JBuzz Musings June 23, 2015: The Confederacy hostile to African Americans safe haven for American Jews

JBUZZ MUSINGS: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Note: The following includes an extensive excerpt from the author’s unpublished thesis entitled, “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Anti-Semitism, 1860-1913” for the MA in Judaic Studies program at Concordia University.

After the shooting attack on the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on Wednesday, June 17, 2015 where Dylann Roof, 21 shot and killed nine African Americans, in what is being deemed a racist attack, the debate over South Carolina‘s official usage of the Confederate flag is again heating up. On Saturday, June 20, protesters gathered objecting to the flag remaining at the capital, thousands signed a petition on moveon.org. There are now calls for the flag to be removed from its official spot in South Carolina’s state capitol of Columbia.

Mitt Romney, the 2012 GOP Presidential nominee set the bar high calling for the flag’s removal in a tweet on Saturday, June 20, 2015, where he called it a “symbol of racial hatred.” Romney shares the same views as President Barack Obama, who has long called for the flag’s removal. One by one, the Republican presidential candidates weighed in on the issue, many called an issue for the state to decide, a few called for its downright removal including front runner Jeb Bush. In the wake of the movement to remove the flag, SC governor Nikki Haley, Charleston’s mayor, and a group of bipartisan legislators agreed on Monday, June 22, the flag has to go. The state started the process by removing the flag from the Citadel just a day later on Tuesday, June 23.

South Carolina is not the only state to look to end the Confederate flag’s continued life; Virginia will no longer allow the flag to appear on any license plates. The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday, June 18 that it was not a violation of the first amendment for the government deny certain images or words be placed on specialty license plates. The case revolved around the Texas Motor Vehicles Board refusing the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) a license plate design with the Confederate flag on it. Retailers including Walmart, Etsy, Sears and Amazon.com will no longer sell any items with the Confederate flag on them. The calls are not just to remove Confederate flags, but statues and monuments relating to the Confederacy trying wipe away a major part of American history.

In a long held tradition sacred for the state, South Carolina flies in addition to the American flag the Confederate flag. South Carolina has fought to keep flying the flag, which they deem an important part of “their heritage.” For many others it is a symbol of the Civil War and slavery, a “dark” time in American history. After the Charleston church shooting, and the perpetrator’s racist motives and plans becoming clearer, many are calling for the flag to be removed from the state capitol grounds in Columbia. In 2000, after a similar fight, civil rights activists had a minor victory when the flag was removed from inside the statehouse and capitol dome, however, it remained flying on the grounds.

For Southerners the flag has historical significance for other especially after the shooting it is considered even more so a symbol of racial hatred and a reminder of slavery. The Confederate south was not racially hostile to every racial group that did not fit the mold of a white Christian, in fact American Jews found an oasis in the antebellum and Civil War south, free of the anti-Jewish prejudice that was prevalent in the North at that time. Part of the reason was that American Jews joined and found common ground with Southern White Christians and partook in every aspect of Southern life, the good, the bad, slavery, racism, participating in every aspect of the Civil War on the side of the South and the Confederacy.

Even from Colonial times, life in America for Jews offered more freedom than they could hope for in Europe.  In North America, the division of society was based less on religion, as had been the case in Europe, but on skin color. The first slaves arrived in Virginia in 1619, even before the arrival of the first Jews in 1654, and although slavery was not the system that it would become, by the time Jews began arriving, the distinction between black and white was set in colonial society.  Slavery spread throughout the American colonies with Rhode Island acting as an exemption.  There are two primary reasons that motivated a slavery system in America; slave labor was a driving force behind economic development, as well as the main method in determining class status.

Whiteness equaled to freedom, while slave ownership, and the number of slaves owned indicated wealth and social status; it allowed the poorest of whites to remain always above blacks in the social ladder. In a society were race was more important than religion, Jews believed they could escape religious persecution because they were white, and they could exploit this fact to gain freedom and social acceptance. Fifty years after their entrance into America, Jews had already integrated and assimilated themselves through the practice of owning slaves; Jewish involvement in the slave trade and slavery was another way to integrate with America’s Christian population. The South’s peculiar institution of slavery touched every Jew that chose to live in the South in the antebellum period, and in the antebellum period, this was a large portion of America’s Jewish population.

