Yiddish is everywhere. We hear words like nosh, schlep, and schmutz all the time, but how did these words come to pepper American English? In Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular and the New Land, Harvey Pekar and Paul Buhle trace the influence of Yiddish from medieval Europe to the tenements of New York's Lower East Side. This comics anthology contains original stories by notable writers and artists, such as Barry Deutsch, Peter Kuper, Spain Rodriguez, and Sharon Rudahl. Through illustrations, comics art, and a ...
Yiddish is everywhere. We hear words like nosh, schlep, and schmutz all the time, but how did these words come to pepper American English? In Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular and the New Land, Harvey Pekar and Paul Buhle trace the influence of Yiddish from medieval Europe to the tenements of New York's Lower East Side. This comics anthology contains original stories by notable writers and artists, such as Barry Deutsch, Peter Kuper, Spain Rodriguez, and Sharon Rudahl. Through illustrations, comics art, and a full-length play, four major themes are explored: culture, performance, assimilation, and the revival of the language. The last fully realized work by Harvey Pekar, this book is a thoughtful compilation that reveals the far-reaching influences of Yiddish.
The term “Yiddishkeit” is open to several interpretations, including “Yiddish culture” and “Yiddish sensibility,” but the concept is too expansive to be fully conveyed with a mere word. The same can be said of this book itself, which is a fascinating and dense examination—mostly in comics format—of Yiddish as a language and culture and how it became inextricably woven into the tapestry of America when it arrived with Jewish immigrants. While it’s impossible to fully explore the breadth and depth of Yiddish literature, performing arts, humor, and its key creators within the confines of a 240-page book, the contributors succeed in providing the very detailed basics in a visually engaging manner, with much of its written content being the final work of the late indie comics scribe Pekar, himself the scion of a Yiddish-speaking household. The art is provided by a number of notables, including Spain Rodriguez, Peter Kuper, and Sharon Rudahl, every bit of it brimming with the charm and flavor of its subject and seamlessly meshing with the text to create a genuinely compelling, scholarly comics experience. (Sept.)
Yiddish is a Germanic language with infusions from other tongues and written in the Hebrew alphabet. As Jewish culture grew in Europe, a Yiddish literary tradition developed that immigrants brought to the United States. This anthology dramatizes in comics and occasional prose pieces this tradition on both continents: historical overviews broad and narrow, cameos by writers, anecdotes about events and noteworthy figures, and several memoirs. The variety results in lively if sometimes maddeningly brief reading. Sholem Aleichem meets Mark Twain; Paul Robeson sings Yiddish in Russia. We meet Zero Mostel, actress/yenta extraordinaire Molly Picone, MAD cartoonist Harvey Kurtzman, and the Noah-like Aaron Lansky who rescued over a million discarded Yiddish books to found the National Yiddish Book Center. We glimpse the wildly successful Yiddish film Grine Felder (Green Fields) and compare cantors Al Jolson with Moishe Oysher. VERDICT Not a reference or a language textbook, Yiddishkeit works best as a semischolarly introduction to a sprawling yet dense tangle of personalities that should intrigue high schoolers and adults. Serious students can dig further via the bibliography. The art (some color) is lively and compelling, and the publisher notes this is the late Pekar's final fully realized work.—M.C.
Paul Buhle, retired from Brown University, has written and edited 42 books, including the award-winning Art of Harvey Kurtzman, Jews and American Comics, and the three-volume Jews and American Popular Culture. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin. Harvey Pekar (1939–2010) is best known for his autobiographical comic book series American Splendor and Our Cancer Year, which was made into an Academy Award–nominated film starring Paul Giamatti in 2003.