The Jews of St. John's, Newfoundland : a rhetorical approach to a community autobiography

Kahn, Alison Joanne (1983) The Jews of St. John's, Newfoundland : a rhetorical approach to a community autobiography. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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Abstract

The oral tradition of a small community continues as long as there exists a "chain of transmission” to perpetuate the cycle. Through regeneration, the past continues to be sustained, revitalized, in the present. When the future of the community is threatened, for some reason, and regeneration ceases, the chain breaks and the tradition atrophies eventually, the experience of the past disappears along with the last “links” unless it is translated into a more endurable document for posterity. -- The focus of this study is the small Jewish community in St. John's, Newfoundland. It is a community without regeneration now, as older members die and the younger ones move away. The consensus among members is that five or ten years from now, will be no Jewish community in Newfoundland. -- In an effort to “grasp" this community and its “story,” I collected life histories from members of the first and second generations. This “multiple life history” approach not only revealed historical information, but also the attitudes and values of those who derive their identities from this community. As each individual shaped his own past and present in his own words, each contributed to a collective re-creation of the shared past, and an affirmation of community identity. -- Two significant questions are asked in this study: what is meant by “community” and, is a community’s life story simply a chronicle of its past? A rhetorical approach is used to explore these questions by discerning the thematic and symbolic patterns representing these attitudes and values and, ultimately, by discovering the motives behind the storytelling. -- When the testimonies were juxtaposed and analyzed collectively, the rhetorical patterns served to define “community” by revealing its ethos. The rhetoric also exposed the motives behind the telling: the charting of the community in time and space, and an autobiographical impulse which motivated the community to create a monument to itself on the purported imminence of its “death.” -- This study further demonstrates how folklore - in this case, the expression of traditional knowledge - functions to educate by persuading an audience to assume a particular point of view. It also serves a cathartic function by articulating conflict through performance which accomplishes the following: it identifies and enacts conflict; it suggests a resolution to the conflict within the performance context even if, realistically, such a resolution is impossible to achieve; and finally, by “arguing” for tradition and against change, it reaffirms the tradition of community.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/5491
Item ID: 5491
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 284-288.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > Folklore
Date: 1983
Date Type: Submission
Geographic Location: Canada--Newfoundland and Labrador--Avalon Peninsula--St. John's
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Jews--Newfoundland and Labrador--St. John's

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