ZIONIST TOUGH JEWS
Western Europe, 1900-1920
The question of the role, or the lack of a role, assumed by tough Jewish nationalist imagery among American Jews prior to 1948 calls for comment. In the years before the First World War, amid their bookish and gentle self-understanding, Jews in New York not only had access to images of Jewish toughness but, in an unusual episode, actually embraced such images with passion.
To make sense of this important episode, I want to recall the impact on New York Jewish leaders of the 1908 report on crime by Police Commissioner Theodore Bingham and of the 1912 "Beansy" Rosenthal affair. Both Joselit and Fried show how these developments catalyzed a major reform effort by the New York Kehilla (the Jewish community's religious and civic leadership body). Its chairman, Judah Magnes, at the time a young Reform rabbi and head of the American Zionist Federation, led a new Bureau of Social Morals to combat the impact of the gambler and gangster. "Heaven help us," Magnes wrote at the time, "from this kind of Americanization" (quoted in Fried, p. 79). Along with such "uptown Jews" as Louis Marshall and the investment banker Jacob Schiff, Magnes and the Kehilla went to work.
Some years earlier, in 1905-6, Magnes and his associates