The population of Jewish in the southern colonies and then states was practically old as their founding. Robert Rosen writing in The Jewish Confederates points out, Southern Jews were an integral part of the Confederate States of America and had been breathing the free air of Dixie for 200 years” by the time the Civil War ended.[i] The historian Steven Hertzberg recounts in Strangers within the Gate City: The Jews of Atlanta, 1845-1915, “Jews had resided in the South since the seventeenth century, and a party of 42 Jews landed at Savannah in July 1733, just five months after the arrival of Georgia’s first colonists.  At the time of the first federal census in 1790, nearly half of the approximately 1,300 to 1,500 Jews in the United States lived below the Mason-Dixon Line, and Charleston, with an estimated 200 Jewish inhabitants, sheltered the second largest Jewish community in the country.” [ii]

By 1820, Charleston would surpass New York as the most populous Jewish city in the new nation with a total 700 Jews living there. Although during this period, a good portion of America’s Jews made their home in the South their numbers were small in comparison to the Southern white majority. Clive Webb argues in Fight Against Fear: Southern Jews and Black Civil Rights, “Jews never constituted more than a tiny percentage of the southern population. Their desire for social acceptance ensured their compliance with the laws and customs of their adopted homeland.  In particular this involved their acceptance of slavery and then racial segregation.” [iii]

Jews thoroughly accepted slavery; its practices and rules, and ingrained it into the fabric and day to day living of their lives. Whichever economic pursuit Southern Jews were involved in, or their economic status in Southern society; they were fervent advocates of slavery. Jews participated in the plantation lifestyle; adhered to Southern norms in their treatment of their slaves, and were even involved in slave trading. On Jewish owned plantations, slaves would work as either field hands, or house servants, while urban dwelling Jews would own slaves that worked in their homes and businesses or hired them out, while a smaller number of Jews even participated in the slave trade.

Jews participated in these practices because they wanted to feel they belonged to the chivalry and elite Southern society.  Participating in the slave system was the primary method for Southern Jews to belong to white Southern society, but also partaking in the South’s code of honor, and duels were another, historian “Mark I. Greenberg points out that Jews adopted the Southern way of life, including the code of honor, dueling, slavery and Southern notions about race and states’ rights.”[iv]

Adhering to the majority allowed Jews to be as “white” as Southern Christians, and they also could contrast sharply with the slave population, move up in American society, and take part equally in the American democratic dream; a position of equality continually denied to Jews in their European countries of origin. Historians Marvin Perry and Frederick Schweitzer write in Antisemitism: Myth and Hate from Antiquity to the Present, “The views of southern Jews on race and slavery differed little from other white southerners who regarded slavery as the natural condition of blacks. An insecure minority eager to be accepted as equals by the society which they dwelled, southern Jews, like other southerners, did not challenge the slave system.” [v]

Many Jews were recent immigrants who did not want to instigate the segregationist anti-Semitism they experienced in Europe by their opposition. As Webb argues “Confronted with such a hostile political climate, Jews had little choice but to accept slavery. Those who did harbor doubts about the ethics of the slave system kept such thoughts to themselves for fear of provoking an anti-Semitic backlash. Gary Zola has indeed suggested that at times this determination to avoid conflict caused southern Jews to support slavery even more aggressively than other whites.”[vi]

This whiteness allowed many Southern Jews to shared similar experiences and beliefs about slavery as their Christian counterparts did, and were devoted to the cause. America’s Jews as Jacob Rader Marcus writes had “a readiness, if not an eagerness, to adapt themselves to the life and culture about them”[vii]  In fact Southern Jewry’s participation in the South cultural and societal norms such as slavery and the honor code did serve as Jews’ acceptance into the Christian society as white Southerners.  As Lauren Winner claims, “Recent scholarship has attempted to argue that Jews were accepted fully into the society of the Old South. One recent enterprising scholar claimed that Jews in antebellum South Carolina, because they dueled, sported hoop skirts, and owned slaves, were full participants in Southern society.”[viii]

Southern Jews did enjoy a relative prejudice free life in the antebellum South, “Nowhere else in the United States had Jews been as fully accepted into the mainstream of society. Nowhere else in the United States had Jews become as fully integrated into the political and economic fabric of everyday life.”[ix] In their opinion, it was a privilege they held dear, and supported the South’s peculiar institutions to hold on to this acceptance.

There was still one aspect however; Southern Jews differed from the rest of the Southern white population: religion.  Jews could not participate in Christian evangelism that was so prevalent in the South during that period.  As Lauren Winner points out in her article “Taking up the Cross: Conversion among black and white Jews in the Civil War South”, “That Jews could not engage in that essential feature of the South’s social landscape-evangelicalism-is, in this scholar’s estimation, inconsequential at best.” [x]  That was why is was so essential in Southern Jewry’s opinion to integrate and participate in the South’s other customs to ensure they would be considered white, and avoid any religious animosity, and anti-Jewish prejudice was more prevalent in the North.

