Events for City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York

New York Jews, so visible and integral to the culture, economy and politics of America’s greatest city, has eluded the grasp of historians for decades, until the new groundbreaking history, City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York.

The three-volume series, overseen by editor Deborah Dash Moore, has just published, and we’ve lined up a series of events to celebrate! Check them out below:

PREMIERE event for City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York
TONIGHT, Monday, September 10, 2012
at the 92Y, Lexington Avenue at 92nd Street
8:15pm | Join a panel of historical pioneers to explore their new, comprehensive interpretation of a Jewish urban community, at once the largest in history and most important in the modern world. The authors will be selling and signing copies of CITY OF PROMISES following the event.

Talk and performance on NY Jews in the Age of Immigration
on Thursday, September 20, 2012
at the LES Tenement Museum, 103 Orchard Street
6:30 pm | Hasia Diner introduces Tenement Museum VP, Annie Polland and co-editor Daniel Soyer for a talk and performance on Emerging Metropolis, the second volume in the CITY OF PROMISES series. They partner with actors to bring to life primary sources and tell the story of urban Jewish immigrant society.

Annie Polland on Emerging Metropolis: NY Jews in the Age of Immigration
on Tuesday, October 09, 2012
at 92YTribeca, 200 Hudson Street
12:00 pm | Annie Polland, the VP of Education for the LES Tenement Museum and author of CITY OF PROMISES, brings to life the urban tenements and banks, synagogues and shops, department stores and settlement houses that, together, created the fabric of Jewish immigrant life.

Book signing at the Gotham Center
on Tuesday, October 16, 2012
at Elebash Recital Hall, CUNY Graduate Center, 365 5th Ave at 34th Street
6:30pm | Deborah Dash Moore and Howard B. Rock will be joined by Annie Polland, Jeffrey Gurock, and Daniel Soyer to discuss the new three-volume set of original research, CITY OF PROMISES.

Authors and editors at the Miami Book Fair
on Sunday, November 18, 2012
at N.E. Second Ave between 2nd and 3rd Streets
CITY OF PROMISES authors and editors will be at the Miami Book Fair on Sunday, November 18, 2012. More details to come!

Talk at Stern College
on Tuesday, November 27, 2012
at 254 Lexington Avenue at 35th Street
Come out and support the CITY OF PROMISES authors and editors as they discuss the findings for their groundbreaking historical account of New York Jews. More details to come!

Gazing Into the Crystal Ball of Asian-Jewish Relationships

—Helen K. Kim and Noah S. Leavitt

A quick search through the internet uncovers many comments about romantic attachments between Asian-Americans and Jews, ranging from the serious to the silly. One of the most famous examples of this is a series of discussions on Jewlicious, a site for all things Jewish, about whether Asian-American women are among the most frequent visitors to Jewish dating websites like JDate.com. No matter what their tone or perspective, though, these stories demonstrate the strong emotional reactions that such couples evoke.

No recent Asian-Jewish couple besides, perhaps, Soon-Yi Previn and Woody Allen has gotten as much media scrutiny than Dr. Priscilla Chan and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Gazing into the crystal ball of the Chan-Zuckerberg marriage, one might wonder how these two—and other Asian-Jewish couples—incorporate their backgrounds into their shared daily domestic life. Moreover, it is nearly impossible to ignore the question, “What is going to happen with their kids?”

Intrigued by these kinds of questions, we recently spent a year and a half travelling the country to interview Asian American and Jewish American couples to understand how they describe their relationships. And, in the forthcoming Sustaining Faith Traditions: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion among the Latino and Asian American Second Generation, we spend a chapter focusing on the worldviews and reflections of the second generation Asian-American spouses or partners in sixteen of the Asian-Jewish couples we talked to.

While all couples are unique in many ways, based on what our interviewees shared with us, we’ve made a few predictions about the Chan-Zuckerberg relationship:

  1. Dr. Chan and Mr. Zuckerberg will share a fundamental value system focused on high educational achievement, close-knit families, and hard work, which is a version of what scholar Will Herberg called, in 1955, a type of common faith that he defined as “the American way of life.”
  2. Dr. Chan will not incorporate her religion of origin into the household religious or spiritual practice to create a dual-religious, or a syncretic, practice.
  3. If there comes a time when Chan-Zuckerberg kids appear (we think this highly likely, even with Dr. Chan and Mr. Zuckerberg’s very full professional lives—a characteristic they share with many of our interviewees), they will be raised Jewish, and Dr. Chan—regardless of any religious affiliation she grew up with or claimed—will be an equal, if not the, catalyst for this being the primary identity of the kids.
  4. Their kids might have trouble seeing themselves as tracing their identity through Dr. Chan’s family.
  5. In the end, the couples’ differences will be harmonized and the family will endure.

