Reading Israel, Reading America
The Politics of Translation between Jews
Omri Asscher

BUY THIS BOOK


Introduction

Translating across the Homeland–Diaspora Divide

In Israeli author David Shahar’s His Majesty’s Agent, the Israeli narrator, a soldier in the Yom Kippur War, is instructed to accompany American Jewish author and intellectual Abie Driesel to a military post in Sinai. Driesel had been invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to observe the events of the war and shine a flattering light on Israel in the United States. Shahar makes little effort to conceal that Driesel, who arrives with an extravagant entourage of adoring aides, is the mirror image of American Jewish icon Elie Wiesel. He also does little to disguise what he thinks of him: from the outset, Driesel is described in a particularly negative light, as a pompous, greedy, and self-indulgent man. Considering Wiesel’s iconic status in the American Jewish community and the weighty circumstances of his visit—an existential war in Israel—Shahar’s satirical tone would seem to imply a blunt attack on American Jewry as a whole. However, the American objects of this criticism never faced this critique as it was written. As a close textual comparison of the original and translated versions reveals, Wiesel-Driesel in the Hebrew source was reincarnated as an entirely different character en route to a (Jewish) American audience. In addition to changing the character’s name from Abie Driesel to Jules Levi in order to mask his true identity, various manipulations in the translated version systematically subdue the attack on Wiesel. Without the knowledge of the translator or author, paragraphs and sometimes entire pages ridiculing Wiesel in the original novel were edited out.1

A 1971 review of Saul Bellow’s novel Herzog by Israeli critic Alexander Barzel suggested an explicit correlation between the establishment of the state of Israel and the fact that “Jewish men of letters around the world have begun to speak their mind, and not only as authors, but as Jews, with a full consciousness of their uniqueness.” The review went on to assume that “the Jewish state is perhaps the ‘sound box’ of the Jewish writer’s voice in the world, lending power to his voice.”2 Jewish American literature, according to Barzel, does not prosper on its merits alone; Israel not only inspired Bellow to use a “Jewish” voice but also amplified the literary effect of his work. Jewish creativity in the diaspora, it is implied, cannot be credited with independent achievements. The review, though gushing with admiration for the novel and its creator, ended with the following somber statement: “A sad thought pierces the heart: why don’t Sha’ul Bellow and his peers come home, to the nation’s homeland, to forge the conceptual weaponry and armor of the Jewish soul?”3 The common spelling Saul was used throughout the rest of his review, yet here Barzel chose to Hebraize the name of the Jewish American author and underscore precisely where, in his view, the home and homeland of the Jews is—and thereby precisely where it is not. Clearly, according to Barzel, the Jewish American novelist ought to have belonged to the national endeavor of Israeli culture, whose setting and language provide the means for authentic Jewish creation. This statement seals the review, suggesting the impression Barzel might have sought to leave on his readers and lending it greater weight. Barzel’s review, as a prism through which the Hebrew reader could discover the novel and comprehend its meaning, was vastly different from the critical lens through which American Jewish readers experienced the same novel.

The genre and language of the two texts I’ve described here, the country in which they were published, their role in the target audience culture—all of these differ. The ways in which the texts mediated the source works to their readers aimed for, and probably achieved, different outcomes. But these texts nonetheless offer particular instances of one broad, complex phenomenon: the politics of translation between Jews. In both cases, a literary text written in one language by a Jewish author was mediated by a Jewish cultural agent to the audience of its translation—a primarily Jewish audience. In both cases, the novel was part of an oeuvre often framed as “Jewish,” or having traits that were considered “Jewish.” Indeed, Hebrew literature and Jewish American literature are both linked by academic research and public discourse to the large Jewish communities in Israel and the United States, and questions regarding the history and core identity of these communities are central to the respective literary fields.4 Therefore, the translation and mediation of literary texts for readers across these communities represent a symbolic and practical juncture between these two Jewish groups, staging a conversation of sorts, or negotiation of ideas, between two platforms of Jewish identity.