In nineteenth century, America slavery became probably the most divisive issue both politically and socially, and one of the main causes leading to the Civil War (1861-1865). As the doyen of history of Jews during the Civil War Bertram Korn indicates, “had Negro slavery not been an integral aspect of the life of the Old South, there would have been no conflict, no secession, no war.  Differences there might have been, but not violence and bloodshed.  Slavery was the single indigestible element in the life of the American people which fostered disunion, strife, and carnage, just as the concomitant race problem has continued to an important degree to be a divisive force in American life to this day.”[xi]

Its effects were not unnoticed on America’s small but ever growing Jewish population. Slavery was predominately a Southern issue although its moral and political ramifications affected the entire American population. Americans took positions on the issue, while many remained indifferent. There was however, a small minority of northern reformers who believed that slavery should be abolished in the South, and they worked towards this goal much to the resentment of Americans both in the North and much more vehemently in the South.

As relative newcomers to America, the majority of the Jewish population did not speak out against slavery; essentially all of the South’s small Jewish population supported slavery, since it was their entrée into acceptance by the Christian majority. Korn, notes “No Jewish political figure of the Old South ever expressed reservations about the justice of slavery or the rightness of the Southern position.”[xii]

Even when slavery was becoming more controversial, and Civil War loomed Southern Jews still continued their support of slavery. As Arthur Hertzberg writes in The Jews of America: Four Centuries of an Uneasy Encounter : A History, “In the 1850s most people in America hoped that the issue of slavery could be avoided; so did most Jews. In the Southern states Jews almost unanimously supported the proslavery interests.”[xiii] Hasia Diner concurs explaining in The Jews of the United States, “Nothing demonstrated this fact better than the Civil War and the issue of slavery. Southern Jews regarded the matter no differently than did their neighbors. Three thousand Jewish men fought in gray uniforms, and Jewish women aided the cause with volunteer work.”[xiv]

Jews were loyal to slavery, the Southern way of life, and the Confederate cause. As Abolitionist Rabbi Bernhard Felsenthal observed “Israelites residing in New Orleans are man by man—with very few exceptions—ardently in favor of secession, and many among them are intense fanatics.” [xv] Most Southern Jews supported the South’s secession from the Union and the newly established Confederacy, whether they were citizens of the South for many years or recently arrived immigrants. The South had been good to its Jewish population they flourished economically, politically and socially in a Christian society, essentially without anti-Semitism.

Most Jews however, believed their support for the Confederacy; states’ rights, and slavery were the key to maintaining acceptance as a part of the white majority. As Oscar R. Williams in “Historical Impressions of Black Jewish Relations Prior to World War II” writes, “During the Civil War Jews defended the system which insured them acceptance and success in the South.” [xvi] While Webb writes that “Through their loyal support for secession, southern Jews therefore hoped to reinforce their social acceptance.”[xvii] As Robert Rosen describes in Confederate Charleston, “The Charleston Jewish community gave its enthusiastic support to the Confederacy. Having found in South Carolina from colonial times a haven from religious persecution, a freedom to practice their religion, and the freedom to engage in all forms of commerce, the Jews of Charleston showed great devotion to the Confederate cause.”[xviii]

All over the South, Jews heeded the call to support the Confederate cause. The obvious choice for most men was to join a company in the Confederate army, many Southern Jews could not physically give their support, they used the other means they had in the powers to help in the Confederacy, for some it was political and most often monetary contributions. Southern Jewry’s devotion to the Confederacy translated into the actions in support of the Southern cause approximately two to three thousand Jewish men fought for the gray, while on the home front the women worked as loyal volunteers, as nurses resisting Northern, Yankee troops’ growing occupation of their beloved South. Rosen claims, “Thus, overwhelmingly, and almost unanimously, some with fear and trepidation, others with courage and enthusiasm, some with reservations, others with a firm unflinching resolve, Southern Jewry cast its lot with the Confederate States of America.”[xix]

So fierce was Jewish devotion to Southern ideals that when as Rosen writes “in April 1861 the Jewish messenger of New York City called upon American Jewry to “rally as one man for the Union and Constitution,” the Jews of Shreveport responded with a resolution denouncing the newspaper and its editor
“We, the Hebrew congregation of Shreveport,” the resolution began, “scorn and repel your advice, although we might be called Southern rebels; still, as law-abiding citizens, we solemnly pledge ourselves to stand by, protect, and honor the flag, with its stars and stripes, the Union and Constitution of the Southern Confederacy, with our lives, liberty, and all that is dear to us.”[xx] Southern rabbis agreed with the congregations’ support of the war and preached and prayed for the Confederacy in their services: “This once happy country is enflamed by the fury of war; a menacing enemy is arrayed against the rights, and liberties and freedom of this, our Confederacy;…Here I stand now with many thousands of the sons of the sunny South, to face the foe, to drive him back, and to defend our natural rights, O Lord…Be unto the Army of the Confederacy as though were of the old, unto us, thy chosen people-Inspire them with patriotism!”[xxi]

Southern Jewish men that remained on the home front during the war also made tremendous contributions in support of the war. Many men continued their mercantile businesses, or as peddlers or in their stores, supplying the troops as well as those that remained on the home front. They also worked as innkeepers, tanners, apothecaries, doctors or teachers.[xxii] Many who unable to literally go off to fight in the war would join the home guard or militia to protect the city or town where they lived. The Jewish men who remained on the home front were also involved in philanthropic efforts.