While critics of Jewish intermarriage often fret about the loss of a Jewish identity in a mixed household, we found that Asian-Jewish households often wind up, surprisingly, becoming Jewish.

Are the Asian-American members of these households losing their religion? Maybe.  Are they trying to acquire status in a still-white dominated nation? Perhaps. Or maybe they are trading their own spiritual practices for a harmonious household. To paraphrase one of our interviewees, a Chinese-American physician on the West Coast, “There are only a few million of my wife’s people but there are a billion of mine. Is one more really needed?”

Helen K. Kim is Associate Professor of Sociology at Whitman College, and Noah S. Leavitt is Assistant Dean of Students and a Research Associate in the Department of Sociology at Whitman College. Both are contributing writers to the forthcoming edition of Sustaining Faith Traditions: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion Among the Latino and Asian American Second Generation (NYU Press, 2012).

Spring Staff Picks: Signifying Creator

Name and role at the Press:
Constance Grady, Editorial Assistant

It’s my firm belief that every English major who studied after Derrida and Lacan inflicted their theories on the world went one of two ways: they either came to despise semiotics with every fiber of their being, or else they became completely, nerdily fascinated by the whole concept. Guess which way I went?

The Signifying Creator is all about nontextual semiotics. (Depending on which kind of English major you were, the hair on the back of your neck just stood up either in dread or excitement.) Throw in some discussion of highly obscure ancient Jewish ways of meaning, and you have a completely fascinating account of how the People of the Book read the world outside of the Book.

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

IF YOU have a favorite book from our spring catalog to add, then let us know by leaving a comment describing why it’s your pick. You could win a free copy of the book of your choice, and a feature on the blog!

Six Ways the Civil War Impacted Jewish History

Adapted from an article by Jonathan Sarna, author of Jews and the Civil War, at forward.com

Fifty years ago, for the Civil War centennial, New York’s Jewish Museum mounted a grand exhibit titled “The American Jew in the Civil War.” Fully 260 photographs, documents and objects appeared in the multi-gallery show. It was the largest display of Jewish Civil War memorabilia ever assembled.

In the exhibit’s catalog, the late Bertram Korn, the foremost expert on American Jewry and the Civil War, examined “the major meaning of the Civil War for American Jews.” He listed five key themes:

1) The opportunity accorded Jews to fight as equal citizens and to rise through the ranks, something not granted them by most of the world’s great armies at that time.
2) Jews’ “total identification with their neighbors” — Northern Jews with the North and Southern Jews with the South. Jews demonstrated their loyalty and patriotism during the Civil War, and then boasted of it for many years afterward.
3) Jews’ tenaciousness in courageously fighting for their rights. Soon after the war began, they organized to correct legislation restricting the military chaplaincy to “regularly ordained ministers of some Christian denomination.” In December 1862, they rushed to the White House to fight Ulysses S. Grant’s notorious General Orders #11 expelling “Jews as a class” from his war zone. In both cases, they won empowering victories.
4) The forthright repudiation of anti-Semitism by Abraham Lincoln, who overturned Grant’s order (“to condemn a class is, to say the least, to wrong the good with the bad,” Lincoln declared. “I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners.”). In the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis likewise repudiated anti-Semitism and worked closely with Judah Benjamin, his Jewish and much-maligned secretary of state.
5) The acceptance by the president and Congress of the principle of Jewish equality. Notwithstanding considerable wartime anti-Semitism, Jews achieved equal status on the battlefield, and Jewish chaplains won the right to serve alongside their Christian counterparts.
A sixth and somewhat uglier theme, largely overlooked in the catalog, should now be added to this list: complicity with slavery. Korn, a pioneering historian who elsewhere penned an essay on the topic of “Jews and Negro Slavery in the Old South,” demonstrated that Jews were in no way exceptional when it came to the peculiar institution. “Any Jew who could afford to own slaves and had need for their services,” he wrote, “would do so.”

