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Israeli Salvage Poetics

Sheila E. Jelen

Jewish Studies, Literary Criticism and Theory, Folklore

Printed Paper Cased
Available October 2023
ISBN: 9780814348970
Pages: 242 Size: 6x9
Illustrations: 13 Black-and-white images
Available October 2023
ISBN: 9780814348963
Pages: 242 Size: 6x9
Illustrations: 13 Black-and-white images
Available October 2023
ISBN: 9780814348987

Through thoughtful analysis of twentieth- and twenty-first-century Israeli literature, Israeli Salvage Poetics interrogates the concept of the "negation of the diaspora" as addressed in Hebrew-language literature authored by well-known and lesser-known Israeli authors from the eve of the Holocaust to the present day. Author Sheila E. Jelen considers the way that Israeli writers from eastern Europe or of eastern European descent incorporate pre-Holocaust eastern European culture into their own sense of Israeliness or Jewishness. Many Israelis interested in their eastern European legacy live with an awareness of their own nation’s role in the repression of that legacy, from the elevation of Hebrew over Yiddish to the ridicule and resentment directed at culture, text, and folk traditions from eastern Europe. To right the wrongs of the past and reconcile this conflict of identity, the Israeli authors discussed in this book engage in what Jelen calls "salvage poetics": they read Yiddish literature, travel to eastern Europe, and write of their personal and generational relationships with Ashkenazi culture. Israeli literary representations of eastern European Jewry strive, sometimes successfully, to recuperate eastern European Jewish pre-Holocaust culture for the edification of an audience that might feel responsible for the silencing and extinction of that culture.

Sheila E. Jelen is the Zantker Professor of Jewish Literature, Culture, and History and director of the program in Jewish studies at the University of Kentucky, Lexington. She is the author of Salvage Poetics: Post-Holocaust American Jewish Folk Ethnographies (Wayne State University Press), which was a finalist for the 2021 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award. She is an associate editor of the peer-reviewed journal Prooftexts: A Journal of Jewish Literary History. Jelen has previously published works on topics including Hebrew literature, Jewish literature, gender, Holocaust studies, and post-Holocaust studies.

Through meticulous research and elegant readings, Jelen offers a fresh look at canonical writers, recovers lesser-known works of these writers, and introduces almost-forgotten writers, bringing them together in a compelling narrative. A major contribution of the book is the way it clearly defines the term ‘salvage poetics’: as the intersection between past and present, ethnography and aesthetics; as a way to understand, preserve, and substitute for the vanished world.

– Nancy E. Berg, professor of Hebrew and comparative literature, Washington University in St. Louis

This fascinating book weaves together literary and ethnographic discourses to explore how Israeli writers have engaged with Yiddish and Yiddish literature as a way of salvaging the world of eastern European Jewry. Through the lens of salvage poetics, Sheila Jelen provides innovative and perceptive analysis of both canonical and overlooked Hebrew texts and how they return, again and again, to a past that was supposed to have been forgotten.

– Naomi Brenner, The Ohio State University

The study extends the notion of salvage poetics so successfully and impactfully explored in Jelen’s prior book on American Jewish salvage poetics to the Israeli literary scene. The book makes a significant contribution to the field of Jewish literary and ethnographic studies and post-Holocaust recuperation.

– Wendy Zierler, Sigmund Falk Professor of Modern Jewish Literature and Feminist Studies, HUC-JIR