These cases may be usefully and productively seen as instances of “internal” Jewish translation, then, because the Jewish communities in Israel and America are not only the two major centers of world Jewry since the end of World War II but also the two primary sources of collective and individual Jewish identity. Both of these societies offer possible answers to the question of what it means to be Jewish in the modern era, and each has sometimes been highly critical of the other’s answers when they diverge from its own. The answers and misgivings these communities offer, and the versions of Jewish identity they represent, vary to a great extent. These disparate identities represent differences in national, ethnic, and religious affiliation, social and cultural circumstances, and the challenges posed for Jews in the past and present. Their histories, too, are largely unique; the ways in which these communities have come to understand themselves, and their roles in the Jewish world, clearly differ.

One of the most intriguing, evocative arenas in which these contrasts have been expressed is the literary production of each of these cultures. Thus the movement of such literary works across the two cultures, their migration from “home turf” to foreign field, innately challenged and confronted each community with the otherness of its counterpart. The features of translation, and other mediations surrounding belles-lettres, could thus attest to the degree of closeness or detachment between the two groups. Moreover, they could reveal what each group has sought to find in the other, what it has chosen to reject and adopt, and how it has pursued these ends, often covertly, through literary discourse. The two aforementioned examples are cases in point, the first in relation to the absorption of Hebrew literature by American (Jewish) culture and the second to the absorption of Jewish American literature in Israel. By testifying to ideological dispositions above and below the surface of Israel–diaspora interplay, they demonstrate the hidden potential of defining such literary translation as internal Jewish exchange. They show that this definition not only is conceptually sound but also serves as a fruitful source of insight.

As scholars have increasingly recognized in recent decades, translation is not simply a “mirror,” and its significance as an object of study extends well beyond its reflection of cultural and ideological sensibilities. In fact, translation plays an active role in the cross-cultural transfer of ideas, narratives, and symbols. The field of translation studies, a relatively young discipline, has been described as “the framework par excellence for research into the formation, transfer and change of cultural (and not just textual or linguistic) repertoires.”5 Indeed, it is hard to imagine the histories of Eastern and Western thought without the profound effect of translation on the transfer of concepts, aesthetics, and ideologies—and Jewish history is no different in this respect. This is as true for the annals of cultural intersections between Jews and non-Jews as it is for interaction among different Jewish groups.6 All agents of literary translation, in the words of translation theorist Michaela Wolf, are “socially constructed and constructing subjects”—a description that easily applies to those involved in the movements of Jewish literature as well.7 For this reason, the omission of any reference to the Palestinian Nakba in the English translation of Yoram Kaniuk’s Confessions of a Good Arab, say, or the selective interpretation in Israeli reviews of Jewish/non-Jewish boundaries in Bernard Malamud’s The Assistant not only reflect an ideological leaning but also participate in its perpetuation. The mediation of images and ideas, so deeply ingrained in the movement of text across cultures, has carried a significance well beyond the realm of literary style. Influential cultural agents such as translators, editors, and literary critics have participated both overtly and covertly in crafting a portrait of the “Jewishness” across the ocean for their local readers.

Divergent Historical Destinies

Processes of translation provide a unique lens for the examination of social and ideological relations between any two groups. However, I argue that the practice of translation carries a particularly profound meaning in the juncture between a diaspora and its country of origin or symbolic homeland. This holds especially true in the context of the intra-Jewish translation at the heart of this book. The divergent histories of Israeli and American Jews, and the nature of the relationship between these two centers of Jewry, transform translation into a doubly powerful research paradigm.

The reason for the particularly revealing quality of translation in the case of the relationship between these two centers of Jewry is rooted in a combination of historical factors. Broadly speaking, the most influential twentieth-century forms of Jewish collectivity in Israel and the United States sprang from a common Jewish geographical space in Eastern Europe, where a shared Jewish language was spoken. Upon migration to Jewish centers in Palestine and the United States, the common “territory” and “language” were replaced with new, distinct territories and languages, which were destined to fill a vital role in the cultivation of a new ethos and divergent cultural identities in each center. The reliance of each society on its own territory and language, along with the historical significance that these concepts would come to embody, created ideological discrepancies between the two centers. Nonetheless, these two societies never ceased to feel a sense of belonging to Klal Yisrael, the broader Jewish collective, and largely saw themselves as partners in a common Jewish identity. The two communities felt an affinity to one another and sought to sustain a mutual relationship (to varying degrees, depending on historical circumstances).

