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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
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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.”
In this episode of our podcast series, Blog Editor Joe Gallagher talks to Ari Y. Kelman, author of Is Diss a System? A Milt Gross Comic Reader, about the history and lasting legacy of one of America’s first graphic novelists and pre-eminent Jewish humorists.
You can also read a review of Is Diss a System? on the New Republic’s book blog.