Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




From the memoirs of several Jewish homesteaders in North Dakota, one observes a series of binaries between Diaspora and homeland and between Jewish Orthodoxy and more liberal forms of Jewishness. The writers of these memoirs generally produce these binaries through two methods. First, the content they introduce in their stories reflects opposing categories of Jewishness, such as Orthodox and Reform Judaism, that significantly frame the nature of their relationships to their families, local community, and country. Second, when the writers transfer stories from their past into the contemporary moment, they juxtapose a previous self with their present self at the time of writing. Often, this juxtaposition reveals an identification with a different form of Jewishness as an older adult than when the writer was a child or younger adult.

The chapters that follow examine the dialectic nature of binaries and the relationship of those binaries to the identities presented by the writers in their memoirs. By outlining a paradigm that describes the relationship of binaries to self as a "synthesis," my intention is to balance the postmodern desire to see identity as something fragmentary with the observance that individuals emphasize specific fragments of their experience as foundational for their identity. As Maier Calof s, Rachel Calof s, and Sophie Trupin's memoirs show, this foundation is not a constant state but rather is something that transforms within individuals as their environments and living conditions change over time.

Each writer's act of remembrance serves as a place of mediation among the multiple interpretations of homeland and diaspora presented in his or her memoir, allowing for a synthesis of binary categories in the self-identity he or she projects overall in the memoir. Neither side of the binary can be hierarchized, by either the writer or the reader, over the other side of the binary, since each side helps form and inform the characteristics of the other side. One can appreciate the flexibility of a Jewish identity that emphasizes life in the Diaspora, but that appreciation results largely from what it does not emphasize, namely aliyah (return to Israel). On the other hand, the writers each maintain clear alignments to specific categories of Jewishness, regardless of the fact that it is possible to accept each side of the binary equally. A writer's rootedness to the Orthodox tradition may, for example, cause him or her to perceive a liberal form of Judaism in a negative light.

The memoirs serve as a site of mediation because it is a place where the writer actively participates in a dialogue with the past he or she is attempting to remember and construct. This is not to say that the writer is attempting to reconcile the opposing nature of the binary categories. Instead, the writers attempt to understand categories of Jewishness with which they had previously aligned themselves when they were younger or that had been observed within other family members.