Continuity, Commitment, and Survival: Jewish Communities in the Diaspora

Continuity, Commitment, and Survival: Jewish Communities in the Diaspora

Continuity, Commitment, and Survival: Jewish Communities in the Diaspora

Continuity, Commitment, and Survival: Jewish Communities in the Diaspora

Synopsis

Highlights the similarities and differences of Jewish communities in seven countries on five continents.

Excerpt

Steven M. Cohen

A SHIFTING FOCUS: FROM INTEGRATIONISM TO
SURVIVALISM

In the mid-twentieth century, American Jews were rapidly moving upward socially and outward geographically. In entering the upper middle class and the newly built suburbs around major metropolitan areas, they experienced halfhearted acceptance, if not outright rejection, in several domains. For American Jews, the central issues were tied up with entry into the larger society; for academics who studied such issues, the research agenda reflected the drives and problems felt by this aspiring American minority seeking to rid itself of the burdens of age-old prejudice and discrimination. Accordingly, social scientists of the mid-twentieth-century Jewish experience focused in large part upon minority status, adjustment, acceptance, status attainment, and related matters (see, for example, Gans 1958; Glazer 1958; Ringer 1967).

After 1967, the agenda of American Jewry shifted from integrationism to survivalism (Cohen and Fein 1985), from winning social acceptance to assuring group persistence. Accordingly, since the late 1960s, social scientists of the American Jewish experience and their lay readers have been focused upon a central question that has animated their work. It is the question of group survival, a matter of discerning the health of the Jewish community in America at a time when Jews experienced the near total removal of all barriers to their participation in the larger society As early as 1973, Charles Liebman would articulate what would emerge as the master question in the study of American Jewry until the present day:

The American Jew is torn between two sets of values—those of integration and accep
tance into American society and those of Jewish group survival. These values appear to
me to be incompatible. But most American Jews do not view them in this way.… The be-

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