The most common form of philanthropy was the creation of benevolent societies to help the poor affected the war, donate money to hospitals, and bury dead Confederate Jewish soldiers in Jewish cemeteries. Southern rabbis remained fervent advocates of the South and the Confederacy throughout the war, as were their Christian counterparts; they prayed for and praised the Confederacy in their services. Rabbi James Gutheim of Montgomery, AL, had recently arrived in the South 1843, prayed for it at the onset of the war, asking for divine intervention for “our beloved country, the Confederate States of America. May our young Republic increase in strength, prosperity and renown.”[xxiii]

Southern Jews supported the Confederacy because they believed they had a haven from the anti-Semitism that hounded them in Europe this was especially true for new and recent immigrants from Central Europe, whom compromised a majority of Southern Jews serving in the Confederate Army. Rosen continues, “Many like “Ike” Hermann, had found the land of Canaan. Others, like Gustavus Poznanski, had found their Jerusalem, their Palestine. Still others, like Marcus Baum, Jacob Samuels, Adolph Proskauer and Herschell Kempner, had finally found their Fatherland.”[xxiv]  Leopold Weil a Jewish cotton merchant wrote at the time “This land has been good to all of us…I shall fight to my last breath and to the full extent of my fortune to defend that in which I believe.”[xxv] Weil did he enlisted in the Confederate Army as a lieutenant.

Southern Jewry was motivated to support the Confederacy as Webb explains, “there were a number of reasons why Jews championed the Confederate cause. Like many southern Jews, Leopold Weil attained privilege and prosperity through the exploitation of slave labor. The South also offered safe haven to thousands of Jews who fled persecution in Europe. Although Weil recognized that slavery was immoral, he was not prepared to abandon a land that “has been good to all of us.”[xxvi] Even many years after the war Southern Jews could declaring how good the South was for immigrant Jews  Isaac “Ike” Hermann, a private 1st Georgia Infantry proclaimed  “I found in [the South] an ideal and harmonious people; they treated me as one of their own; in fact for me, it was the land of Canaan where milk and honey flowed.” [xxvii] Testifying that Southern Jewry in the antebellum period had found in the South the haven from prejudice they had been looking for.

When Civil War erupted after the Southern states seceded from the Union, women in the South faced an upheaval as their way of life was threatened to be changed forever.  For Southern Jewish women were fiercely attached to the Southern way of life, and this manifested itself into a deep loyalty for the Confederacy and support that it would win the war.  As historians Hasia Diner and Beryl Lieff Benderly indicate in Her Works Prise Her: A History of Jewish Women in America from Colonial Times to the Present, “When the Civil War split America, Jews, as Americans, supported both sides, either as passionate proponents of the Union or devoted sons and daughters of the Confederacy.” [xxviii]  Jacob Rader Marcus, the doyen of American Jewish history concurs in Memoirs of American Jews, 1775-1865, “The apogee of patriotism was reached by the Southern women, including Jewesses.”[xxix]  While Marli F. Weiner explains in Mistresses and Slaves: Plantation Women in South Carolina, 1830-80, “In the antebellum South gender and race were the two most significant shapers of individual experiences.  Other factors such as class, region, religion, family skill, personality even appearance, were also important, of course but being born free or enslaved, male or female determined the possibilities and limitations for each individual.” [xxx]

The majority of these Jewish women were not recent immigrants, but American born and shared the lifestyle and values of their Christian counterparts. As Diner and Benderly recount, “Rosana [Osterman], the Levy sisters, and the Natchez M[a]yer daughters were not, of course, recent immigrants but rather the American-born descendants of earlier migrant generations.  But they, like Jews throughout the country, both newly arrived and long established, saw themselves as wholehearted Americans and fashioned their lives and identities in response to an American reality quite unlike anything Jews had ever experienced elsewhere.”[xxxi]  These women were Jewish southern belles and lived their lives accordingly.

