The Jews In America: Four Centuries Of An Uneasy Encounter: A History, by Arthur Hertzberg
It is quite interesting to read this book and the way that it showed both the fretting that Jews have about matters like assimilation in the absence of social acceptance as well as the way that certain patterns have occurred over and over again throughout the history of Jews in America. I was impressed, at least a little, at the way that the author fails to provide the subject of his book with a sympathetic perspective. Over and over again the behavior of the would-be Jewish leaders turns out to have been worthy of criticism, even though the author clearly views them sympathetically. Indeed, by the end of the book I felt bad for some of the binds that secular-minded Jews found themselves in, unable to wholeheartedly embrace the Torah (or Talmud), afraid of losing their distinctive identity even as their identity leads them to receive hostility from both the right and the left, unable to celebrate lassiez-faire government nor able to profit from intersectionality as a basis for victim identity even after the horrors of the Shoah. If the author appears right that the immigrant experience can no longer provide a useful benefit to American Jews, it is unclear what is going to replace it.
This book is almost 400 pages long and is divided into twenty chapters. The author begins with an introduction where he asks and answers the question of who the Jews are in America. After that the author talks about the arrival of Jews in New Amsterdam (1) as well as the fraught relationship between Puritans and Jews (2). There is a discussion of the almost free status of colonial Jews (3) as well as the revolutionary and Tory Jews during the American Revolution (4). The author discusses James Madison’s America (5) as well as the status of Jews as patriots in the new nation (6). There is a discussion of the arrival of German Jews in the middle of the 19th century (7) as well as the worship of America (8), leading to a discussion of the desire of German Jews to get rich quick (9) before the arrival of the poorer Russian Jews (10). The author discusses nationalism among Jews (11) as well as the invention of the Jewish mother (12) as well as the demographic victory of Russian Jews (13) in America and the closing of the gates of free immigration (14). There is a discussion of the children of the ghetto (15), FDR (16), the Jewish postwar experience (17), and the Jewish move to the suburbs (18). Finally, the book concludes with a discussion of the Jewish search for power (19) under JFK, the pride American Jews felt at Israel’s victory in 1967 (20), and a conclusion about the end of immigrant memory and what can replace it, along with notes on sources and an index.
The history of Jews in America has been a fraught experience for many reasons. Jews have always represented a challenge to Christianity and even Jews without a great deal of religious knowledge or interest, like those in the United States for the most part, still present a deliberate desire to remain different even as they face a great deal of difficulty for so being. The fact that Jews have tended to seek power even as they have found their own interests hindered by their lack of leverage on their chosen Democratic party and the fact that many have been leftist has not helped their widespread appeal, and neither has their fallacious justifications of a supposed melting pot society that somehow refuses to melt them (or blacks, for that matter). One wonders why it is that the author thought it would be a good thing to point out that many Jews thought of FDR and JFK as “good kings” and pointed out the extreme Democratic partisanship of Jews, even if that represents a great part of the reason why they have run afoul in contemporary political matters.