Translation is, inherently, a practice that crosses spatial and linguistic boundaries. Precisely by replacing the original territory and language of the text with another, translation enables, mirrors, and impacts the aforementioned cross-cultural link. In both Jewish societies, literature played an undeniable role in the cultivation of collective identity, both reflecting this identity and offering a useful key to its understanding. By crossing geolinguistic boundaries, literary translation mediated these representations of identity to audiences across the ocean, serving as a textual bridge between the two centers of world Jewry. Thus literary translation and its accompanying discourse make ideal vessels for examining the relationship between the two centers.

In the case of Israel and American Jewry, then, literary translation does more than enrich our knowledge of an intricate intercultural encounter in the twentieth century. It goes beyond offering a fresh perspective that can reveal the underlying ideologies that remain unmentioned in political or religious discourse, speeches, sermons, or legislation. In our particular context, translation inherently underscores the tension stemming from the simultaneous, comparative, mutual existence of the two major segments of world Jewry, Israel and the United States; it touches, by definition, on a tension intrinsic to the very being of these two centers and their ideological disparities.

Key differences between the histories of these groups help to establish a wider context for this tension. The end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century saw a far-reaching “quiet revolution” in the Jewish world: millions of Jews left their homes in vast regions of Eastern Europe, mainly the Russian Empire, with no intention of returning.8 They uprooted their families and traveled to foreign shores, where they hoped to establish new lives. This historical shift irreversibly changed the Jewish world in modern times, repositioning it in new centers of influence. Fewer Jews may have chosen to immigrate to Palestine than traveled to America, but the scale gradually balanced out over the course of the twentieth century. Largely due to the horrific outcome of World War II, Israel and the United States became the two largest and most significant centers of the Jewish world. There was no competing with the dominance of these two collectives in Jewish life—not in terms of population size, cultural and intellectual creation, or political significance. Unlike the stories of European Jewish communities, which were all but ended by World War II and the Holocaust, or the story of Jewish life in Muslim countries, which had largely dwindled during the immigration waves of the 1950s and 1960s—and notwithstanding the vitality and importance of smaller Jewish communities in other parts of the world—the ongoing histories of these two centers reflect the broad Jewish story still being told and the major Jewish history still being written.

The relationship between these two Jewish centers has always attracted intellectual contemplation. What has been the historical significance of each center, or what should it be, in light of its counterpart? Does each constitute a conceptual or practical challenge to the validity of the other? Scores of historians, intellectuals, and rabbis in Israel and the United States have addressed these and similar questions, each in his or her own way. Different thinkers have worked to articulate the substance of a primarily ethnoreligious Jewish life in the American diaspora in light of the challenging presence of a sovereign Jewish state and to describe Israeli life against the background of the pluralistic, flourishing model of acculturated Jewish existence in America. To be sure, approaches to defining the underpinnings of identity in these two communities have varied widely. Still, many of the thinkers who have dwelled on the subject share two common premises: territory and language. Whether they endorsed or rejected the negation of exile (or diasporism), assumed a hierarchy between the two centers, or sought to equalize them, most engaged theoretically and concretely with these two concepts.9 Even if divided on their relative significance or meaning, historians and thinkers were still inclined to consider the respective territories and languages of these groups as incisive foundations pertinent to collective identity.

Prior to their dispersion, many of the Eastern European immigrants who were destined to shape the Jewish centers in Palestine (and later Israel) and the United States had in fact shared a common territory and language.10 Before emigrating, the vast majority of them resided in the Pale of Settlement in the Russian Empire, a widespread region characterized by a largely distinct, concentrated, richly Jewish environment. One of the defining features of this Jewish population, which also carried great emotional weight, was the Jewish language it shared—Yiddish. Naturally, this was greatly impacted by immigration. In fact, as revealed but one or two generations later, the change immigration yielded was irreversible: once the immigrants settled in their new countries, their children and grandchildren adopted other languages, Hebrew and English, with which they lived their lives and expressed their identities. “Besides sharing a common European origin,” literary scholar Ranen Omer-Sherman suggests, “in the early days the new Jews of America and Palestine alike were linked by a giddy sense of fraught potential—a common desire to forget their origins, to break away from the inherent disabilities of the old world.”11 Territory and language, once a common denominator, became the seeds of a deep disparity between the two groups.