These Southern Jewish women were integrated in Southern society, and were attached to lifestyle they had become accustomed to, and as the war, demonstrated Southerners and the Confederacy were more tolerant of Jews than the Union army that ravaged the South, Southern Jewish recognized this and devotedly aligned themselves with their beloved South at all costs.  Marcus writes, “The Southern Jewesses were fanatically, almost hysterically, passionate in their sympathies for their new regime.  Were they trying to prove that they were more ardent than their neighbors? Why?”[xxxii]

Like many other Christian women in the South, Southern women contributed on many levels through volunteer work, as war supply collectors, sewing circles, and nursing, but the far more committed chose to rebel against the Union officials. Jewish women especially took advantage of this new politicizing position the war granted women by demonstrating their loyalty to the South, through fiercer methods, often through illegal means including, smuggling, espionage, and belligerency.  Practicing slavery and being perceived as white, and generally adhering to the South’s social norms helped Southern Jewry escape Anti-Semitism.\

When Civil War erupted the North was threatening the Southern oasis Jews had created, virtually free of old prejudices.  The North in contrast, was more anti-Semitic and welcomed less its Jewish population into the Christian majority. Although the majority of Southerners Jews tried to defend the Confederacy and the land that had been so good to them, Southern women left on the home front were supporters that were even more ardent. As Catherine Clinton explains, “The Civil War, many Southern Jews felt, would change all this. Not unlike African Americans, who have believed throughout U.S. history that military service would guarantee them rights of full citizenship, Southern Jews expected that if they embraced the Confederate cause wholeheartedly, they would in turn be embraced by the Confederacy and accorded a new role in the society of the new nation.”[xxxiii]

Southern Jewish women adhered to the similar place other Southern women took in society, but also in supporting the Confederacy, Southern Jewish women took on added role defending Southern Jewry whiteness and place in Southern Christian society with their war efforts.  To the end, Southern Jews were even more enthusiastic towards their allegiance to all Southern practices, especially Jewish women.

Southern Jewish women knew that the Southern way of life was integral to maintaining the racial equilibrium for Jews and for avoiding anti-Semitism.  As Steven Hertzberg writes in Strangers Within The Gate City: The Jews Of Atlanta, 1845- 1915, “While suspicion engendered by their foreign birth and alien religion may have induced some Jews to conform outwardly to regional values as a means of protective coloration, most willingly embraced Southern attitudes because they had a consuming desire to succeed in their new home.”[xxxiv]  These women would go to great lengths to support the Confederacy in the manner they best knew how, and within the limits of the white womanhood, they wished to maintain.  They felt if they would defend the Confederacy on the home front, after the war they would keep being defined as white Southerners, and find a sense of belonging in the land they were living in.

The Jews’ harmony living in a Southern Christian society however was not without anti-Semitism. Seth Forman explain in his article “The Unbearable Whiteness of Being Jewish: Desegregation in the South and the Crisis of Jewish Liberalism,” “All of this does not mean that the position of Southern Jews was not in any way precarious. Living in a region characterized largely by an overpowering caste system and fierce racial bigotry, Southern Jews treaded lightly and made their way in a place that was largely ambivalent about their presence.” [xxxv] Webb concurs, “Southern Jews did not succeed entirely in eroding anti-Semitism.” [xxxvi]

Even with all Southern Jewry’s efforts and support for Southern institutions, they could not entirely escape anti-Jewish prejudice in the South, since it essentially began with their arrival in 1733, as Hertzberg claims “even in the colonies which were hospitable to Jews.”[xxxvii]  Winner explains, “The new nation did not come to fruition, and neither did Southern Jews’ expectations of their support of the Confederacy. To the contrary, they found that during wartime, their support was not welcomed but, rather, received warily. Protestant Confederates blamed Southern Jews when any aspect of the war effort went wrong, accusing them of espionage, racketeering, and conspiracy.”[xxxviii]

With trying times, and the increase of the Jewish population in 1850 caused an increase in anti-Semitism. A general dislike of all aliens and foreigners increased during the Civil War. Korn describes, “Additional social factors peculiar to life in the South tended to strengthen and heighten the reaction to Jews: a general dislike of all aliens and foreigners which, during the War, created the legend that the Union Army was a band of German and Irish hirelings and mercenaries, while the Confederate Army was said to be exclusively native; a wide-spread suspicion of the merchant and storekeeper, typical of a society dominated by the plantation owner and farmer.”[xxxix]

Jews however, hoped that their strict adherence to Southern norms, with either keep anti-Semitism to a minimum or restrict any further occurrence of anti-Jewish activity. As the Civil War was becoming a reality, Jewish support for the Confederacy, states’ rights, and ultimately slavery was the key according to the Southern Jewish population to acceptance as a part of the white majority. Forman writes, “For the most part, however, these kinds of actions were mitigated by countervailing Southern ideas concerning the equality of all white men, the overriding concern with the subordination of black Americans, and the usefulness of the Jews as merchants and artisans. Spread thinly throughout the vast region, the Jews in the South tended to avoid taking public stands on controversial issues. When the issue of slavery tore the country in two during the Civil War, for example, Southern Jews largely accepted slavery and supported the South.[xl]

The rise in anti-Semitism commenced as the war turned towards the worse for the South, defeat was imminent, and the economy worsened with food and supplies difficult to acquire as the war raged on. Jews were blamed because their religion differed, clashing with the Christian Fundamentalism of the Confederate South, Jews roles as merchants and Judah P. Benjamin prominent political role in the Confederate government as attorney general, secretary of state and secretary of war. This only magnified after the South lost the war, the blame shifted over to the Southern population, despite the fact that very few Jews had any political or economic power.

