Let Us Prove Strong: The American Jewish Committee, 1945-2006

By Kranson, Rachel | Shofar, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Let Us Prove Strong: The American Jewish Committee, 1945-2006


Kranson, Rachel, Shofar


Let Us Prove Strong: The American Jewish Committee, 1945-2006, by Marianne R. Sanua. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England/ Brandeis University Press, 2007. 495 pp. $60.00.

Marianne Sanua's Let Us Prove Strong: The American Jewish Committee, 19452006 follows the American Jewish Committee as it responded to the pressing concerns of the last half-century, from the civil rights movement, the Cold War, and the war in Vietnam, to the Mid- East peace process, the fall of Soviet Russia, and mounting concerns within the American Jewish polity over intermarriage and Jewish continuity. Sanua's rich history of the AJC includes the illuminating and often harrowing debates and discussions that informed its organizational decisions. Her careful coverage of these deliberations reveals an organization in flux, grappling with whether to concentrate its energies on the particular concerns of American and world Jewry or, alternatively, to continue its strong emphasis on universalistic principles of pluralism and human rights for all people.

Let Us Prove Strong follows Naomi W. Cohen's Not Free to Desist: The American Jewish Committee, 1906-1966 (The Jewish Publication Society, 1972) in detailing the history of this organization, which had its hand in every issue concerning American Jewry over the course of the twentieth century. Cohen's volume recounted the growth and democratization of the AJC, which began in 1906 as an exclusive cadre of elite Jewish men who petitioned world leaders to ameliorate the situation of Jews in Tsarist Russia. By the 1950s, the AJC had emerged as a member- driven "human relations" agency, committed to the belief that Jewish interests would best be served by fighting for the social welfare of all humankind, Jews and non-Jews alike.

The most extensive sections of Let Us Prove Strong pick up where Cohen's volume left off, when the events of the 1960s and 1970s challenged the universalism and liberalism that characterized the AJC in the period immediately after World War II. Beginning in 1967, such critical issues as the fraying of the civil rights coalition and the weakening of Black-Jewish alliances, international pressure on the State of Israel to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and Jewish concerns over the perceived "vanishing" of American Jewry prompted the AJC to reevaluate its priorities. Within the organization, leaders and members wrestled with their commitments to liberal values and universalism even as they began focusing more energy on particularly Jewish concerns such as US.-Israel relations, the fate of Soviet Jewry, and Jewish education in the United States.

According to Sanua, economic as much as ideological concerns won the day for the Jewish particularists of the AJC in the 1990s and 2000s. The organization had reached a crisis point in the 1980s as it struggled to maintain its broad spectrum of interests, which included support for extensive social welfare programs in addition to its work on specifically Jewish issues. Without the financial resources to keep up both sides of their mission, AJC leadership streamlined the organization by focusing on three main issues: ensuring Jewish security around the world, promoting pluralism, and elevating the quality of Jewish communal life. With this new, more focused approach on Jewish interests, the AJC thrived financially and made strides in its chosen goals. …

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