializes in modern Jewish literature and culture with an emphasis on gender, the literature of the Holocaust, and Hebrew and American-Jewish literature. Her publications include Intimations of Difference: Dvora Baron in the Modern Hebrew Renaissance and Modern Jewish Literatures: Intersections and Boundaries, co-edited with Michael Kramer and Scott Lerner.