Kentucky is the first major work in Yiddish literature to present America as its primary theme. The long epic poem paints a rich picture of life in Kentucky just after the Civil War. Written between 1918 and 1922 by Lithuanian-born writer, I. J. Schwartz, it first appeared in the Yiddish journal Zukunft and later, in 1925, was published as a book. Although unknown to English readers until this translation, the book was a primary text for immigrants and potential immigrants in places as remote as Poland and Argentina who received their first impressions of America from its pages. Parts of it were even set to music and sung in choruses around the world. "New Earth," the central poem of Kentucky, is the story of Joshua, an eastern European Jew who comes as a peddler to Kentucky and settles among farmers, where he adjusts to the environment, raises a family, prospers, and becomes a town leader. The sacrifice for this success, however, is the decline of his Jewish faith.
I. J. Schwartz was born in Lithuania in 1885 and emigrated to New York in 1906 where he found intellectual companions among other young immigrants. Called Di Yunge (the youngsters) by the critics, they published three anthologies of their works with the title Jugend (Youth), 1907-1908. Gertrude W. Dubrovsky is President of Documentary III, a nonprofit organization to preserve ethnic rural history, and Yiddish Instructor, Hillel, at Princeton University.
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