Transna­tion­al Tra­di­tions: New Per­spec­tives on Amer­i­can Jew­ish History

Ava F. Kahn and Adam D. Mendel­sohn, ed.
  • Review
By – April 27, 2015

The expe­ri­ences of con­tem­po­rary immi­grants in the cur­rent wave of glob­al­iza­tion has led to schol­ar­ly inter­est in the ways that the lives of peo­ple in past gen­er­a­tions tran­scend nation­al bound­aries. Even before the rapid trav­el and com­mu­ni­ca­tion of the present, transna­tion­al ties between indi­vid­u­als, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties were durable and influ­en­tial. This book includes eleven orig­i­nal arti­cles which con­sid­er the nature of these ties and their impact in a vari­ety of locales. Although some arti­cles are com­par­a­tive, rather than being tru­ly transna­tion­al in their focus, sev­er­al offer impor­tant chal­lenges to con­ven­tion­al wis­dom in pre­vi­ous schol­ar­ship on Jew­ish history.

The first three arti­cles, on the Anglo­phone Dias­po­ra,” pro­vide impor­tant insights into a lit­tle known aspect of transna­tion­al Jew­ish life includ­ing changes in Jew­ish reli­gious lead­er­ship and the move­ment of indi­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies in the Pacif­ic rim which con­nect­ed migrants to Aus­tralia and New Zealand with the Cal­i­for­nia Gold Rush. In Aus­tralia, mem­bers of tight­ly knit net­works of for­mer Jew­ish con­victs employed lat­er arrivals there­by offer­ing them a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty in their tran­si­tion into full eco­nom­ic and social par­tic­i­pa­tion after their prison terms ended. 

Three arti­cles present nov­el infor­ma­tion and impor­tant nuances about Euro­pean migra­tion. Rebec­ca Kobrin authored an insight­ful dis­cus­sion of how transna­tion­al eth­nic bank­ing facil­i­tat­ed mass migra­tion from Europe to Amer­i­ca by extend­ing cred­it. Sur­pris­ing­ly, Yid­dish print cul­ture took root in the U.S. before it did in Europe. Addi­tion­al arti­cles focus on agri­cul­tur­al colonies and kib­butz­im in the US, Argenti­na and Israel; the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty of Harbin, Chi­na; and the unique fea­tures of Roman­ian Jews; and the Bene Israel in India, Israel and the US

This col­lec­tion con­tributes to our under­stand­ing of Jew­ish life and cul­ture in two impor­tant ways. First, its transna­tion­al focus illu­mi­nates the con­sid­er­able inter­ac­tion across nation­al bor­ders at a time when trav­el was slow and com­mu­ni­ca­tion was dif­fi­cult. Sec­ond, it includes a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of exam­ples that go beyond the stan­dard nar­ra­tive of shtetl Jews mov­ing to eth­nic enclaves in major Amer­i­can cities. The range of expe­ri­ences is impres­sive and has impor­tant impli­ca­tions for under­stand­ing the cur­rent dynam­ics of the unprece­dent­ed vol­ume of glob­al migration. 

Relat­ed Content:

Susan M. Cham­bré, Pro­fes­sor Emeri­ta of Soci­ol­o­gy at Baruch Col­lege, stud­ies Jew­ish phil­an­thropy, social and cul­tur­al influ­ences on vol­un­teer­ing, and health advo­ca­cy orga­ni­za­tions. She is the author of Fight­ing for Our Lives: New York’s AIDS Com­mu­ni­ty and the Pol­i­tics of Dis­ease and edit­ed Patients, Con­sumers and Civ­il Soci­ety.

Discussion Questions