Off-campus UNL users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your NU ID and password. When you are done browsing please remember to return to this page and log out.

Non-UNL users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

"Whatever We May Be We May Be, But Jews Are What We Are": Jewish Rhetoric and the Construction of Great Plains and Upper Midwestern Jewish Communities

Jamie L Downing, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This dissertation examines the ways Jewish communities on the Great Plains and in the Upper Midwest deployed uniquely Jewish rhetorical practices to build and maintain Jewish community. Whereas Western rhetorical traditions center on deliberation within a public square, I argue that Jewish communities’ rhetorical practices focused inward, aiming at the protection and continuation of Jewish culture and tradition. Whereas previous investigations of Jewish rhetorical practice have focused on very specific texts or phenomenon, I offer a broader understanding of how Jewish rhetorical practice has nurtured community throughout the ages. Each of four analysis chapters adds to understanding of Jewish life outside of major East Coast population centers and the processes by which isolated populations sustained Jewish community. In each, I consider a rhetorical motif which undergirds the production of Jewish life. The first of these chapters examines how eastern aid organizations appealed to notions of Jewish peoplehood in an attempt to keep western Jews connected to the larger Diaspora. The second focuses on the rhetorical motif of observance, interrogating the manners in which Jewish immigrants adapted traditional Jewish practice to new environments in the absence of well-developed Jewish infrastructure. The third considers the motif of community; while notions of Diaspora reinforced a larger sense of peoplehood, the intentional construction of community centers the needs of and relationships with those immediate to the business in everyday life. The fourth analysis chapter takes up the rhetorical motif of protection, focusing on the manners in which Jewish leaders sought to shield their communities from persecution in order to carve out a permanent, thriving home on the Plains. Given the exclusion of Jewish populations from public society for centuries, Jewish rhetoric faces inward, touching every aspect of lives lived in community. As such, I argue that Jewish rhetoric manifests in action—the doing of community, of tradition, of Jewishness. The parallels between these widely dispersed, diverse communities affirm the manner in which the erasure of boundaries between private and public, individual and communal reconfigures rhetorical practice as a means by which to bind communities over space and time.

Subject Area

Religion|Regional Studies|Rhetoric

Recommended Citation

Downing, Jamie L, ""Whatever We May Be We May Be, But Jews Are What We Are": Jewish Rhetoric and the Construction of Great Plains and Upper Midwestern Jewish Communities" (2017). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI10272282.