Leonard Dinnerstein explains in Antisemitism in America, that Southern Jews despite living among evangelical Christian only sporadically experienced Anti-Semitism, and this was usually just in the most trying economic times. “Thus Jews as a group, despite their opportunities in the United States, never quite relaxed, and always kept a watchful eye open for Christian bias. Such prejudice was not uniformly exhibited and it often depended on historical circumstances and the strengths or trials of distinct Christian groups at different times in history as to how the beliefs would be exercised. Sometimes numbers made a difference; when Jews were strong in number they often felt more secure and comfortable. Other times local values dictated their reception and demeanor.”[xli]

Although the South had always been a Christian and religious area, the war was only reinforced this, and brought religion to the forefront. As the war raged on Southerners began invoking Christian religious language in relation to the Southern cause, and the Confederacy, which separated Jews from the pre-war unified white majority; classifying them as foreigners both religiously, and with the implications that Jews were Yankees, Northerners. Myron Berman states, “public demonstrations of piety and the use of Christian concepts became more pronounced in the course of the war.”[xlii]

This was because of the fundamentalist style that Southerners were invoking in their religious practices. Diane Ashton explains in her article “Shifting Veils: Religion, Politics and Womanhood Among Jewish Women During the Civil War,” “First in the North and later in the South, the belief that America played a pivotal role in bringing the second coming of Christ reached an apogee just before and during the Civil War. Southern anti-Semitism was fueled in part by a more fundamentalist style reading the New Testament than was common in most Northern Churches. The Confederacy went so far as to define itself as a Christian nation in its constitution. Southern clergy mounted frequent revivals among the troops, both to obtain God’s favor and to enable soldiers to fight without fear of death. Historian Harry Stout explained that the Confederacy declared many fast days, a practice previously more common in the North, to bind the civilians troops alike to display their patriotism and piety-then defined as the same thing.”[xliii]

As the situation in the Civil War was becoming increasingly worse for the Confederacy, Southerner’s anti-Semitism arose, when before the before the war these sentiments had publicly been kept to a minimum, and Jews were for the most part tolerated in Southern society. Korn explains, “Granted an original suspicion and dislike of the Jew before the War, the four-year-long travail of the Confederacy was certain to emphasize it.”[xliv] Southern Christians began to blame to the Jewish leaders of the Confederacy for the South’s loses. Diane Ashton writes that “Denunciations of Jews became more commonplace during the Civil War and Reconstruction. Southerners explained their defeat as God’s chastisement for widespread sinfulness.”[xlv] The Confederate anti-Jewish feelings however, were mostly reserved for Judah Benjamin and Jewish merchants. Southern newspapers and magazines would refer to Jews as “Yankees among us” or as shylocks.[xlvi]

Judah Benjamin was the Secretary of War and then State for the Confederate government, and he took the blame for many of the South’s defeats and problems. The fact that he was a Jew led a citizen of North Carolina, John Beauchamp Jones to swear that “all the distresses of the people were owing to a Nero-like despotism, originating in the brain of Benjamin, the Jew.”[xlvii] Henry L.
also reiterates that Benjamin was blamed for war loses because of his religion as opposed to his actually polices and military decisions. As Feingold writes in Zion in America: The Jewish Experience from Colonial Times to the Present, “In 1862 Judah Benjamin, who had suffered much calumny because of his being Jewish, was censured by the Confederate Congress for failing to send war supplies to Roanoke and thus causing its loss to the Union Army. He did not reveal that if he had complied with Roanoke’s request, Norfolk would have been left vulnerable.”[xlviii] Winner states, “Benjamin was only one of the many Confederate Jews whom Confederate Christians plugged into age-old stereotypes of the Jew qua extortionist, thief, shylock, of Jews driven by, in the words of historian John Higham, “cunning” and “avarice.”[xlix]

This anti-Jewish prejudice also was seen in the Confederate military. Jewish Confederate’s in the military were faced with prejudice and ridicule, and were often prevented from receiving promotions that were due to them or they were reluctantly given to them. Winner writes, “Captain R. E. Park recounted that his colonel attempted to block the promotion of Mobile’s Captain Proskauer because the Colonel was suspicious of Jews’ loyalty to the Confederacy. A Jewish Colonel assigned to a Texas regiment experienced such ridicule and antagonism that within forty-eight hours of joining up with his new regiment, he left.”[l]

