The “transnational turn” has been a prevalent theme in recent historical writing. The field of Jewish history is particularly suited to transnational approaches, given the dynamic migration process that defined the modern period. Yet, until recently, most scholarship in American Jewish history has contended that Jewish life in the United States was wholly distinct from previous Jewish experiences. Because American Jews faced neither the protracted struggle for political emancipation nor the virulent political anti-Semitism that gripped parts of Europe, many historians have argued for an exceptionalist model of American Jewish history that emphasizes freedom, opportunity, and successful acculturation. In this anthology, the editors Christian Wiese and Cornelia Wilhelm set out to question the notion of American Jewish exceptionalism by examining European influences on Jewish life in the United States as well as the ongoing interactions that American Jews maintained with their European counterparts. In the opening essay, Wiese declares the volume's intent to examine “in which regard and for which reasons American Jews did, indeed, deviate from the patterns of their European past” (p. 2). Organized chronologically, the book's twenty-one essays treat questions of the distinctiveness of American Jewry from a range of perspectives, focusing on religious expressions, political and cultural identities, and social, intellectual, and economic life. The anthology begins with two introductory articles, one by Wiese and the other an essay by Susannah Heschel, about the imprint of Europe on American Jewish culture. The volume is then organized into four sections—on the colonial period, the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the mass-migration years, and the post-Holocaust era. Readers conversant with American Jewish historical scholarship will recognize familiar authors in this anthology, many of whom cover subjects that they have researched and written about for many years. In fact, most of essays in the collection are reprints of previously published material or articles by authors drawing on their earlier works. Some pieces contain reflections by scholars that consider the implications of their work for transnational readings of American Jewish history. For example, the historian Tony Michels revisits his interpretation of New York socialists who provided a model for their Russian counterparts in mobilizing Yiddish language to spread their movement's message among the masses. While Michels explores American Jewish influences on European politics, Judah M. Cohen demonstrates how interpretations of American Jewish history become altered when viewed from the vantage point of the Caribbean region, and Henry Feingold traces the significant efforts of American Jewry to rescue Jews from Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Issues of gender also receive attention in this volume, particularly in the essays by Karla Goldman and Laura Arnold Leibman. Although this anthology does not offer much new scholarship, it does achieve its stated goals. The collection's greatest strength is in bringing together discussions of the exchange of ideas, cultures, and social patterns among Jewish communities on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The collection fruitfully addresses the complex interactions between Jews in the United States and Europe, uncovers the European influences on American Jewish life, and helps dissect the distinctive and shared elements of these two interdependent Jewish cultures. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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