Insiders and Outsiders: Dilemmas of East European Jewry examines problems of Jewish cultural and political orientations, associations, and self-identification within a broad framework. The contributors approach the predicament of east European Jews in various settings: some focus primarily on the Jews' inner development and outlook, while others discuss how elements of the majority society viewed their presence. Scholars of history, art history, and literature display originality and insight in illuminating the nuances and intricacies of the Jewish 'outsider'. Following an overview by the distinguished intellectual historian of German Jewry Steven Aschheim, who offers some comprehensive thoughts on the insider/outsider dilemma in modern times and its relevance to eastern Europe, the discussion evolves around three major themes: the cultural conundrum; modes of acculturation, assimilation, and identity; and the minority's inclusion in or exclusion from the political agendas of certain east European societies.
It concludes with a focus on two remarkable cities?Czernowitz and Vilnius?where the Jewish minority has often been conceived as being no less 'inside' than other groups. Contributors to the 'cultural conundrum' section deal with artists and writers from Romania and Poland who have gained wide public and critical attention over the years, including Reuven Rubin, Itzik Manger, Avot Yeshurun, and Mihail Sebastian. Other essays discuss the work of a group of writers from Poland, including Henryk Grynberg, Wilhelm Dichter, Joanna Olczak-Ronikier, Krzysztof Teodor Toeplitz, and Michal Glowinski, who reflected intensively on their experiences as Jews in the Second World War and tried to integrate these experiences into their often fractured identities. The complex personal evolution of these figures shows the multi-layered influences on their creativity and imagination, while underscoring the dilemmas they faced to find points of meeting between their Jewish background and their national identity.
The section on modes of acculturation, assimilation, and identity offers detailed analyses of the ways in which multi-ethnic and multi-national situations demand that the 'outsider', consciously or unconsciously, develop inner strategies to fashion a specific identity. Surveying such vibrant areas as Czechoslovakia and Poland between the two world wars and the city of Lwow in the late nineteenth century, three essays present some of the choices Jews made in order to deal with the changing political and cultural context. Their meditations on belonging and not-belonging?on the constitution of identity and its fluidity, and on the formation, breakdown, and reconfiguration of physical, mental, social, and geographical borders?acquire a special relevance and urgency in these settings. How did Jews as 'outsiders' configure their political allegiance in eastern Europe? How prominent were they in the radical elements of the communist movement in Russia? What tactics did they employ to safeguard their future in such societies and what means did they employ to galvanize the 'Jewish street'?
These are some of the questions raised in the section on society and politics, which delves into such problematic terrain as 'Jewish informers', the 'non-Jewish Jew', and 'Jewish politics'. The concluding essays examine the tensions, paradoxes, and ironies of the phenomenon of the Jewish outsider in Czernowitz and Vilnius, two cities where, indeed, Jews were often construed to be the true 'insiders'.