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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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One of the central issues addressed in the novels by third-generation American Jewish female writers discussed in Chapter 3 is the negotiation of American Jewish female identities at the turn of the twenty-first century, as well as the exploration of tensions and conflicts between Orthodox Judaism, feminism, and contemporary American secularism. Another important preoccupation of their fiction is the return of contemporary American Jewish women to Jewish religious practice, spirituality and communal life. Indeed, as Allegra Goodman declares, the overriding goal of American writers of Jewish descent should be to “recapture the spiritual and the religious dimension of Judaism” (“Writing Jewish Fiction,” 1997: 273) in order to revive and sustain contemporary American Jewish literature.

In fact, the search for spirituality is not a uniquely Jewish phenomenon, but as sociologists and historians argue, it was observed among various other religious groups in the American society in the latter half of the twentieth century (cf. Waxman, 2005: 110; Sarna, 1982, 2004: 323–333; Diner and Benderly, 2002: 415–418). As Sarna summarizes, “for religiously inclined Jews, as for their Christian counterparts, spirituality provided an alternative to the secularity that they found in so many interreligious political initiatives devoted simply to justice and peace” (2004: 345). However, it was only the advent of feminism in the 1970s that enabled American Jewish women who had previously been silenced or marginalized in public life to express their female spirituality in satisfying ways by getting involved in Jewish prayer, study, ritual, and...

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