Over the years, these territories and languages became vital resources for the formation of identity in each community. Most significantly, the Yishuv (and later the State of Israel) drew upon the land of Israel and the Hebrew language as springboards for national identity. Two cornerstones of Zionism, land and language were arguably the most crucial components of the proposed Zionist solution to the crisis of European Jewry in its troubled transition to modernity, facing internal cultural degeneration and external antisemitic attack.12 The value attached to these concepts was hardly the same among all Zionist thinkers: the founder of modern political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, and the father of cultural Zionism, Ahad Ha‘am, for instance, were divided on the relative significance of these two concepts. However, as Jewish settlement in Eretz-Israel grew, the understanding of collective identity as founded “upon two future poles of a national land and a national language”13 took root as the prevailing zeitgeist. It is impossible to overstate the significance of the land of Israel and the Hebrew language—as reflected in cultural production, political discourse, and both the public and institutional spheres—in shaping the collective ethos of Jewish nationalism. After the foundation of the state, the educational and cultural establishments continued to cultivate the importance of these two components, which in turn became the self-evident pillars of Israeli consciousness. “I tell you, they are still everything. Everything. A land and a language!” Israeli American author Hillel Halkin stated ardently in 1977. “They are the ground beneath a people’s feet and the air it breathes in and out.”14 Hebrew literature published in Israel was both a concrete and a symbolic manifestation of this sentiment, even if at its best it dealt chiefly with the difficulties of realizing the Zionist ethos.15

Beginning in the late nineteenth century, as large immigration waves arrived from the Pale of Settlement, Jewish American collective identity was transformed by new linguistic and territorial dispositions as well. The crowded ghetto of the Lower East Side played a decisive role as “Jewish territory” in the context of an evolving American Jewish identity16 and was followed by the concentrated urban areas and later their suburban counterparts, which played a similar role. Literature became a prominent site of expression for these spatial transitions. Surely, the portrayal of Jewish life in these American spaces was often problematized and critical—yet this does not detract from the centrality of the American environment to Jewish identity but rather accentuates it. Sarah Phillips Casteel suggested recently that, as with Hebrew literature in the Israeli Zionist context, “in Jewish writing across the Americas, we can identify a related project of ‘bringing a Jew into a landscape’—of constructing a territorialized Jewish identity and sense of belonging to the land.”17 As for language, Jewish immigrants—or at least their second generation—by and large embraced the English tongue with enthusiasm. Abraham Cahan, the legendary editor of the Forward who had a profound effect on the integration of immigrant Jews into American society in the early twentieth century, devoted many of his Yiddish editorials to the pragmatic-ideological demand that Jewish immigrants learn English, later turning himself to English literary writing.18 Mary Antin famously celebrated her new language in sweeping terms, declaring that “in any other language happiness is not so sweet, logic is not so clear.”19 During the 1950s and 1960s, prominent Jewish American writers were met with criticism (its antisemitic undertones scarcely veiled) for blighting the purity of the English language with Yiddishisms. In 1970, writer and essayist Cynthia Ozick went so far as to call English “the new Yiddish” and suggested it be cultivated as the literary, cultural, and even liturgical language of its Jewish American speakers.20 Recent sociolinguistic research has claimed that American Jews speak a Jewish variation of English, which carries phonological, lexical, and metalinguistic characteristics distinct from American English.21 Thus, American Jews not only established English as a central component of their identity but also infused it with Jewish features over time, adopting it by “Judaizing” it.22

The function fulfilled by the American landscape and English language in American Jewish identity can also be observed from another angle: as a Jewish American response to the territorial and linguistic challenge of Israeli nationalism. National identity in Israel was founded not merely on a different territory and language but on the historical land and language of the Jewish people, which carry unique symbolic capital—prompting some Zionist thinkers to go so far as to claim that this land and language are the exclusive foundations of Jewish identity. Assertions such as Amos Oz’s claim that American Jews seeking to lead a full and fulfilling Jewish life have essentially two options before them—make aliyah or, at least, study Hebrew23—were not foreign to the ears of the American Jewish public. In response to this approach, several Jewish American intellectuals went to great lengths to explain why being an American Zionist had little to do with immigrating to Israel and why life on American soil did not make one a less “authentic” Jew.24 Others highlighted the spatial dimension of Jewish American identity in literary work. “Zionism has roused the territorial and national awareness of Jews worldwide,” literary scholar David Roskies suggests, “[and] resuscitated a new demand for a space or a place.”25 The same held true for grappling with the question of language and the challenge embodied by Hebrew. Saul Bellow’s little-concealed rage about the nationalist-Zionist assumption that Jewish literature can be written solely in Hebrew attests to the intensity of emotion that was often involved.26 It is therefore not only how they adopted English and made it their own but also their rejoinder to Zionist demands to adopt Hebrew that demonstrates the significance of American English to the authors and their identity. It is not merely writing about the American landscape as an act of ownership—the oft-quoted opening of Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March: “I am an American, Chicago-born” comes to mind—that demonstrates the centrality of territory to Jewish American thought but also the defensive response to the Zionist demand for aliyah.

