TITLE: AMERICAN JEWS IN THE CULTURAL MELTING POT

This course will explore the insider/outsider status of Jews in America through the serious study of essays, short stories, television shows, and films that engage with Jewish themes. How can we develop a new understanding of what it means to be "American," of the costs and benefits of "assimilating" to American culture, based on the study of one minority (or hybrid) community--in this case, Jews? We will begin by analyzing the difficulties of defining American Jewry in a multicultural context, questioning what it means to be "Jewish" and what it means to be "American." Then we will look closely at one moment of cross- cultural encounter, studying fictional depictions of the Lower East Side of New York at the turn of the twentieth century and thinking about how Jewish writers have navigated between Old World and New World identities. We will try to deepen our understanding of the "American dream" and what it has meant to immigrants, based on short stories by Mary Antin and Anzia Yezierska and clips from such films as Fiddler on the Roof and An American Tail. Our focus in the second half of the course will be on the end of the twentieth century, an era termed "post-Jewish" by some scholars, and we will look at the costs and benefits of assimilation as represented on such television shows as Friends, Mad About You, The Nanny, and Seinfeld. Students will complete a final independent research project on two films with Jewish themes.