Quest for Inclusion: Jews and Liberalism in Modern American

By Marc Dollinger | Go to book overview

“Die Velt, Yene Velt…”:
An Introduction

JONAH J. GOLDSTEIN, a judge connected with New York's Tammany Democratic machine, once observed that American Jews lived in three velten (worlds): die velt (this world), yene velt (the world to come), and Roosevelt. Goldstein's muse captured an American Jewish political mood that lasted well beyond FDR's presidency. Between Roosevelt's first election in 1932 and the most recent presidential contest, American Jews have voted Democratic more than any other white ethnic group. They have worked their way to the top of American political, economic, and cultural life and established their community as the best-known defenders of the nation's downtrodden and oppressed. 1

In 1932, the election that launched the modern liberal state, Franklin D. Roosevelt won an astonishing 82 percent of the American Jewish vote. By 1944, Jewish support for the New Deal architect peaked at an astronomical 90 percent. When the nation turned to the right in the postwar years, American Jews remained firm. They warned about the evils of unrestrained anti-Communism and delivered unprecedented political, financial, and physical support for African-American civil rights workers in the 1950s and 1960s. Even when many working-class white ethnics abandoned liberalism for the allure of neoconservatism in the late 1960s, Jews held fast to their Democratic roots and searched for ways to preserve their liberal ideals in the new political climate. 2

As a religious minority often persecuted by Old World government authorities, Jews looked favorably upon the U.S. government's promise of civil protection. They fashioned many of the twentieth century's most important social welfare programs and proved instrumental in the transformation of modern American liberalism. Jews stood at the crossroads of twentieth-century American political change and helped direct the nation toward a vision of democracy rooted in tolerance, pluralism, and the rule of law.

The American Jewish community's fascination for liberalism contradicts widely held assumptions about American political culture. Jews, as writer Milton Himmelfarb quipped, lived like Episcopalians but voted like Puerto Ricans. Between 1932 and 1975, Jews rocketed to the top of American social life. Jewish-owned businesses flourished and the

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