Surely it is no coincidence that both communities perceived territory and language to be integral to their identities. Many communities throughout history, including nonsovereign ones, have seen geographical space and a common language as a realization, even a precondition, of collective identity. However, the uniqueness of our case lies in the fact that these are not random or disparate national groups that barely interact or are fundamentally hostile. The opposite is true: for many centuries, the very distinction of the Jewish people was that despite geographic and linguistic dispersion, scattered Jewish communities continued to see themselves as one social entity. Broadly speaking, they perceived themselves not only as members of a common religion but also as organs of Klal Yisrael, constituents of a single nation, and, in the words of historian Yosef Gorny, exhibited a “largely persistent subjective desire to uphold Jewish collectivity, despite disagreements upon the latter’s content and values.”27 This sentiment has been expressed in acts of solidarity and mutual aid between Jewish communities; but no less important, it was realized in continuous correspondence surrounding issues that were seen as relevant to the Jewish people as a whole.

This correspondence not only utilized written texts—naturally the primary mode of communication between distant communities in previous centuries—but also revolved around texts and their interpretation. It was both written and deeply and intensely concerned with the written word. In lieu of other cohesive elements such as a common territory, the text itself became the tribal campfire and a crucial generator of collective identity. “Since inception, our diaspora has undermined its dispersion,” Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger suggest succinctly. “It was centralized by the written word.”28 In previous centuries, most Jewish texts discussed halakhic questions or matters of religious interpretation. In the modern era, the centrality of text to Jewish life has not diminished; belles-lettres, in its many forms, became a prominent heir of the religious texts of earlier periods. In light of this long-standing Jewish tradition, twentieth-century thinkers as divergent in ideological orientation as Leo W. Schwarz, Harold Bloom, and George Steiner even defined Jewish literature as an “alternative homeland” for the Jews.29

One does not have to accept such contentions at face value to acknowledge that literature has had a unique significance in both the Israeli and Jewish American centers in the twentieth century. These communities, the two most prolific generators of Jewish texts in this era, have historically bestowed preeminent status upon the literary text. The basic experience in the two Jewish centers may have differed greatly, and their cultural and intellectual production has been largely distinct and, of course, expressed in different languages. But if there was any resemblance to the collective expression of these two Jewish cultures, it was in their use of the literary text as a vital sphere of deliberation on the question of identity.

Almost since its inception, modern Hebrew literature has been assigned a leading role in the cultural and national revival of the Jewish people, first in the Jewish hubs of Eastern Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century and later in Eretz-Israel. Ever since the revival generation, Hebrew literature has fulfilled, in the words of Hayim Nahman Bialik, “The authoritative role of governing the spiritual world of the Hebrew audience,” has served as a “guide to the nation,”30 and has accounted for some of the most enduring—and largely influential—representations of developing national life. The work of writers and poets was seen as one of the most profound reflections of change in the life of the nation during both the Yishuv period and the statehood years that followed. Baruch Kurzweil’s memorable statement upon the publication of My Michael by Amos Oz in 1967—that the character of Hannah Gonen was more dangerous to Israel than all of the Arab armies put together—attests to the emotions that often erupted out of the tension between the defiant “autonomy” of literary writing and the collective significance attributed to it in Israeli discourse. The uproar in response to the Ministry of Education’s 2015 decision to remove Dorit Rabinyan’s All the Rivers, which describes a relationship between a Jewish woman and a Palestinian in New York, from the high school curriculum indicates that the social-national significance assigned to literary texts in Israeli discourse, even if diminished, still remains.

