By studying the multiracial Jewish organisation Hatzaad Harishon, Janice W. Fernheimer's Stepping into Zion considers the question "Who is a Jew?" - a critical rhetorical issue with far-reaching consequences for Jews and non-Jews alike.
Hatzaad Harishon ("The First Step") was a New York-based, multiracial Jewish organisation that worked to increase recognition and legitimacy of black Jews in the sixties and seventies. In Stepping into Zion, Janice W. Fernheimer examines the history and archives of Hatzaad Harishon to illuminate the definition and borders of Jewish identity, which have critical relevance to Jews of all traditions as well as to non-Jews.
Fernheimer focuses on a period when white Jewish identity was in flux and deeply influenced by the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. In 1964, white and black Jews formed Hatzaad Harishon to foster interaction and unity between black and white Jewish communities. They raised the question of who or what constitutes Jewishness or Jewish identity, and in searching for an answer succeeded - both historically and rhetorically - in gaining increased recognition for black Jews. Fernheimer traces how members of Hatzaad Harishon, who did not share the same set of definitions, were able to create common ground in a process she terms "interruptive invention."
Through insightful interpretation of Hatzaad Harishon's archival materials, Fernheimer chronicles the group's successes and failures within the larger rhetorical history of conflicts that emerge when cultural identities shift or expand. Stepping into Zion offers "interruptive invention" as a framework for understanding and changing certain dominant discourses about racial and religious identity, allowing those who may lack institutional power or authority to begin to claim it.
Janice W. Fernheimer is an associate professor of writing, rhetoric, and digital studies and the director of Jewish Studies at the University of Kentucky. Her research focuses on questions of identity, invention, and cross-audience communication. Her scholarship has appeared in Rhetoric Society Quarterly, College English, Argumentation and Advocacy, Computers and Composition Online, Currents in Electronic Literacy, the Journal of Business and Technical Communication, and Technical Communication. Fernheimer is also a founding member and leader of Klal Rhetorica, an international scholarly organisation that explores issues of Jewish discourse, identity, and culture.