Lower East Side Memories: A Jewish Place in America

Hasia R. Diner, Author, Beryl Lieff Benderly, Author
Hasia R. Diner, Author, Beryl Lieff Benderly, Author Princeton University Press $37.5 (240p) ISBN 978-0-691-00747-2
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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.)
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