Ambivalent Embrace: Jewish Upward Mobility in Postwar America

By Rachel Kranson | Go to book overview

TWO
What now Supports
Jewish liberalism?:
Upward Mobility and Jewish Political Identity

In 1956 the office of public opinion research at Princeton University released a study that heartened Rabbi Harold Saperstein, a liberal Reform rabbi from Lynbrook, Long Island. Speaking from his pulpit in March of that year, Saperstein relayed the finding that, while wealthy religious groups tended to espouse more conservative political ideals than less affluent ones, Jews proved a notable exception. “They ranked highest in occupational and economic status—but instead of being lowest in liberal ideas they ranked highest,” explained Saperstein. The reason for this, he surmised, lay in the Jewish “moral and ethical heritage … and this still strengthens us to be true to our convictions even when it means going contrary to the interests of our own economic group.”1

Discovering that Jews continued to champion liberal ideals even as their fortunes grew must have offered considerable relief to Saperstein and other liberal Jewish leaders, many of whom had come to suspect that Jews were growing politically conservative as they moved to the middle class. This concern plagued not only the many liberal rabbis of the postwar years but also those Jewish intellectuals and activists outside the religious orbit who held deep commitments to liberal or, somewhat less commonly, leftist political values. These leaders feared that as Jews adapted to a conformist and complacent middle-class lifestyle in what they perceived as the Republican strongholds of suburbia, they would, inevitably, adopt conservative political views and shy away from social activism. That the actual picture of Jewish politics in suburbia did not necessarily match these leaders’ projections did little to assuage their anxieties. Like the characters “Harvey and Sheila” in comedian Allan Sherman’s 1963 parody of the Israeli folksong “Hava Nagila,” they

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