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Whitechapel Noise: Jewish Immigrant Life in Yiddish Song and Verse, London 1884-1914. Vivi Lachs. Detroit: Wayne State University Press. 2018.

Reviewed by Joseph D. Toltz

Vivi Lachs’ Whitechapel Noise: Jewish Immigrant Life in Yiddish Song and Verse, London 1884–1914 provides a fresh perspective on the rise and fall of Yiddish in Great Britain. In this excellent and articulate study, the writer contributes a nuanced, historical examination of Yiddish life in London from the mid-1880s to the beginning of the Great War.

In this highly approachable and well-written book, Lachs—a scholar and musician who actively performs the Yiddish repertories that she researches—weaves through streets, music-halls, socialist gatherings and religious debates of the period to paint a portrait of a complex, conflicted community encountering modernity in the Anglosphere. Lachs describes how individuals both resisted and embraced Yiddish in many varied ways. She does so primarily through the analysis of song and verse, complementing this material with experiential narratives from audiences and performers sourced from reviews, articles and memoirs. Lachs filters the material through two distinct lenses—the manner of their engagement with the process of acculturation, and the way in which her subjects (both personalities and songs) reflect the transnational and transcultural nature of the Yiddish community in London. Throughout the work, her particular focus is on what would have been referred to by the Anglo-Jewish establishment as the three forbidden subjects of polite conversation: religion, politics, and sex. It is most refreshing to read an acknowledgement of the diverse nature of the construction of immigrant culture in an historical examination of pre-Holocaust Yiddish life.

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