One of the dynamically developing literary genres is a travelogue, describing characters’ travels as part of the discovery of new knowledge and personal development. The basis of this genre was travel notes of travelers, which later transformed into a formalized narrative of fiction with a plot and some morality. The two books studied in different stories were written in this genre. The first is Schlepping Through the Alps by Sam Apple, a story that tells, as the title suggests, the biographical journey of a young author in Austria in search of his Jewish background (Apple, 2006). In such a narrative, there is no single thought or conclusion that Apple reaches at the end, as this is not always implied by the specifics of the genre. In Schlepping Through the Alps, however, the mainline is the idea of exploring anti-Semitic attitudes among the Austrian people and exploring the tragedy of the Jews during the German onslaught. A similar story was told in the second book of the semester, Boychicks in the Hood, by Robert Eisenberg (Eisenberg, 1996). The storyline of Boychicks in the Hood centers on Eisenberg’s journey through the United States and then some European countries to investigate Hasidic life. In the book, Eisenberg describes several types of Jewish communities he encountered during his travels and also explores the nature of the Yiddish language system as a symbol of national sovereignty for contemporary Jews. Both Apple and Eisenberg narrate their journeys from the perspective of exploring Jewish destiny. This similarity of stories underlies the comparative analysis conducted in this work.
In reading both works, the difference between them seems evident at first glance. While Eisenberg focuses on the Hasidic peoples in his book, Apple does not place as much emphasis on the classification of the Jews but rather closely traces the history of one of them. In addition, the main action of the book about the mysteries of the Hasidic community takes place in the United States and only then moves to Ukraine, Belgium, and Israel, whereas Apple balances the narrative chronologically between the United States and Austria, where most of the events described take place. The mid-tone of the entire work also differs, illustrating the emotional and historical experiences of the writers. In particular, Apple constructs his narrative in such a way that Jewish peoples are shown as unwanted and oppressed by the Austrians — they are not welcome there, and their culture is slowly dying. In contrast, in Eisenberg’s book, the story is built around Hasidic communities in atypical environments. In other words, we can say that the Jews are the main visible characters in Eisenberg’s book and the hidden, non-obvious ones in Apple’s book.
It is also true that both books explore the fate of Jews in post-war times when their culture and identity were vulnerable. Known historical events are not described directly in these books but are felt as the primary reason for such studies in general. The oppressed, expelled, and disadvantaged Jews spread throughout the world from the territories of western Germany and left Yiddish as part of their old culture. It is clear that Yiddish could not take root in the new environment, as the Jews had to assimilate into the new linguistic culture, so preserving this language made traditional fundamental sense. It is this idea that can be traced in both books at once since Yiddish, as can be sensed from these literary works, has the unique symbolism of balancing social discrimination and historical identity.
It is impossible to discuss these works without considering them in light of the study of the postverbal meaning of Yiddish. In his book Adventures in Yiddishland: Post Vernacular Language and Culture, Jeffrey Shandler linguistically and socially explores the fading culture of Yiddish in the post-war era, but from Shandler’s perspective, the language is not a dying one (Shandler, 2008). Eisenberg and Apple’s studies generally support this idea, as the very fact of their research through travel sustains interest in Yiddish culture. Each of the three authors believes that post vernacular culture persists and modifies, acquires new features, and evolves despite evident historical pressures.
One of the thoughts in Shandler’s book is the recognition that the Jewish language will never be unified because one language is not enough for Jews. The existence of Yiddish is a confirmation of this thesis because even under conditions of military oppression and rapid assimilation, Yiddish has survived as a tradition. The idea of a plurality of subcultures within Jewish linguistic culture can also be seen in Eisenberg’s book when the author describes the various Hasidic communities he encountered throughout his research. The idea of diversity as such, of trends toward cultural expansion and development, cannot be supported explicitly by Apple’s book, as Apple makes the reader think of Yiddish culture as falling and dying, for which the Yiddish-singing shepherd remains one of the last adherents.
Shandler’s message on the evolution of the language, supported by Eisenberg, is directly related to Katz’s work, which examines Yiddish history over several centuries. In Words on Fire: The Unfinished Story of Yiddish, Dovid Katz informs the reader that Yiddish is a descendant form of other European and Slavic languages (Katz, 2007). From this perspective, the consequences of the Holocaust and the catalyzed evolution of post-vernacular language seem to be part of an overall historical process within which language dynamically evolves. This idea fits well with the description of the ultra-orthodox Jewish communities in Boychicks in the Hood and the ascetic life of the shepherd in Schlepping Through the Alps. Whether a Jewish shepherd family in an anti-Semitic environment or a Hasidic community in an assimilated American culture, each of the characters appears to be a cultural layer. As long as this culture is sustained, the language’s evolution is sustained, so it can be understood that even the loss of Yiddish as a distinctive language will not occur. As Katz and Shandler suggest, the language will continue to evolve in the face of new pressures, and the growing number of Jews in the world will be a predictor of the preservation of Yiddish culture.
In closing, it should be noted that the number of literary works dealing with Yiddish culture in the post-war era is considerable. The Eisenberg and Apple books studied in this course told stories in the travelogue genre, with the authors personally traveling and taking notes. The central plots, the core of the research, the style and presentation, and the approach to exploring the issue are similar for the two authors. However, in his book, Apple placed the story of a Jewish family in an anti-Semitic Austrian family and explored how cultural identity could be maintained in the face of such pressures. Eisenberg, in contrast, explored the preserved cultures of Hasidim as Yiddish speakers in different environments and showed how resilient the tradition of the language could be. Both books have been shown to fit perfectly within Shandler and Katz’s linguistic and historical studies, respectively.
Apple, S. (2006). Schlepping Through the Alps: My search for Austria’s Jewish past with its last wandering shepherd. Ballantine Books.
Eisenberg, R. (1996). Boychicks in the Hood. Harper One.
Katz, D. (2007). Words on fire: The unfinished story of Yiddish. Basic Books.
Shandler, J. (2008). Adventures in Yiddishland: Post vernacular language and culture. University of California Press.