Literary texts have constituted vital collective testimony in the American Jewish context as well. Exhibiting immense growth in the decades between the late nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, Jewish American publishing was just as ideological a goal as it was a literary or commercial one: to forge a new center of Jewish culture and unite American Jewry “into a nationwide community bound together by a common culture of print.”31 The decades following World War II, arguably the golden age of Jewish American writing in the United States, were not only years of unprecedented individual literary achievement, with Jewish authors integrating into the American mainstream and earning institutional recognition and praise; they were also a time when Jewish writers were considered to jointly form a significant corpus of work in contemporary American letters.32 Despite objections voiced by some of these writers, public and intellectual debates have identified them as Jewish authors and analyzed the characteristics of their works, separately or conjointly, as Jewish, both in real time and in later decades. Following in the footsteps of Arnold Eisen, Ranen Omer-Sherman has described the communal role that was, to a certain extent, imposed on Jewish authors in the United States—to articulate the collective essence of Jewish American culture in the absence of a shared daily experience or the public means to do so.33 Recently, Jewish American literature has been described as a “primary centering force in the lives of American Jews” and has even been reconsidered in collective theological terms as an “American Talmud.”34

Surely the collective dimensions of Hebrew literature have differed from those of Jewish American literature. I will expand later upon how the distinction between these two forms of collectivity found expression in translation and how these shaped reception discourse in both Jewish cultures. What is most significant for our purposes, however, is that both of these literatures, Hebrew and Jewish American, were often ascribed a representative, communal function. The vehement objection sometimes expressed toward this assumption, particularly among the authors themselves, actually corroborates the extent to which this notion was ingrained in both Jewish cultures.

“Writing itself, for Jews,” argues American Victoria Aarons, “has been that center of gravity that has given weight and meaning to their lives . . . storytelling itself the still point in the turning world.”35 “The imperative component or condition that defines us as a nation,” Israelis Oz and Oz-Salzberger suggest in their interpretation of Saadia Gaon, “is for him just as it is for us, rooted in books.”36 Yet, although the two most significant and influential Jewish groups in the twentieth century used the literary medium to express and deepen their own identity, and despite “the consistent desire, at least among most of the Jewish nation, to share [one collective identity],”37 these communities were hardly inclined or even able to read each other’s literature in its original tongue. The long-established stature of the text as a collective document of Jewish culture may have been preserved in the twentieth century, thus reinforcing the contention of Oz and Oz-Salzberger that “our [Jewish] nationality is fundamentally textual.”38 But unlike other periods in Jewish history, this era saw no truly shared linguistic platform between the communities in Israel and the United States. The two communities and their literatures were separated not only by thousands of miles but also by a linguistic gulf.39

Notes

1. Compare David Shahar, Sochen hod malchuto (Tel Aviv, 2007 [1979]), 279–80, and Shahar, His Majesty’s Agent (New York, 1980), 264. As I have learned from personal correspondence, Bilu herself was unaware of these alterations, and it was presumably the editor who made the changes while shaping the final draft of the translation. Bilu described her close collaboration with Shahar on the translation, as Shahar was her neighbor at the time, and believed that (the now late) Shahar would have been extremely upset to learn about them. (Dalya Bilu, telephone conversation, June 25, 2015).

2. Alexander Barzel, Ha-sihah ha-gedola: masot al tarbut ve-sifrut (Tel Aviv, 1971), 95. Original emphasis. Unless otherwise noted, translations from Hebrew are my own.

3. Barzel, 105. Original emphases.

4. A plethora of scholarly literature has discussed these subjects. Seminal historiographies of Hebrew literature are Gershon Shaked’s monumental Ha-siporet ha-‘ivrit 1880–1980, 5 vols. (Tel Aviv, 1977–1998); and Avner Holtzman, Ahavot tsiyon: panim ba-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ha-hadasha (Jerusalem, 2006). For histories of Jewish American literature, see Stephen Wade, Jewish American Literature since 1945: An Introduction (Edinburgh, 1999); Julian Levinson, Exiles on Main Street: Jewish American Writers and American Literary Culture (Bloomington, Ind., 2008); and Hana Wirth-Nesher, ed., Cambridge History of Jewish American Literature (Cambridge, Mass., 2016).

5. Rakefet Sela-Sheffy, “The Suspended Potential of Culture Research in Translation Studies,” Target 12, no. 2 (2000): 348.

