Inventing Great Neck: Jewish Identity and the American Dream

Inventing Great Neck: Jewish Identity and the American Dream

Inventing Great Neck: Jewish Identity and the American Dream

Inventing Great Neck: Jewish Identity and the American Dream

Synopsis

"Great Neck, New York, is one of America's most fascinating suburbs. Since the mid-nineteenth century, generations have been attracted to this once quiet enclave for its easy access to New York City and its tranquil setting by the Long Island Sound. It became an illustrious suburb, home to numerous film and theatrical luminaries, among them Groucho Marx, Eddie Cantor, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Alan King. Famous writers who lived there include Ring Lardner and, of course, F. Scott Fitzgerald, who used Great Neck as the inspiration for his classic novel The Great Gatsby." "Although frequently recognized as home to well-known personalities, Great Neck is also notable for the conspicuous way it transformed itself from a Gentile community, to a mixed one, and, finally, in the 1960s, to one in which Jews were the majority. In Inventing Great Neck, Judith S. Goldstein recounts these histories in which Great Neck emerges as a leader in the reconfiguration of the American suburb. The book spans four decades of rapid change, beginning with the 1920s. First, the community served as a playground for New York's socialites and celebrities. In the forties, it developed one of the country's most outstanding school systems and served as the temporary home to the United Nations. In the sixties it provided strong support to the civil rights movement." "Inventing Great Neck is about the allure of suburbia, including the institutions that bind it together, and the social, economic, cultural, and religious tensions that may threaten its vibrancy. Anyone who has lived in a suburban town, particularly one in the greater metropolitan area, will be intrigued by this narrative, which illustrates not only Jewish identity in America but the struggle of the American dream itself through the heart of the twentieth century."

Excerpt

Great Neck, New York, is one of America’s most fascinating suburbs. The community, located at the eastern edge of New York City, developed an intriguing and distinct identity—in large part from its special Jewish history—from the 1920s through the 1960s. As a community, Great Neck has made aggressive claims to national recognition. In the 1920s it was a home for a new celebrity culture of writers, journalists, and Broadway and Hollywood stars, including many Jews who were not welcomed in other communities on Long Island’s North Shore. In the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, Great Neck witnessed the creation of one of the country’s outstanding public school systems, and in the late 1940s it served as the temporary home of the United Nations. In the 1960s, Great Neck was notable for its support of the civil rights movement and student activism; and, from the 1940s until today, it ranks as one of the most significant outposts of suburban Jewish culture, led by distinguished rabbis and marked by the Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox movements. In the process of inventing and reinventing itself, decade after decade, Great Neck has spun out many striking realities and myths—none more forceful than F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby—that have attracted and repelled large numbers of people. Drawing attention, through admiration and contempt, has been a Great Neck specialty.

In many ways, Great Neck reflects the tensions, dramas, and dreams common to America’s countless suburbs. But it has also pursued its own conspicuous and unique path while transforming itself from a Gentile community to a mixed one and, by the 1960s, to a predominantly Jewish one. Inventing Great Neck: Jewish Identity and the American Dream explores individual histories and forces of collective social development over four . . .

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