Read more: http://www.forward.com/articles/135769/#ixzz1IWPekukr

Hasia Diner Wins the Saul Viener Book Prize

Many congratulations are in order for Hasia Diner, winner of this year’s Saul Viener Book Prize in American Jewish History, one of the highest honors for writing about American Jews. The book, We Remember with Reverence and Love: American Jews and the Myth of Silence after the Holocaust, 1945-1962, was just released in paperback and is available from our new website. The full award citation is below.

The American Jewish Historical Society is pleased to award the biennial Saul Viener Book Prize in American Jewish History to Hasia Diner’s We Remember with Reverence and Love. The book is a meticulously and indefatigably researched study using an exhaustive trove of resources in liturgy, public demonstrations, literature, songs, pamphlets, newspapers, handbills, speeches, sermons, and more. Diner’s book uses so broad a range of primary and contemporary material, and so much of it, that We Remember… makes the leap from a quantitative to a qualitative advance in Jewish Studies. Her study results in a seismic shift of the paradigm through which we analyze the social and intellectual history of American Jewry. It is an extraordinarily well-mounted, organized, relentless, and persuasive attack on the remarkably durable conventional wisdom that Jewish Americans were silent about the Holocaust in the post-war period. Though certain to elicit some demurrers, especially about what might have gone on in the private worlds of Jews in the U.S. during this era, no one will be able to say any longer that the subject of the Holocaust was “swept under the rug” in the public Jewish American dialogue of the 1940s and 1950s.

Jewish Week: The Synagogue in America

The Synagogue in America, forthcoming in April 2011 by Marc Lee Raphael, was reviewed in The Jewish Week’s arts preview.

Marc Raphael opens his new book, “The Synagogue in America: A Short History” (New York University Press, April) by reporting that when George Washington was elected president of the United States, leaders of all six synagogues in the new nation sent him notes of congratulation. He responded to four of them in a single letter and wrote individual letters to two of them. In 1789, more than a century after Jews first came to these shores, the 1,500 members of the community “proudly announced their religious institutions to the country and were recognized by its new leader.”

In the first ever study to look at American Jewish history through its synagogues, Raphael looks at the changing role of the synagogue from colonial days when it was the central address of the community to the present, when other institutions also dominate. Reporting on synagogues in cities and suburbs around the country, he writes about prayer, rabbinic leadership, architecture, fund-raising, feminism and social life.

Jews in Tunisia

With protests against authoritarian rule in Tunisia leading to the establishment of a fragile, new coalition government, we were looking to see what NYU Press has that applies. While there are several great books about conflicts against overbearing governments, we have only one book that takes a long look at Tunisia, Michael Laskier’s 1997 book North African Jewry in the Twentieth Century: The Jews of Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. It’s a fascinating look at the religious dynamics in the region throughout the 20th century, and recommended for anyone who wants a full picture of the region’s history. Most interestingly, Tunisian Jews form distinct communities in Israel and Canada, and their impact on politics there and in North Africa is still felt.

Creating an Encylopedia of the Ghettos

Last month, NYU Press published a major new reference work on the holocaust, the two volume Yad Vashem Encyclopedia of the Ghettos During the Holocaust. Editor Dan Michman sat down with Haaretz to discuss how the whole project came together. We’ve got an excerpt here on the blog; read the whole interview at Haaretz.

What was the genesis of the encyclopedia?

About a decade ago we decided, at the research institute of Yad Vashem, to take on a number of big projects, studies of the “infrastructure” of the Holocaust that a single researcher wouldn’t be able to do on his own. These were part of a much wider attempt to understand the vast logistics of the murder of the Jews, and the persecutions that preceded that.

One of those projects, begun in 2003, involved mapping out all the ghettos. There are two others still in the works. One is a project mapping all of the Eastern European killing sites – looking at who participated on the German side, who their Jewish victims were and where they were from, as well as the role played by locals. The other is to map the entire network of railroads employed by the Germans in deportations to the death camps.

In what way might the encyclopedia change our understanding of the Holocaust?

Many people have a certain conception of the Shoah. They assume that it proceeded in preplanned stages, and that during one of them, the ghettos were established. This understanding is based on their knowledge of the big ghettos − Warsaw, Lodz, Vilna and the like.

