ABSTRACT

I. J. Schwartz's book Kentucky (1925) includes six long epic poems telling variegated life experiences, both of Jews and non-Jews (mostly African-Americans) set against the background of post–Civil War Kentucky. This was a marginal topic in American Yiddish poetry, which centered mostly around the New York urban landscape. The longest and most significant text in the book, “Nayerd” (New Earth), tells the story of three generations in a typical, almost normative Jewish family making its way in the new environment. On the one hand, the epic narrator depicts the financial success of the protagonist, as well as the gradual distancing of his family from its Jewish cultural baggage, as an inevitable process that is pointless to bemoan. On the other hand, the family's confrontation with the Jewish experience remains one of the main topics in the poem. “Nayerd” is a narrative poem that lacks any overriding ideological thesis. It presents the life experiences of its protagonists by means of a pragmatic psychological and moral approach that appears to be very American, thus challenging implicitly the main tenets of the American Yiddish poetry of its time.

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