Authors: Steve Koppman, Lionel Koppman, Lion Koppman
ISBN-13: 9781568216201, ISBN-10: 1568216203
Publisher: Aronson, Jason Inc.
Date Published: December 1996
This book is a rich gathering of American-Jewish folklore that preserves the insight, humor, and experiences of American Jewry. Folklore is comprised of stories, sayings, jokes, superstitions, customs, and songs that have been passed down from one generation to the next. Eventually, the tales travel between enough people and regions to acquire an independent life and become "classics." Telling the legends of both the nonconformist and the ordinary person, folklore speaks with a voice that is simultaneously witty and wise. American-Jewish folklore evolved as early Jewish Americans grew distant from the traditions they left behind. A new folklore materialized that spoke to the situations and trials they faced settling in America. Jews who arrived early in the country's history generated parables about "Jews Among the Indians," like "Powwow at Levy's" and "Pistol-Packing Rabbi." Even more tales were spun by the Jews who emigrated en masse in the post-Civil-War era, addressing topics that told of their common experiences, such as "The Joys of Peddling," "Learning English," "The Yiddish King Lear," and "Envy at Grossinger's." In sections called "Greeting the Mishpacha: Uptown vs. Downtown, Reform vs. Orthodox" and "Out in the World: Changing Names, Fitting In, Moving Out," the stories address the tensions of life as a minority group in a free society - a uniquely American story. By looking back at the challenges faced by our predecessors, we find humor and reassurance that pressing issues, like denominational tension and increased assimilation, which now face American Jewry, are not exclusive to the present day. These accounts do much more than entertain us - they are the myths that shape the American-Jewish consciousness.
The Koppmans have compiled a wonderfully diverse collection of folklore covering 340 years of the American-Jewish experience. In their introduction, they point out that American-Jewish folklore is unusual because it contains no tales about animals, witches, ghosts or devils. Instead, it is composed of anecdotes, superstitions, eccentric characters and folk humor. The Koppmans have included examples of folklore lampooning the ignorance of non-Jews, who thought Jews were physically different from themselves. The book is well organized, beginning with the lore surrounding Jewish peddlers in the American West and moving to the tales told and collected by European Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side of New York. The collection includes tales about Jewish celebrities like Houdini, George Jessel and George Burns; a glossary of Yiddish expressions; a section of classic American-Jewish humor; and an extensive bibliography of the sources of American-Jewish folklore. The Koppmans have produced an entertaining and valuable anthology that illustrates the positive and negative aspects of the American-Jewish experience through the use of humor. (Feb.)