Until a few years ago, no one knew how many ghettos there were. I myself would have said that there were 500, maybe 600. But it turns out there were more than 1,000, many of them in small neglected places. You can page through the encyclopedia and learn about places that had maybe 1,000 or 2,000 Jews, or even fewer, living in a ghetto.
Another example: In mid-May, we had a launch for the book in New York. Prof. Omer Bartov [of Brown University], who is now working on a book on Buczacz, where S.Y. Agnon as well as Bartov’s own family were from, spoke about what he has learned. In his talk he emphasized that from our encyclopedia you can understand the way people lived in the many remote and little towns, and thus you get an entirely different view of what ghetto life was about. He said his studies have shown that, for instance, people who served on the Judenrat [the Jewish council during the German occupation] in Buczacz later made up the core of the resistance. So the dichotomy we sometimes make between “collaborators” and “resistance” isn’t necessarily accurate. The encyclopedia is therefore not just a summary of existing knowledge, but it will serve as an impetus for new insights.

Library Journal Stars Holocaust Ghettos

Library Journal gave a starred review for the The Yad Vashem Encyclopedia of the Ghettos during the Holocaust, 2 Volume set

This comprehensive encyclopedia—researched and compiled under the auspices of the International Institute for Holocaust Research, Yad Vashem (The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes Remembrance Authority) in Jerusalem and edited by Miron (lecturer, Schechter Inst. of Jewish Studies, Jerusalem; editor in chief of Yad Vashem’s educational journal Bishvil Hazikaron)—contains close to 1100 entries on the ghettos established in Europe during the period of the Holocaust. Entries are in alphabetical order by the name by which each ghetto was known in the country where it was located (the excellent index and cross-references help those searching under alternative names). A wealth of maps, some hand drawn by residents or officials, and photographs help bring the living and working conditions in the ghettos to life, as does the 75-minute DVD. BOTTOM LINE In May 2009, the first volume of seven of the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933–1945 was published by the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. That already massive work, with its signed articles, each with its own bibliography, may set a higher level of scholarship than this does, but the quality of the paper and illustrations here, as well as its more accessible organization and unquestionable scholarship, make it an invaluable reference tool for academic and large public libraries. Highly recommended.—Marcia Welsh, Dartmouth Coll., Hanover, NH

Join us for a launch party at the King Juan Carlos I Center in Washington Square next week!

Hasia Diner Receives 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship

NYU Professor and NYU Press author Hasia Diner has received a 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship in Humanities – Intellectual & Cultural History. Her book, We Remember with Reverence and Love: American Jews and the Myth of Silence after the Holocaust, 1945-1962, was published in 2009 and won the 2010 National Jewish Book Award in the category of American Jewish Studies.

In her Guggenheim year she will be working on her newest project, “Peddlers: A New World Jewish History,” which will look at the role of on-the-road peddling as a force which stimulated Jewish migration to and integration in nearly every place in the “new world,” including the British Isles, North, South, and Central America, South Africa, and the Antipodes. How, she wants to know, did this utterly prosaic and familiar occupation serve as an engine which shaped modern Jewish history and the histories of all those places.

A Guided Tour of Jewish Birthright Tours

The Jerusalem Post reviewed Shaul Kelner’s Tours That Bind: Diaspora, Pilgrimage, and Israeli Birthright Tourism

Imaginings of the homeland used to be the preoccupation of poets and philosophers. Now, they have landed in the portfolio of the tourism minister,” writes Vanderbilt University sociologist Shaul Kelner in his academic analysis of Taglit-Birthright Israel.

When Birthright was launched in 1999, more than a few skeptics wondered how a 10-day trip could supply young American Jews – particularly the targeted participants “on the margins of Jewish life” – with the massive dose of “diasporic identity” that the program’s founders aimed to provide.

A decade later, criticism has all but vanished as this multimillion-dollar program has facilitated free trips to Israel for more than 230,000 18- to 26-year-olds from 52 countries. The vast majority of participants report that the trip made a significant impact, many describing the experience as “life-changing.”

As Kelner points out, Birthright may be the most ambitious and far-reaching, but was not the first organized attempt at forging bonds between Israel/Israelis and Diaspora Jews. Nor are Jews the only ethnic group taking international “tours that bind.”