Neither in Dark Speeches Nor in Similitudes: Reflections and Refractions Between Canadian and American Jews. Edited by Barry L. Stiefel and Hernan Tesler-Mabe. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfried Laurier University Press, 2016. xxiii + 223 pp.
"How different are Canadian Jews from the Jews of the United States?" ask Barry Stiefel and Hernan Tesler-Mabe, editors of a volume of essays about relationships and comparisons between the communities divided by the world's longest international border (xi). Stiefel and Tesler-Mabe urge us to look beyond these boundaries that too often obscure the manner in which Jews actually lived, place limits on the questions that scholars ask about North American Jewish life, and prevent us from examining assumptions about exceptionalism and singularity.
As a transnational study, Neither in Dark Speeches Nor in Similitudes joins an ongoing conversation in the field of Jewish history. As Stiefel and Tesler-Mabe point out, however, despite the flowering of transnational analysis in recent decades, no systematic comparative work has been done on the Jews of the United States and Canada since Moses Rischin's 1987 volume The Jews of North America. Their effort to bridge this gap, a collection of essays by American and Canadian scholars, would benefit from a stronger thematic focus instead of the chronological approach it adopts. I would also argue that frequent references in the book to "North American Jewry" and "North American Jewish studies" are problematic in a work that elides the Jews of Mexico altogether. Nevertheless, the editors are to be commended for reviving a field of study that has lain dormant for too long.
The essays explore two dimensions of the relationship between Canadian and American Jews. On one level, we learn about the extent of ties in the realm of lived experience. Traversing the 49th parallel, Jews on either side of the border befriended and married each other, collaborated together on projects of religious and cultural significance, and relied on each other for economic opportunity and spiritual leadership. Lillooet Nordlinger McDonnell examines close connections between Jews in mid-nineteenth-century San Francisco and Victoria, British Columbia. As she demonstrates, Jews north of the border regularly returned to San Francisco to visit family and conduct business, and the first Torah scrolls came to Victoria from San Francisco's Temple Emanu-El. Focused on the same era, Zev Eleff analyzes the cooperative...