On the home front, the situation was not quite different; Southern Jews faced anti-Jewish prejudice in their daily lives. In the United States at the time is not uncharacteristic for Jews to be scapegoats blamed for an economic situation, which was out of their control, and a product of the war rather than anything else. In these desperate times Christian Southerners were looking for scapegoats and the rising prices for living essential made the Jew and particularly the Jewish merchant the ideal scapegoat, and the fact that most Jews were merchants, an important component of the Confederate economy did not help the increase of anti-Jewish prejudice. Ashton claims this economic blame was widespread writing “Across the South, both small merchants and public figures like Benjamin were blamed for the region’s economic woes and its military defeat. Although Richmond‘s major industries were not in Jewish hands, Jews were among those blamed for the South‘s economic ills as the war dragged on.”[li]

Southerners often saw the high prices merchants charged as extortion, and they viewed the Jewish merchants as “extortionists.” George Rable notes in The Confederate Republic: A Revolution against Politics, “Many Confederates looked for scapegoats and discovered an ancient one: foreign-born Jewish merchants. Henry S. Foote denounced “shylocks,” Examiner editorials deplored “synagogue” influences, and Texas vigilance committees harassed Jewish businessmen.” [lii] While Winner explains, “Confederate Christians, as Gary L. Bunker and John Appel have shown, portrayed Jews as vultures hoping to gain from wartime shortages.”[liii] The majority of anti-Jewish sentiment experienced in America was in direct relation to economics. As Leonard Rogoff clarifies in his article “Is the Jew White?: The Racial Place of the Southern Jew,” “The Jewish racial question was not a social or political issue in the antebellum South: whatever anti-Semitism Southern Jews encountered was primarily economic or religious.” [liv]

Southern women had additional responsibilities resulting from the men being away at war, and dealing with the desperation in the South’s situation at home. The women were faced with providing for their families while the war that kept dragging on, without the men to provide for them many women had little to go on to survive, even the wealthier ones dealt with these issues. This also contributed to the image of the image of the Jewish merchant as a profiteer of the poor. As Feingold notes, “Jewish merchants in the Southland felt the sting of anti-Semitic slander as civilian goods became scarce.”[lv]

These women actively and most time violently attacked the Jewish merchants for raising the cost of food and supplies. The most violent occurrence was in Georgia, where Jewish merchants were accused repeatedly as Winner explains of “unpatriotic conduct.” Fear and suspicion of Jewish merchants was only exacerbated by the extreme shortages that became frequent as the war progressed.”[lvi] In desperation, these women blamed their unfortunate situation on the merchants particularly Jewish buying into the anti-Semitic rhetoric about Jewish merchants. The women went in at gunpoint, justifying their criminal activity by as Winner writes accusing “the owner of speculating and making a fortune while their husbands died in defense of their country;”[lvii] they then proceeded to steal all the supplies and goods they possibly could from the store. Korn claims, “These examples indicate a trend which was characteristic of many sections of the Confederacy — the Jews being held responsible for the inflation of prices and the shortages of goods a pattern which bears a remarkable likeness to the background of the Grant Order.”[lviii]

Southerners seemed to believe that Jews controlled on its commerce and trade. A leader in this anti-Jewish opinion was Congressman Hilton of Florida. To illustrate his point Hilton would recount the story of a blockade-runner, who although was found out by the authorities, but before they could confiscate his goods. Winner writes “Florida Jews, however, had somehow learned the whereabouts of the blockade runner, and “at least one hundred” Jews, flocked there, led even to this remote point of the scent of gain, and they had to be driven actually at point of bayonet.”[lix]

In Richmond, Virginia, the Christian population had a similar opinion of its Jewish merchants; that they had the ability to acquire goods and luxury items that were impossible for anybody else in the South to acquire when a blockade was enforced. Winner writes, “they called one store, one by a German Jew, “Noah’s Ark” because it “seemed capable of producing anything from a needle to firearms.”[lx] Although this opinion of Jewish merchants as profiteers was prevalent in South, by those who were suffering from the war, this opinion was common with outsiders as well. As Miller explains “One Englishman described how Jews stood by the Confederacy only in hopes of turning a profit: “The Israelites, as usual, far surpassed the Gentiles in shrewdness to the auspicious moment, and laid in stocks.”[lxi]

Jews were also accused of other illegal activities however, including passing counterfeit money and running the blockade. This anti-Jewish prejudice manifested itself in the South’s newspapers, particularly the Richmond Examiner. As Feingold explains, “The Richmond Examiner filled its pages with anti-Semitic diatribes which began by complaining about Jewish war profiteering and ended by accusing them of being responsible for Confederate defeats on the field of battle.”[lxii] One particular instance was on January 7, 1864, when the paper printed a rumor that an unnamed Congressman had obtained passports for three Jews to leave the Confederacy. Congressman Henry S. Foote of Tennessee took this as an opportunity to vent his prejudice towards Jews. As Korn writes Congressman Foote “was generally known that he disliked Jews and took advantage of every opportunity to vent his hatred upon them, no matter how flimsy the evidence.”