6. The seminal work that introduced historical perspectives to translation studies systematically is Jean Delisle and Judith Woodsworth, eds., Translators through History (Amsterdam, 1995; then revised and expanded by Woodsworth in 2012). Delisle and Woodsworth provide a captivating overview of the key roles played by translators and translations in transformative historical processes through the ages. For a brilliant study of translation in the context of the charged historical relationship between Jews and Christians, see Naomi Seidman, Faithful Renderings: Jewish-Christian Difference and the Politics of Translation (Chicago, 2006). The prism of translation served Seidman as a means of exploring the politics of Jewish–Christian relations, using case studies from antiquity to modern times. For a useful survey of the history of intra-Jewish translation that focuses on Hebrew, see Gideon Toury, “Translation and Reflection on Translation: A Skeletal History for the Uninitiated,” in Jewish Translation History: A Bibliography of Bibliographies and Studies, ed., Robert Singerman (Amsterdam, 2002), ix–xxxii.

7. Michaela Wolf, “Introduction: The Emergence of a Sociology of Translation,” in Constructing a Sociology of Translation, ed. Michaela Wolf and Alexandra Fukari (Amsterdam and Philadelphia, 2007), 3.

8. Gur Alroey, Ha-mahapecha ha-shkeitah: ha-hagira ha-yehudit me-ha-imperiah harussit 1875–1925 (Jerusalem, 2008).

9. See Yosef Gorny, The State of Israel in Jewish Public Thought: The Quest for Collective Identity (New York, 1994). See also the collection of essays and articles in Moshe Davis, ed., World Jewry and the State of Israel (New York, 1977).

10. Although Jews of Mizrahi origin played an undeniable role in the establishment of Israel and formation of Israeli identity, mainstream and elite Israeli culture, politics, and public discourse were dominated throughout most of the twentieth century by leading figures of Eastern European origin, who largely marginalized Mizrahi cultural production. This was evident in the hegemonic literary discourse and major trends of mediation discussed in this book. The perpetuation of the misrepresentation of Mizrahim in Hebrew literature for American Jewish eyes will be touched on in chapter 1.

11. Ranen Omer-Sherman, Diaspora and Zionism in Jewish American Literature: Lazarus, Syrkin, Reznikoff, and Roth (Hanover, N.H., 2002), 4.

12. On conflicts that transpired early on between Zionist thinkers on the relative significance of language (or culture more broadly) and territory (and the political activity pertaining to it), see, for instance, Avner Holtzman, “Ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit ve-pulmus ha-tarbut ha-tsiyonit be-reshita,” in ‘Idan ha-tsiyonut, ed. Anita Shapira, Jehuda Reinharz, and Jacob Harris (Jerusalem, 2000), 145–65.

13. Jakob Klatzkin, “A Nation Must Have Its Own Land and Language,” in The Zionist Idea, ed. Arthur Hertzberg (New York, 1966), 318.

14. Hillel Halkin, Letters to an American Jewish Friend: A Zionist Polemic (Philadelphia, 1977), 182.

15. For a discussion of the ways in which representative Israeli works undermined the Zionist ethos by undercutting the linguistic-Hebraic affinity with, or command over, the Land, see Yaron Peleg, “Writing the Land: Language and Territory in Modern Hebrew Literature,” Journal of Modern Jewish Studies 12, no. 2 (2013): 297–312.

16. Hasia R. Diner, Lower East Side Memories: A Jewish Place in America (Princeton, 2002).

17. Sarah Phillips Casteel, “Landscapes: American and the Americas,” in Wirth-Nesher, History of Jewish American Literature, 416.

18. Irving Howe likened Cahan, in his demands that immigrants learn English, to “a father thrusting a child into the water in the hope it will be forced to swim.” Irving Howe, World of Our Fathers (New York, 1976), 229.

19. Mary Antin, The Promised Land (New York, 1997), 164.

20. Cynthia Ozick, “America: Toward Yavneh,” Judaism 19, no. 3 (1970): 264–82.

21. Sarah Bunin Benor, “Do American Jews Speak a ‘Jewish Language’? A Model of Jewish Linguistic Distinctiveness,” Jewish Quarterly Review 99, no. 2 (2009): 230–69.

22. As Hana Wirth-Nesher shows, the creative encounter of Jewish American writers with English was characterized by highly meaningful traces and ruptures of Hebrew and Yiddish. This multilingual negotiation of belonging was not without struggle and sentiments of loss. Such engagement, however, does not detract from the dominance of English in Jewish American literary identity but rather demonstrates it. Hana Wirth-Nesher, Call It English: The Languages of Jewish American Literature (Princeton, 2006).

