The creation of the state of Israel in Palestine lent Jews in America a degree of legitimacy. And Jewish-Americans were now on the cusp of a new reality.
Unit IV: 1946-1976
In the 1950s the Anti-Defamation League sought to have the immigration laws of decades prior repealed. President Truman was sympathetic to the millions of displaced persons, a good portion of which were Eastern Europeans of Jewish descent. Even though America was largely outraged at news of the Holocaust, many Americans reserved the suspicion that Jews were crooked bankers secretly poised for world domination. The immigration laws were not repealed.
The 1950s also saw a debate concerning the census of 1960: should it contain religious questions? Here was an issue that embraced social, political and religious points all at once. The way Jewish-Americans faced the issue had repercussions for the entire nation. The book Protestant-Catholic-Jew had helped establish the idea in the 1950s that religion mattered more than race or class. Favored by the Eisenhower administration and by Catholic committees, the idea of adding religion to the 1960 census looked to go through. However, Jewish organizations had always tried to keep separation between church and state -- and now was no time to quit. "Between 1956 and 1958, the American Jewish Congress and other Jewish organizations worked hard to stop the plan, especially by lobbying members of Congress. In 1958 the Jewish organizations were able to declare victory" (Hollinger, 2009, p. 1-2). Through their vigilance, Jewish-Americans were able to keep church and state at a distance regarding this issue.
During this time, Jewish-Americans also began more and more to emerge as leaders in American literature. Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, Betty Friedan and Phillip Roth had much to say about Jewish and American life.
Betty Friedan had been shaped herself by much of what went on in early twentieth century America. An avid activist and strong supporter of equal rights for women, Friedan took the opportunity on the fiftieth anniversary of the granting of women's suffrage to organize a strike for equality. Her book the Feminine Mystique sparked the Feminist Movement. She claimed "that she came to political consciousness out of a disillusionment with her life as a suburban housewife" (Horowitz, 1998, p. 2) and wrote the book on feminism, literally, as a means of doing what the Jewish producers in Hollywood had done: reinvention of self. Not only did Friedan reinvent herself, she enabled millions of women to reinvent themselves as well. Women's roles changed significantly during the '60s and '70s and continued to change well into the present. For example, one such social and cultural issue Friedan and other women (not just Jewish) took to heart was the issue of abortion. Friedan founded the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws -- a repeal that was granted by the Supreme Court in 1973.
Phillip Roth's literary career took a much different route. As a Jewish-American, Roth often depicted characters in his novels as split or torn between American fundamental values and Judaic values. He himself was a second generation Jewish-American and often felt adrift: neither American nor Jew. His novels explore this idea as his characters search for a kind of transcendence neither Jewish nor American. His novels would help shape the way many Americans felt about their culture as well as their identities as Americans. Several of his stories have been adapted into films, including Goodbye, Columbus, the Human Stain, and Elegy.
Unit V: 1976-Present
The rise of Wall Street banking during this final period of time has again thrown Jewish-Americans into a defensive role in the public eye. The latest economic issues have been faced by Jewish-Americans with great temerity. Rolling Stone commentator Matt Taibbi issued a scathing article on banking giant Goldman Sachs and its graduates having the White House literally in its back pocket. In Taibbi's words, Goldman Sachs has been "gorging itself on the unseen costs that are breaking families everywhere -- high gas prices, rising consumer credit rates, half-eaten pension funds, mass layoffs, future taxes to pay off bailouts" (2009). By emphasizing Goldman's role in the housing bubble and the economic collapse of the twenty-first century, Taibbi showed the Jewish-founded banking firm to be at the center of a scandal even larger than the JP Morgan scandal of a hundred years prior. Americans responded by once again complaining that Jews and the White House were "together."
Animosity over the Gaza Strip has also been a point of contention even among Jewish-Americans themselves. While some see Israel as increasingly aggressive, others point to Palestine as being the start of most of the conflicts.
While America battles two wars overseas, flexes its arm virtually across the globe, and meanwhile seems to be crumbling at home, many Americans give vent to an age-old anti-Semitism that does not appear to be going away any time soon. However, Jewish and civil rights watchdog groups are quick to pounce on anti-Semitic remarks -- so quick, in fact, that many Americans in the public sphere risk losing their careers. Mel Gibson is one infamous example. Once celebrated White House correspondent Helen Thomas is another. Thomas lost her job when she criticized Israel's war against Palestine. Universities across the nation at once ceased awarding honors in her name.
Throughout their history, Jewish-Americans have helped shape and been shaped by America's diverse and ever-changing culture. Through their tenacity, their bonds, their knack for reinvention, and their hard work, Jewish-Americans have left their mark on American society. American society has also left its mark on Jewish-Americans like Betty Friedan and Phillip Roth. By observing history in its different time periods, one can see just how Jewish-Americans faced many social, economic, religious, political, and literary issues. There is no doubt that the future will reveal even more as Jewish-Americans face the next century.
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