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The Americanization of Zionism, 1897-1948
Naomi W. Cohen

Brandeis Series in American Jewish History, Culture, and Life

2003 • 284 pp. 6 1/2 x 9 1/2"
Jewish Studies

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“[An] important and interesting new book . . . It is impossible to finish any single section of the book without gaining some fresh insight or new information.” Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies

A cogent analysis of the political and cultural factors that shaped American Zionism in its early stages.

Although much has been written about philosophical and political Zionism, Zionism in the United States prior to 1948 requires separate treatment. The early development of American Zionism not only mirrors the paradoxes and challenges that faced first and second-generation Jews adjusting to life in the United States, it also has ramifications for contemporary attitudes of American Jews toward Israel.

According to Naomi Cohen, American Zionism was shaped originally by three factors: the needs of Jews in the United States and Europe, the stance of the American government, and the demands of non-Jewish public opinion. Within these broad parameters, the development of Zionism in the United States was linked to specifically Jewish American forces—acculturation, the struggle over communal leadership, and the impact of American antisemitism.

Cohen demonstrates the uniqueness of American Zionism through chapters that offer a fifty-year historical overview of the Jewish community in the United States and its relationship to its own government, to European events, and to political developments in the yishuv.

Focusing on Jewish leadership and democracy, Cohen analyzes the contradictions inherent in balancing political Zionism with Jewish participation in American public policy. She examines theological arguments raised by early-twentieth-century American reform Jews against Zionism, and she explores the meaning of public debates on Zionism following the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the Arab riots of 1929. Later chapters concern aspects of the immigration question from the 1920s to the 1940s and offer an account of diplomatic negotiations between an American non-Zionist and a British official on Jewish immigration and settlement. The volume concludes with an analysis of the founding of Israel debates of the 1940s, employing the responses of the American Jewish Conference and the Jewish Theological Seminary to illuminate contemporary American Zionist attitudes.

Although Cohen recounts different aspects of American Zionist history, all emphasizes how American Zionists, singly, in groups, or through institutions, reconciled their Zionist beliefs and activities with American principles and tastes. Indeed, American standards and concerns underlie the harsh criticism of Zionism by both Jews and non-Jews, a subject also treated in these essays.

Using a range of never-before-seen primary sources, Cohen strongly makes her case that without the Americanization of its ideology and politics, Zionism in the United States would have made little headway. Although Herzl’s teachings, tailored to conform to American beliefs and public behavior, were in part watered down to suit American Jewish sensibilities, they nonetheless had a powerful effect on American Jewry.

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Reviews / Endorsements

"In heavily documented detail, Cohen describes the political, organizational, and cultural elements that led to the alliance between the US and Israel as their national interests coincided, and the concurrent movement of Zionism from a secular to religious base. Recommended."Choice

"The essays are eloquent, deeply researched, and cogently argued, and they explicate Cohen's assumptions that Zionism in America was "a movement that was as much American as it was Zionist," and that Zionism has been a "barometer of the overall condition of the American Jewish minority."Congress Monthly

“Her investigation...plugs important gaps in the scholarly literature.”American Jewish History

From the Book:

"The result of Zionist activity in the United States ultimately served to modify the identity of the Jewish community. No longer merely another religious denomination, Judaism enriched by Zionism made Jews, synagogue affiliated or not, a recognizable ethnic group. . . . All told, American Jews made use of Zionism to balance their identities as Americans and Jews. There would have been an American Jewry without Zionism. . . . But Zionism even in a secularist form contributed to the cohesiveness of the community and put American Jews squarely within the larger frame of modern Jewish history."—from the Afterword

NAOMI W. COHEN is the author of several books on American Judaism, most recently Jews in Christian America: The Pursuit of Religious Equality (1992) and Jacob H. Schiff: A Study in American Jewish Leadership (UPNE, 1999).

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