Chapter

Harley Erdman, <i>Staging the Jew: The Performance of an American Ethnicity,1860–1920</i>. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1997. xiv + 221 pp.

Mark Hodin

in Studies in Contemporary Jewry an Annual XV 1999

Published in print February 2000 | ISBN: 9780195134681
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199848652 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195134681.003.0028

Series: Studies in Contemporary Jewry

Harley Erdman, Staging the Jew: The Performance of an American Ethnicity,1860–1920. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1997. xiv + 221 pp.

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A review of the book, Staging the Jew: The Performance of an American Ethnicity, 1860–1920 by Harley Erdman is presented. A particularly complex and significant circumstance in the history of Jews in U.S. public culture is the overlap between the period of greatest East European Jewish immigration to America (1881–1917) and the process of (mostly German) Jewish embourgeoisement and assimilation. While Jews mixed with Gentiles socially and rose in business, their representations in popular culture grew more visibly ethnic in the context of an exotic and foreign Lower East Side. This dynamic especially informed the role of Jews in the field of commercial entertainment, where explicitly Jewish shtick became part of the American vernacular by the turn of the century, and Jewish managers and performers came to wield considerable power behind the scenes. How this emergent Jewish cultural authority in show business shaped “the fluctuating expectations gentiles have had of Jews and Jews have had of themselves” is the compelling subject of the book.

Keywords: Jewish shtick; American Jews; embourgeoisement; assimilation

Chapter.  1316 words. 

Subjects: History of Religion

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