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The Dynamics of American Jewish History
Jacob Rader Marcus’s Essays on American Jewry
Gary Phillip Zola, ed.

Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life

2003 • 228 pp. 12 illus. 6 1/2 x 9 1/2"
Education / Jewish Studies

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"Jacob Rader Marcus was the 'father' of scientific study of American Jewish history and Gary Zola was one of his most devoted students . . . This useful volume . . . grants readers a sense of Marcus' mission to inspire Jews to study their history seriously as an act of communal responsibility and to perpetuate their faith in America."—Jewish Book World

Sheds light on how Jacob Rader Marcus—one of the twentieth century’s most influential American Jewish historians—conceptualized his understanding of the American Jewish experience.

Jacob Rader Marcus (1896–1995), scholar, professor, and rabbi, was called the Dean of American Jewish historians by students and colleagues alike. A seminal force in the evolution of the academic study of American Jewish history, Marcus was the first to apply modern critical methodology to this field. In the course of his long life, he published more than 300 books and articles on the history of American Jews. In 1947 he founded the American Jewish Archives, which he directed for almost fifty years. A beloved teacher and mentor for several generations of Hebrew Union College (HUC) students, Dr. Marcus remains a very significant figure in the history of American Jewry during the twentieth century.

Marcus, raised in West Virginia, was the child of East European immigrants. At the age of 15, he moved to Cincinnati to matriculate at HUC, America’s oldest rabbinical seminary. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War I, Marcus became a member of the HUC faculty upon his rabbinical ordination in 1920. He subsequently moved to Europe to pursue doctoral studies and, upon returning to Cincinnati, Marcus taught courses in Jewish history. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Marcus realized that the i American Jewry was fast becoming the most influential Jewish community in the world. In the aftermath of the brutal destruction of European Jewry during World War II, Marcus’s keen interest in the history of American Jewry burgeoned.

Marcus left the pulpit for a career of scholarship and teaching, he nevertheless maintained a close connection to his students and, through them, to the American rabbinate. A mentor to generations of HUC students and graduates, Marcus was an active participant in the Central Conference of American Rabbis (the organizational arm of the American Reform rabbinate), serving as its president from 1949–1951.

In this volume, Gary Philip Zola brings together a unique assortment of Marcus's most important unpublished essays, written for a more popular audience between 1916 and 1989. Read collectively, these essays bring the key themes of Marcus’s work into bold relief. In the early "America: The Spiritual Center of Jewry" (1916), as in the much later "Three Hundred Years in America" (1955), Marcus calls upon American Jewry to study its heritage, arguing that this knowledge will kindle a renaissance in American Jewish life. In "Lost: Judaism in the American Expeditionary Forces, the Urgent Need for Welfare Work" (1919), he insists that the Jewish experience in America consists of a symbiotic relationship between individual Jews and the larger Jewish community. A focus on the individual in relation to the whole guided many of Marcus’s essays, as did his emphasis on Jews studying their own past, strong echoes of both can be found in "New Literary Responsibilities (1941–1942) as well as works for specific occasions, such as "The Program of the American Jewish Archives" (1947) and Genesis: College Beginnings (1989). Another leitmotif linking these diverse topics is Marcus’s view that American Judaism will thrive and distinguish itself as long as Jewish education and Jewish cultural life become a high priority on the Jewish communal agenda.

This collection enhances our understanding of how the ideas of one of American Jewry’s pioneering historians evolved, while preserving historical documents that trace the development of American Jewish life over the course of the twentieth century.

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From the Book:

"The field of American Jewish history has grown dramatically since Marcus began his work more than sixty years ago. Over the past two or three decades, hundreds of Jewish organizations, historical societies, and synagogues have established local archives in which historical documents are preserved and made available for research. Today, thousands of monographs, articles, and books have transformed what was once a barren field of study into a burgeoning academic enterprise. . .. Yet even as the body of American Jewish historiography increases, tomorrow's students will have no alternative but to make Jacob Marcus a critical point of reference from which the field's efflorescence will be gauged. In this way, Marcus's career and scholarly contributions will continue to impact upon the dynamics of American Jewish history for years to come."—from the Introduction

GARY PHILLIP ZOLA is Associate Professor of the American Jewish Experience at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion and the Executive Director of The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives.

Tue, 11 Jul 2017 09:43:10 -0500