“One reads this book in order to reconnect with a time when secular Jews cared passionately and fought with each other furiously over ideas and over ideals. This is the... [continued in Reviews below]”—Boston Jewish Advocate
Through the lens of childrens literature, explores the largely untold story of secular Yiddish schools in America
This unique literary study of Yiddish children’s periodicals casts new light on secular Yiddish schools in America in the first half of the twentieth century. Rejecting the traditional religious education of the Talmud Torahs and congregational schools, these Yiddish schools chose Yiddish itself as the primary conduit of Jewish identity and culture. Four Yiddish school networks emerged, which despite their political and ideological differences were all committed to propagating the Yiddish language, supporting social justice, and preparing their students for participation in both Jewish and American culture.
Focusing on the Yiddish children’s periodicals produced by the Labor Zionist Farband, the secular Sholem Aleichem schools, the socialist Workmen’s Circle, and the Ordn schools of the Communist-aligned International Workers Order, Naomi Kadar shows how secular immigrant Jews sought to pass on their identity and values as they prepared their youth to become full-fledged Americans.
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Reviews / Endorsements
“One reads this book in order to reconnect with a time when secular Jews cared passionately and fought with each other furiously over ideas and over ideals. This is the real legacy that this group left behind for us to learn from and to emulate. And this is why this book is so informative and so important for our generation to study.”—Boston Jewish Advocate
"Raising Secular Jews is a detailed, well-crafted, and perceptive history of the eight children’s magazines used in the Yiddish schools. The author's discussion of the art work and literature in the magazines is particularly insightful. . . . [Kadar's] spirit of hopefulness makes reading Raising Secular Jews so poignant.”
—Jewish Book World
“This book demonstrates how publications and readerships that are easily overlooked offer textured cultural portraits that contribute amply to our understanding of history. Given that Yiddish is no longer commonly read or spoken, and that these magazines are unlikely ever to be made available in a translated form, Kadar’s work provides a genuine service to scholars and lends new dimension to the study of children’s periodicals in the United States.”—American Periodicals: A Journal of History & Criticism
“A learned and insightful analysis of the children’s magazines published by the four major Yiddish school networks. . . . . The periodicals provide a window into the ideology and texture of secular Jewish education. And to the extent that such texts present intensified versions of a community’s beliefs and values, they offer insight into the contours of secular Jewish identity during the first half of the twentieth century.”—Contemporary Jewry
“A pioneering in-depth study and analysis. . . . Raising Secular Jews is a valuable addition to the study of Yiddish children’s literature as well as a contribution to the study of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and their acculturation in the United States.”—Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews
“Raising Secular Jews is both a testament to Kadar’s work in the realm of Yiddish education and a useful volume for scholars of children’s literature, Yiddish culture, and secular Jewish identity.”—American Jewish Archives Journal
“The book’s most compelling chapter, on how the magazines dealt with the Holocaust in the midst and aftermath of the tragedy (answer: much more frankly than one might imagine), is poignant and eye-opening and makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the impact of the Holocaust on segments of American Jewry at mid-century.”—American Jewish Historical Society
“The book’s most compelling chapter, on how the magazines dealt with the Holocaust in the midst and aftermath of the tragedy (answer: much more frankly than one might imagine), is poignant and eye-opening and makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the impact of the Holocaust on segments of American Jewry at mid-century.”—American Jewish History
“For those with an interest in periodicals, particularly youth periodicals, this is definitely a book to read. With the examination of the production of these periodicals from an organizational and editorial perspective, Kadar provides not only an interesting set of case studies, but also methodological insights that could be used in future works.”—History of Education
“Raising Secular Jews offers insight into an ecosystem of related educational institutions that shared a vision of shaping a secular Jewish person, based on a curriculum of common culture, history, and sociopolitical outlook. . . . Kadar’s book helps remind us that secular Jewish identity in the United States is not new but a tradition with deep roots.”
—Journal of Jewish Education
"This assiduously researched study by Naomi Prawer Kadar, one of the most admired Yiddish teachers of her generation, reveals the literary and cultural richness of American Yiddishist organizations’ children’s periodicals. They distill visions of a new secular Jewish culture to its essence for their young readers. In addition, these remarkable publications demonstrate how Yiddish schools grappled with daunting subjects—even the Holocaust—and shared these challenges with the next generation of American Jews."—Jeffrey Shandler, author of Adventures in Yiddishland: Postvernacular Language and Culture
"Naomi Kadar’s comprehensive study of the student periodicals of competing North American Yiddish school systems from 1917 through the mid 1950s raises crucial questions about the promise and limits of secular Jewish culture. Why, for example, did some of the most talented Yiddish writers, illustrators and editors of the twentieth century devote their energies to magazines for children? Dr. Kadar’s book is a compelling read and an indispensable source for anyone concerned with the past and future of Jewish education in America."—Aaron Lansky, President, Yiddish Book Center, and author of Outwitting History: The Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books
NAOMI PRAWER KADAR (1949–2010), an inspiring educational innovator, had an enduring impact on the teaching of Yiddish language and literature through her active leadership in the field. She served as national director of the Workmen’s Circle schools and coordinated popular programs on Yiddish culture. She earned her PhD in Yiddish literature at Columbia University and taught at numerous institutions, including Tel Aviv University, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and the YIVO Institute. She was also the creator of BrainPOP ESL, an animated online program for teaching children English as a second language. The Naomi Foundation, established after her death, supports the teaching of Yiddish in academic programs.