ABSTRACT

This article challenges the existing understanding of the Jewish mother figure by recontextualizing her within the substantial repertory of commercially published Yiddish songs that were first performed for Jewish immigrant audiences in the early twentieth century. While many mother songs exist across different immigrant cultures, the vast number of Yiddish theater songs specifically about mothers, generally overlooked by scholars, suggests that the Jewish mother, and all that she symbolized, occupied a special place both on and off the Yiddish stage. Though they lagged behind the Jewish mother’s real-life economic and social empowerment, the songs themselves increasingly bore the imprints of assimilation, exchanging heart-rending imagery for more Americanized sentiments, revealing a surprisingly complex response to the ongoing anxiety of assimilation. Ultimately, immortalizing the Jewish mother in song allowed Yiddish-speaking immigrants to embrace a cultural identity from which they were simultaneously trying to distance themselves.

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