Neglected Areas of American Jewish History at the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History. (in Pursuit Of.)
Friedman, Murray, American Jewish History
The Feinstein Center for American Jewish History was created twelve years ago at Temple University in Philadelphia. Working with consortiums of scholars as well as with individual researchers, the Center seeks to identify and to fill vacuums in the field of American Jewish history.
The Feinstein Center began by emphasizing the Philadelphia story. As thousands of Jewish immigrants poured into the country at the beginning of the twentieth century and seemed likely to disappear into the melting pot, an unusually talented group of Philadelphians, including Judge Mayer Sulzberger, Rabbi Sabato Morais of Congregation Mikveh Israel, and scholar Cyrus Adler, joined with a number of prominent New York Jews' to create several of the major institutions upon which modern American Jewish life would subsequently be built. They included, among others, the American Jewish Committee, the rejuvenated Jewish Publication Society, and the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. The Center convened a conference of scholars to explore the role of the Philadelphia group, and later published their papers under the title When Philadelphia Was the Capital of Jewish America (1993) [ed. Murray Friedman--Ed.].
A vacuum exists at times because of a subject's newness. This was the case with the Soviet Jewry movement, which in the late-twentieth century succeeded in assisting more than a million and a half Jews to emigrate, primarily to Israel but also to the United States. The Feinstein Center focused attention on the movement in a conference of activists and scholars in New York City that yielded another collection of papers, A Second Exodus: The American Movement to Free Soviet Jews (1999) [ed. Albert D. Chernin and Murray Friedman--Ed.]. A subsequent volume by Andrew Harrison, Passover Revisited (2000), focused on efforts in Philadelphia to assist Soviet Jews between 1963 and 1998. The Center has also commissioned Professor Henry Feingold to write what it hopes will be the definitive history of one of the great exoduses of the entire Jewish historical experience.
While the political culture of American Jews has been extensively explored, historians have dealt mainly with the origins and the nature of the tendency of the American Jewish population to gravitate to the left and to liberalism. We have no studies of what has become more apparent in recent years, namely a move by some Jewish intellectuals to the center and the right, and the growth of the highly influential neoconservative movement, particularly during the Reagan years. Accordingly, in 1998, and in cooperation with the Jewish Studies program at American University, the Feinstein Center convened a conference of distinguished scholars to examine the growth of American Jewish political conservatism. Among the insights they explored was that this development had its origins in the 1940s and 1950s and featured a number of well-known figures, including Leo Strauss, Milton Friedman, and novelist Ayn Rand, whose books have sold in the millions. The results of this conference can be found in the collection of some of the papers delivered at it, published in 1999 in a special issue of American Jewish History [ed. Murray Friedman--Ed.].
Closely related, but in the cultural arena, there has been considerable discussion of the role of Partisan Review as a force shaping issues of concern to both the Jewish and the broader communities, but there has been no comparable discussion of the impact made by Commentary. …