23. See, for instance, Amos Oz, “Imagining the Other,” in The Writer in the Jewish Community: An Israeli–North American Dialogue, ed. Richard Siegel and Tamar Sofer (Rutherford, 1993), 122.

24. See, for example, Mordecai Kaplan’s seminal A New Zionism (New York, 1959).

25. David Roskies, “Tsiyonut, makom, ve-hadimyon ha-sifruti ha-yehudi,” in Shapira, Reinharz, and Harris, ‘Idan ha-tsiyonut, 174. In the mid-1960s, some American intellectuals suggested the lack of territoriality of diaspora life as a positive determinant of Jewish identity (Gorny, State of Israel, 97–101). This approach attests, by way of negation, to the centrality of geographical space as a frame of reference in American intellectual thought on Jewish collectivity during these years. This diasporist position was reignited in the 1990s.

26. Zachary Leader, The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune 1915–1964 (New York, 2015), 575.

27. Yosef Gorny, Bein Auschwitz ve-Yerushalayim (Tel Aviv, 1998), 15. The English version of this book from 2003 included some omissions; unless noted otherwise, quotations are translated from the Hebrew source.

28. Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger, Yehudim ve-milim (Jerusalem, 2014), 202. The Hebrew version of this book was published after the English one, and the authors incorporated some changes and new commentary into the text; unless mentioned otherwise, quotations are translated by me from the Hebrew version. An approach similar to the Ozs’ is presented in Victoria Aarons, The New Diaspora: The Changing Landscape of American Jewish Fiction (Detroit, 2015), 11–13.

29. Jeremy Shere, “Collective Portraits: The Anthological Imagination of Leo W. Schwarz,” Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 23, no. 3 (2005): 39.

30. Hayim Nahman Bialik, “Agudat ha-sofrim ve-‘itona,” in Devarim she-be‘al peh (Tel Aviv, 1935), 143.

31. Jonathan D. Sarna, “Two Ambitious Goals: Jewish Publishing in the United States,” in A History of the Book in America, ed. Carl F. Kaestle and Janice A. Radway, vol. 4, Print in Motion: The Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States 1880–1940 (Chapel Hill, 2009), 377. Sarna explains why a comprehensive unification of the Jewish community in the United States did not succeed despite the achievements of Jewish publishing and the centrality of the written text for various factions of American Jewry.

32. Benjamin Schreier, “Making It into the Mainstream: 1945–1970,” in Wirth-Nesher, History of Jewish American Literature, 124–43. Representations of “Jewishness” in this body of works were extremely varied, and it would be disadvantageous to oversimplify the meanings and literary significance of this corpus into reductive categories. This point notwithstanding, the construct “Jewish American literature” was largely perceived as emblematic of (American) Jewishness at least in some cultural and academic discourse, and its centrality in American letters has been undeniable. I will return to this in chapter 4. See also Ruth R. Wisse, “Jewish American Renaissance,” in The Cambridge Companion to Jewish American Literature, ed. Hana Wirth-Nesher and Michael Kramer (Cambridge, 2003), 190–211.

33. Omer-Sherman, Diaspora and Zionism, 4.

34. Ezra Cappell, American Talmud: The Cultural Work of Jewish American Fiction (Albany, N.Y., 2007), 5.

35. Aarons, The New Diaspora, 17.

36. Oz and Oz-Salzberger, Yehudim ve-milim, 26.

37. Gorny, Bein Auschwitz, 15.

38. Oz and Oz-Salzberger, Yehudim ve-milim, 71.

39. The Tarbut Ivrit movement, active in the first decades of the twentieth century, sought to revive Hebrew art and culture and the study of Hebrew on American land. The movement briefly prospered during the 1910s, but later gradually vanished from the cultural landscape. For a useful overview of the Tarbut Ivrit movement in the United States, see Alan Mintz, ed., Hebrew in America: Perspectives and Prospects (Detroit, 1993). For a personal, somewhat suggestive essay that assigns translation a paradoxical role in the loss of Hebrew in American Jewish culture, see Hillel Halkin, “The Translator’s Paradox,” Commentary 125 (June 2008): 38–43.