From Publishers Weekly
New York City's Lower East Side
is understood by many to be the epicenter of Jewish American heritage, culture and history. From egg creams to the Yiddish theater, from "real" rye bread to Al Jolson and The Jazz Singer, this "Jewish ghetto," as it was known in the 1920s, was thought to be the place where all Jews immigrated and lived. In this inventive and often startling reevaluation of popular belief, Diner (the Steinberg professor of Jewish American history at New York University) examines the historical reality of the Lower East Side. In accessible prose, she charts "the sacralization" of this neighborhood in the 1940s, and shows how "the Lower East Side has become fixed in American Jewish memory as the site from which a single story has been told," even though there were Jewish communities all over New York City and the rest of the country. Likening the legend of the Lower East Side to that of Plymouth Rock, Diner examines such diverse texts as Irving Howe's The World of Our Fathers, Mickey Katz's Jewish comedy records of the 1950s, Disney's animated film An American Tale, Henry Roth's Call It Sleep and the famous "Simpsons" parody of The Jazz Singer, to show how postwar and post-Holocaust Jewish culture mythologized immigration to the Lower East Side
and, after that, integration into mainstream American culture as a universal story of Jewish freedom. Diner's research and conclusions are both convincing and original. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Yiddish is a near-dead language. Anti-Semitism, once openly expressed, is now frowned upon, at least publicly. Many American Jews feel threatened by the drive for assimilation. Thus, for many Jews, including those outside of New York, the Lower East Side conjures up an image of a lost world and elicits a wistful nostalgia. Diner is professor of American Jewish history at New York University. Of course, she examines the Lower East Side as it actually existed, and that reality included considerable squalor, disease, and hopelessness. But she is also concerned with the creation of a "memory culture." In that culture, this predominantly Jewish neighborhood was a shining light of Jewish homogeneity, where Jews could be "fully Jewish," untainted by assimilation, suburbanization, and ascension to the middle class. This is both an enjoyable and an important contribution to local and ethnic history. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.