Staging Nation and Community in Interwar France
Published by: Indiana University Press
Yiddish Paris explores how Yiddish-speaking emigrants from Eastern Europe in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s created a Yiddish diaspora nation in Western Europe and how they presented that nation to themselves and to others in France.
In this meticulously researched and first full-length study of interwar Yiddish culture in France, author Nicholas Underwood argues that the emergence of a Yiddish Paris was depended on "culture makers," mostly left-wing Jews from Socialist and Communist backgrounds who created cultural and scholarly organizations and institutions, including the French branch of YIVO (a research institution focused on East European Jews), theater troupes, choruses, and a pavilion at the Paris World's Fair of 1937.
Yiddish Paris examines how these left-wing Yiddish-speaking Jews insisted that even in France, a country known for demanding the assimilation of immigrant and minority groups, they could remain a distinct group, part of a transnational Yiddish-speaking Jewish nation. Yet, in the process, they in fact created a French-inflected version of Jewish diaspora nationalism, finding allies among French intellectuals, largely on the left.
Acknowledgments: Yiddish Culture, Interwar Paris, and the Crisis of Belonging
List of Organizations and Groups Named by Acronym
1. Institutionalizing Yiddish Cultural Life in Paris
2. Cultural and Intellectual Strongholds Are Stronger than all Others
3. Drama in Yiddish Paris
4. Singing for the People and Against Fascism
5. Parisian Yiddish Culture on the World's Stage
Conclusion: From Rassemblement to Résistance
Epilogue: The Marianne of Yiddishland
As Nick Underwood writes, "Yiddish-speaking Jewish immigrants formed a distinct cultural community in [interwar] France." That community was at once deeply Jewish, cosmopolitan, and politically progressive. Yiddish Paris lays out the tense blend of cultural autonomy and political engagement that characterized the dynamic Paris Yiddish sphere in the interwar years. It resurrects a vital moment in the history of twentieth-century Jewish diaspora.~Jonathan Boyarin, author of Yeshiva Days: Learning on the Lower East Side
Nick Underwood's in-depth analysis effectively captures the vibrancy and vitality of interwar Yiddish Paris. Using hitherto unexamined documents from archives in the United States, Europe, and Israel, as well as contemporaneous newspaper articles and advertisements, the author introduces us to the multiple facets of the rich culture that left-wing east European immigrant Jews developed in a period of significant political, economic, and social challenges. Particularly fascinating is his investigation of Yiddish theater and music, which both coalesced and transformed the community. Underwood argues convincingly that by balancing ideals of French Republicanism and diaspora nationalism in their cultural life, east European Jewish immigrants in the period between the two World Wars had begun to transform the City of Light into a new home for themselves.~David Weinberg, Author of A Community on Trial: The Jews of Paris in the 1930's
Yiddish Paris provides a rich tapestry of an Eastern European Jewish immigrant world that was both transnational and French-specific. As Underwood deftly illustrates, Yiddish-speaking Jews in interwar Paris participated in journalistic, literary, theatrical and musical endeavors that linked them to their brethren in Eastern Europe and beyond, while simultaneously carving out a place for themselves in French progressive culture of the day.~Nadia Malinovich, author of French and Jewish: Culture and the Politics of Identity in Early Twentieth Century France
I was one of the skeptics. Was there really enough extant material to write a book about Yiddish cultural life in interwar France ? Nick Underwood's wonderful book answers this question with a resounding Yes. At the intersection of French and Yiddish life, he has provided us with a fascinating story of interwar Yiddish cultural activists à la française.~Nancy L. Green, author of The Limits of Transnationalism
In this innovative study of Eastern European Jewish immigrants in interwar France, Underwood explores the cultural endeavors of a population that deserves renewed attention in the historiography. Deepening our knowledge of both French immigration and Jewish life, Yiddish Paris places these Jewish immigrants on a national and transnational stage, showing how these political and cultural actors carved out new spaces for the expression of Yiddish culture in Paris.~Laura Hobson Faure, author of A "Jewish Marshall Plan"
Anyone with a serious interest in the Yiddish diaspora from Eastern Europe and Russia should treat this as required reading.~The Reading Life