Jewish History In America

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Jewish History In America



“From the time of the earliest settlers during the colonial period until today, Jews in America have benefited from one of the most open and tolerant of societies. In fact, American Jews have never felt any tension between their religious and cultural identity and their desire to be accepted in American society.” – Anonymous historian

Based on the materials we have studied throughout the entire semester, write an esay arguing either for or against the proposition of this anonymous historian.  Give specific evidence to back up your opinion.

Q 2

  • World War II was a dramatic turning point in American Jewish history. Explain how and why Jewish life was so different in the period before the war and the period after the war (from 1945 on). How did these shifts ultimately change the central issues of concern to American Jews? In discussing these changes and their impact, be sure to consider all the various dimensions of Jewish life we have discussed: religious, economic, political, and cultural.

Q 3

Read the following quotation and then answer the question following it.

“I regard anti-Semitism as ineradicable and as one element of the toxin with which religion has infected us. Perhaps partly for this reason, I have never been able to see Zionism as a cure for it. American and British and French Jews have told me with perfect sincerity that they are always prepared for the day when ‘it happens again’ and the Jew-baiters take over. (And I don’t pretend not to know what they are talking about: I have actually seen the rabid phenomenon at work in modern and sunny Argentina and am unable to forget it.) So then, they seem to think, they will take refuge in the Law of Return, and in Haifa, or for all I know in Hebron. Never mind for now that if all of world Jewry did settle in Palestine, this would actually necessitate further Israeli expansion, expulsion, and colonization, and that their departure under these apocalyptic conditions would leave the new brown shirts and backshifts in possession of the French and British and American nuclear arsenals. This is ghetto thinking, hardly even fractionally updated to take into account what has changed. The important but delayed realization will have to come: Israeli Jews are a part of the diaspora, not a group that has escaped from it. Why else does Israel daily beseech the often-flourishing Jews of other lands, urging them to help the most endangered Jews of all: the ones who rule Palestine by force of arms? Why else, having supposedly escaped from the need to rely on Gentile goodwill, has Israel come to depend more and more upon it? On this reckoning, Zionism must constitute one of the greatest potential non sequiturs  (an inference or conclusion that does not follow from the premises or evidence)  in human history.”
― Christopher Hitchens, Hitch 22: A Memoir (Links to an external site.)

What is the main point that Hitchens makes about anti-Semitism?  Do you agree with him?  Why or why not?  Is the State of Israel capable of being the savior the Jews?  Why or why not?

Jewish History In America


The Jewish community today faces some major challenges and there is a sense of fear and even pessimism that these challenges can be overcome.  Read the passage below by Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth, an Orthodox Jew, and one of the leading intellectuals of our time.  After reading it, indicate whether you agree or disagree with him and explain your answer using specific evidence.

“My belief is that many, perhaps most, Jews within Israel and outside have forgotten the Jewish
story: the journey from slavery to freedom, darkness to light, exile to the Promised Land, a journey
of faith sustained by faith. In its place has come another story, so often recited, so often seemingly
confirmed by events, that it has come to seem the Jewish story.
It goes like this: Jews have been persecuted throughout the ages. They were in Christian Europe
from the eleventh to the twentieth century. They are now in the predominantly Muslim Middle
East. To be a Jew is to be hated and to defy that hate. As one twentieth-century Jewish theologian,
Emil Frankenheimer, put it: Jews are commanded to stay Jewish in order to deny Hitler a posthumous
victory. Jews are, in the biblical phrase, ‘the people that dwells alone (Numbers, 23:9).
First, [this] isn’t the Jewish story. The facts may be true, but the narrative is wrong. Second, it
risks becoming a classic case of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Believing themselves to be alone, Jews
will find themselves alone. Third, it leads to a set of attitudes utterly inconsistent with classic
Jewish self-understanding. It turns Jews into victims. It renders them passive-aggressive. It makes
them distrust the world, which can lead to other- or self-hatred. Fourth, it generates policies that
are self-destructive. Fifth, it demoralizes at the very time when the Jewish people need strength.
Sixth, it will lead Jews to leave Judaism. Seventh, it deprives Jews and humanity of the very thing
that constitutes the Jewish message to humanity: the Jewish story, told and lived, whose theme
is the audacity of hope.”
(Jonathan Sacks, Future Tense. A Vision for Jews and Judaism in the Global Culture, 2009)

5)  How has the relationship between Jews and African Americans evolved? How would you describe the nature of contemporary Jewish politics?


Jewish History In America