Tradition Transformed: The Jewish Experience in America / Edition 1

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Throughout American history, from the colonial era to the present, Jews have found America generally hospitable. Yet even in this relatively receptive country, which essentially replaced Israel as the "promised land," there have been vexing questions for Jews—questions about the costs of freedom and mobility, especially with regard to the erosion of Jewish tradition and distinctiveness.

In this one-volume history of the Jewish experience in America, Gerald Sorin argues that, from colonial times to the present, "acculturation" and not "assimilation" has best described the experience of Jewish Americans. American Jews, Sorin explains, have maintained their unique ethnic characteristics yet have become part of mainstream, middle-class American life. Sorin also shows how the large migration of Jews from Russia and Eastern Europe in the late nineteenth century made a lasting impact on how other Americans imagine, understand, and relate to Jewish Americans and their cultural contributions today.

Drawing together all aspects of American Jewish history, this concise volume deals with the transformation of a people, their religion, their move into trade and commerce, their political commitments domestically and internationally (especially after the Holocaust), and their contributions to education and culture.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Editorial Reviews


Sorin's thesis is extremely timely, and his book deserves to be read both widely and closely by our communal elites consumed with the notion that American Jews are hellbent on assimilation.

Nova Religio
Probably the best brief history of American Jews available.

— Mark Stoll

Nova Religio - Mark Stoll

Probably the best brief history of American Jews available.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Only about 20% of Jewish Americans classify themselves as observant and 52% are marrying out of the faith. But liberal Jews, at least, are likely to find comfort in Sorin's theory that despite those numbers, there is no reason to fear for the future of a Jewish presence in America. Hearty and adaptable, the Jewish Americans now entrenched in mainstream society survived and thrived, in part, by moving their religion beyond "the realm of the synagogue," and extending it to "the ideologies and activities of a wide spectrum of Jewish organizations and individuals usually described as secular." Sorin provides extensive evidence to back his belief that establishing and supporting philanthropic organizations, practicing social justice and looking out for the welfare of Jews overseas have contributed as much, if not more, to the identity of Jewish Americans than those who have been keeping kosher and attending weekly Sabbath services. Sorin's research is exhaustiveand at times exhausting to read. He packs in the informationcovering immigration, trade unions, politics, anti-Semitism and the somewhat strained relationship between blacks and Jews, among other topics. He also offers seemingly trivial but nonetheless tantalizing evidence of the flexibility of Jewish Americans: e.g., early in this century, Jewish farmers who had trouble working the "relatively inhospitable soil of the Catskills" turned their homes into boarding houses, laying the ground for what eventually became the Borscht Belt. (Apr.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801854477
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/1997
  • Series: The American Moment Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 6.01 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Meet the Author

Gerald Sorin is Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Department of History at the State University of New York, New Paltz. He is the author of A Time for Building: The Third Migration, 1880-1920 (Volume 3 of The Jewish People in America), available from Johns Hopkins.

Johns Hopkins University Press

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Table of Contents

Series Editor's Foreword
Preface and Acknowledgments
Ch. 1 Perspectives and Prospects 1
Ch. 2 The Threshold of Liberation, 1654-1820 11
Ch. 3 The Age of Reform, 1820-1880 21
Ch. 4 The Eastern European Cultural Heritage and Mass Migration to the United States, 1880-1920 34
Ch. 5 Transplanted in America: The Urban Experience 61
Ch. 6 Transplanted in America: Smaller Cities and Towns 91
Ch. 7 Jewish Labor, American Politics 107
Ch. 8 Varieties of Jewish Belief and Behavior 126
Ch. 9 Power and Principle: Jewish Participation in American Domestic Politics and Foreign Affairs 147
Ch. 10 Mobility, Politics, and the Construction of a Jewish American Identity 160
Ch. 11 Almost at Home in America, 1920-1945 179
Ch. 12 American Jewry Regroups, 1945-1970 194
Ch. 13 Israel, the Holocaust, and Echoes of Anti-Semitism in Jewish American Consciousness, 1960-1995 214
Ch. 14 The Ever-Disappearing People 234
Bibliographical Essay 255
Index 285
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