cover image The Wonders of America: Reinventing Jewish Culture 1880-1950

The Wonders of America: Reinventing Jewish Culture 1880-1950

Jenna Weissman Joselit, Weissman J. Joselit. Hill & Wang, $23 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-8090-2757-6

A treasure trove of wondrous, forgotten lore, this vibrant social history explores how three generations of American Jews improvised on traditions to fashion a singular culture that redefined Jewish identity. Joselit (Our Gang) maintains that American Jews, in deciding what was culturally meaningful and worth preserving in Jewish observance and ritual, largely followed their own counsel, relying as much on American notions of personal happiness, privacy and consumerism as on Jewish tradition. The resulting ``Jewishness,'' he says, was a malleable construct rooted in a domesticity that made few demands on its adherents yet called forth exuberant, short-lived displays of Jewish identification at key moments in the life cycle-birth, adolescence, marriage, death. Joselit, who teaches in Princeton's religion department, draws on a vast array of materials-parenting manuals, advertisements, cookbooks, sermons, Yiddish etiquette manuals, school primers, etc.-to show how American Jews fused the sacred and the vernacular. Photos. (Feb.)