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In Search of Identity and Spirituality in the Fiction of American Jewish Female Authors at the Turn of the 21st Century

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Dorota Mihulka

The book discusses the issue of religiosity in the context of American Jewish literature, emphasizing the significance of Judaism as an indispensable element in the formation of American Jewish female identity. The empirical part of the book is devoted to a critical comprehensive analysis of selected fiction by contemporary American Jewish female writers, representatives of the third generation, whose works were published between 1980–2005. The literary analyses of the selected narratives reveal a strong connection between the identity of American Jewish women and Judaism, and the simultaneous need to modify it in the face of socio-political transformations occurring in the American society at the turn of the twenty-first century

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Chapter 1 Jewish Women in American Society

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The year 2020 commemorates the 366th anniversary of Jewish settlement on the North American continent. On American soil, the Jews built a new life and devised new, effective methods of expressing their Jewish heritage and beliefs. Although not completely devoid of anti-Semitism and discrimination, the experience of the Jews in the United States has been regarded as uniquely positive. Successive waves of Jewish immigrants and their descendants, including Sephardim, Ashkenazim, Holocaust survivors, and Soviet Jews have defined the development of the American Jewish community, and the organizations and institutions established in the United States have, in turn, changed the ‘outward appearance’ of Judaism itself. Today, the American Jewish community together with the Jewish community in the modern State of Israel constitute two major centers of world Judaism.

Chapter 1 discusses Jewish immigration to America from the perspective of Jewish women. Moreover, the second part of this chapter is devoted to the presentation and discussion of the vital role of Jewish women in the development of the four branches of American Judaism, that is: Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism, its offshoot – Reconstructionist Judaism, and Orthodox Judaism as well as more radical Jewish movements such as Humanistic Judaism and Jewish Renewal. The third part of Chapter 1 attempts to assess the impact of the general feminist movement and Jewish feminism on the American Jewish community, paying special attention to the changes in Jewish women’s lives.

1.1 Jewish Immigration into the United States

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