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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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Jewish Religious Music in Nineteenth-Century America: Restoring the Synagogue Soundtrack. Judah Cohen. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2019. ISBN: 978-0253040206.

Reviewed by Jeremiah Lockwood

In his latest monograph, Judah Cohen offers a first deep dive into the overlooked music of a period in American Jewish history that has been the focus of increasing historic attention in recent years. In the brief summation of the period offered by A.Z. Idelsohn in the classic Jewish Music in its Historical Development, Idelsohn asserts that Jewish immigrants lost their sonic identity by adopting the musical norms of their new home. In contrast, Cohen reaches past reductive debates about “tradition versus modernity” to demonstrate why and how Jewish liturgical musicians made the stylistic choices they did.  Cohen explores how music offered Jewish Americans a means to express shifting social and economic identities through music. By looking at the music Jews made in their religious life, rather than comparing them to an imagined source of authenticity, Cohen challenges the monolithic paradigm of tradition that has bounded much of the classic scholarship in the field.

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A Jewish Voice from Ottoman Salonica: The Ladino Memoir of Sa’adi Besalel a-Levi. Edited and with an Introduction by Aron Rodrigue and Sarah Abrevaya Stein. Translation, Transliteration, and Glossary by Isaac Jerusalmi. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012. ISBN 978-0-8047-7166-5

Reviewed for Musica Judaica Online Reviews by Kathleen Wiens

A Jewish Voice from Ottoman Salonica presents the personal diary of Sa’adi Besalel a-Levi (1820-1903) in English translation andImage Ladino transliteration from the original in soletreo (Hebrew script of Ottoman Ladino dialect). Penned starting in 1881, the autobiographical account incorporates event descriptions and commentary on Jewish community life in Salonica (now Thessaloniki, Greece). Sa’adi’s motivations for writing his memoirs included a desire to record customs and events for future generations, and to voice his personal concerns and hopes for Jewish life in Salonica. Sa’adi’s primary occupations were as an editor and print-maker, but he was also respected within the Jewish community and city as a singer and composer of songs for synagogue and special occasions. It is this second occupation that makes A Jewish Voice a valuable resource for readers with interest in music and Jewish life.

A Jewish Voice is divided into three main parts: a 47-page Editors’ Introduction, the English translation of Sa’adi’s diary, and a transliteration of the diary into Romanized Ladino text. (Facsimiles of the original hand-written manuscript are accessible online via the publisher’s website.) Sa’adi divided the diary into 42 chapters, some of which were further divided into event-specific or thematically-based sections. The editors have added numeric symbols beside chapter and section headings to allow cross-reference with the online soletreo manuscript, while also providing introductory notes on dialect, pronunciation, translation, transliteration, and explanations of in-text references (weight, currencies, measurements). An extensive glossary of Ladino, Turkish and Hebrew terms and a list of works referenced complete the edition. Read the rest of this entry »

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