This essay examines the ways in which Yiddish—as a language, a set of literary traditions and practices, and a “postvernacular”—operates within the context of Israeli, Hebrew-dominated literature. After establishing the subject’s poetic, historical, and political framework, I present two examples of how Yiddish exerted a (largely unacknowledged) influence on Israeli literature. The first concerns the striking similarities and intersections between two literary groups active in Israel during the 1950s: a famous Hebrew group (Likrat) and a little-known Yiddish group (Yung Yisroel). The second example consists in the parallels and intertwined literary histories of two writers, Yossl Birshtein (who was a member of Yung Yisroel) and the Hebrew writer Ya’acov Shabtai, in order to demonstrate the presence of Yiddish in Shabtai’s poetic work and to discover an untold story in the history of modern Hebrew literature.
Literary Passports: The Making of Modernist Hebrew Fiction in Europe. Shachar M. Pinsker. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010. Pp. xiv + . $60.00 (cloth).
Diasporic Modernisms: Hebrew & Yiddish Literature in the Twentieth Century. Allison Schachter. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Pp. x + . $35.00 (cloth).
Reconfiguring Surrealism in Modern Hebrew Literature: Menashe Levin, Yitzhak Oren and Yitzhak Orpaz. Giulia Miller. London: Vallentine Mitchell Publishers, 2013. Pp. $84.95 (cloth).
All three scholars demonstrate that Hebrew modernist fiction, no matter where it was being written, shared some common literary and cultural ideals. The writers “advocated the departure from a socially and historically grounded mimesis towards a portrayal of the ‘hidden’ realities of human existence, to engage with universal (and modernist) concerns such as sexuality, religiosity, existential angst and related themes.” Experimentation in Hebrew literature was not simply tied up with Zionism and the creation of a national homeland, but also reflected a broader and more complex history that valued the power of language to articulate a modern, cosmopolitan Jewish experience. By contextualizing Hebrew modernist writing within European, American and Native American cultural history, and tracing the development of modernism in Israel, wherein it was vastly neglected, all three works raise new questions about the role of place, thought and language in the life of the movement.