Reconstructing the Old Country: American Jewry in the Post-Holocaust Decades. Edited by Eliyana R. Adler and Sheila E. Jelen. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2017. 392 pp.
In the immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, American Jewry confronted the devastation of the once thriving European Jewish society while also facing its new, unexpected position as the world's largest and most stable Jewish community. Reconstructing the Old Country: American Jewry in the Post-Holocaust Decades presents a "panoramic" view of how American Jewry's encounters with the Holocaust defined its role within the global Jewish community, its place in postwar American society, while it also reshaped the contours of American Jewish culture.
Reconstructing the Old Country builds on scholarship working to upend a dominant historical narrative that has presented postwar American Jews as reluctant or unprepared to face the horrors of the Nazi regime. American Jewry's collective memory continues to fuel the notion that a culture of silence persisted around the Holocaust. Adler and Jelen note that scholarship on postwar American Jewry has often reaffirmed this culture of silence, as research on the mid-century American Jewish experience focuses on suburbanization, economic mobility, postwar consumerism, or Judaism's absorption into a Judeo-Christian religious and political culture. In 2009, however, Hasia Diner's We Remember With Reverence and Love: American Jews and the Myth of Silence After the Holocaust, 1945-1962 showcased the many ways in which the unspeakable tragedy was, in fact, spoken of, commemorated, and confronted by a growing and diverse American Jewish community. Reconstructing the Old Country expands on this narrative as it illustrates the myriad ways that American Jews waded through the challenges of mourning, commemoration, aiding survivors, remembering, and recreating images of the now lost alte haym.
Far more than an account of memorial efforts and fundraising campaigns for victims--though these stories are there as well--the essays skillfully interrogate how postwar American Jews encountered the Holocaust through three themes: interactions with refugees, literary reimaginings of prewar Jewish Eastern Europe, and political activism. This interdisciplinary collection, including essays from historians, literary scholars, and ethnographers, illuminates the "profound tension in immediate post-war American Jewry, in which American Jews both...