Foote called for an investigation, but Congress was not interested in pursue the matter. Additionally the Richmond Daily Examiner, Jan. 8, 1864 reported another instance where Jews appeared as balking their responsibilities to the Confederacy: “very recently, two immensely wealthy Israelitish merchants on Broad Street, departed for the North leaving their wives and daughters to carry on the business of their stores.” [lxiii]  The anti-Jewish prejudice above all accused Jews of being unpatriotic and supportive of the South, especially during the Confederacy’s most trying times. These accusations often led to South Christians demonstrating fierce anti-Jewish prejudice towards their Jewish neighbors. One town; Thomasville, Georgia passed a legal resolution to banish all of their Jewish resident, while another town found the Jewish residents guilty of “evil and unpatriotic conduct.”[lxiv]

Upper class Southern Jewish women for the most part did not experience anti-Semitism, but as Ashton states, “For Jewish women of this period, anti-Semitism could not be said to have been universal and open, but rather sporadic and threatening.”[lxv] There always the possibility that anti-Semitism could occur and that altered the behavior of Jewish women. Ashton recounts, “To navigate that social and political turbulence, to maintain established ties, or to forge new alliances, Jewish women displayed either their patriotism, their religious piety, or their common understanding that good women are supposed to maintain family and social ties. Their personal perception of their own needs and of the degree of danger they faced determined their highly individualized shaping of their community during the Civil War. After determining whom they loved and needed and whom they could trust, they displayed those aspects of their own identities that would in turn enable them to present themselves as trustworthy.” [lxvi]

Despite the sporadic incidents towards the end of the war Jews in the South faced less anti-Semitism on a whole than then their Northern counterparts did. Southern Christians did in fact accept individual Jews into kinship, developing friendships with them, and socializing with Jews. Jews were more accepted into the South by the Christian majority, because of slavery and the racial issue but also as Rosen claims, “It was OK to be anti-Semitic in Boston in the 19th century. Jewish immigrants were discriminated against in New York. There was less of this in New Orleans and Charleston, I think because of the diversity of religions in Southern cities, the lack of Puritanism, which was anti-Semitic generally.”[lxvii]

The North’s Union Army committed the worst incident of anti-Semitism during the Civil War. The Shylock stereotype was behind Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s reasons for ordering General Order Number 11, on December 17, 1862 , expelling Jews from areas of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky. General Order Number 11stands out in American history as the first instance of a policy of official anti-Semitism on a large scale. The anti-Semitic order had deeper roots; many Northerners and Union army officials harbored anti-Jewish resentments. Jews in Union occupied Southern cities and towns faced the brunt of this prejudice. As Korn explains in his authoritative work, American Jewry and the Civil War (1951); “Some of the most prominent people in the Union were imbued with prejudice against the Jews.”[lxviii]

The racial situation in the South and the practice of slavery were one of the primary reasons Jews were able to avoid widespread anti-Semitism; Seth Forman points out “But the racial divide was the most substantial reason why anti-Semitism in the South remained tempered.”[lxix] While Korn writes, “The institution also furthered the Jew’s social acceptance. By providing a class of defenseless victims, slavery acted as an escape valve for frustrations which might otherwise have been expressed more frequently as anti-Jewish sentiment.” [lxx] Southern Jewry truly believed they could avoid anti-Jewish prejudice in the South by complying with the slavery system, and adhering to rest of Southern society.

It was primarily the issue of shared whiteness the smoothed the way for, and elevated Jewish social status at all levels. Southern Jews reached higher levels in the Confederate government, than they would see for nearly 75 years in any administration in the United States government. Southern Jews took up preeminent positions in the new Confederate nation, reaching ranks that were unheard for Jews anywhere even in the North. Judah Benjamin took up the most important positions, essentially being Confederate President, Jefferson Davis’ right hand man. Benjamin held numerous positions in the Confederate cabinet including, Attorney General, Secretary of War, and Secretary of State.

Although Jews represented a small portion of the Southern population, they disproportionately held high-ranking positions in the Confederacy, including, “the Quartermaster General, the Surgeon General, several Congressmen, and other high public and military officers of the Confederacy.”[lxxi] Other Southern Jews that reached high positions included David Camden De Leon who was appointed the Surgeon General after the outbreak of the Civil War. His brother Edwin also held a prominent position, as an overseas representative for the Confederacy. De Leon was responsible for persuading European nations to recognize the Confederacy.

Now 150 years after the Civil War ended, and the Confederacy took its last breath, immortalized in a life “Gone with the Wind,” and a mythology still referred by many Southern states, including South Carolina, it is widely forgotten, that the Confederacy was not entirely a nation of hatred for all who were not White Christians. American Jewry found a haven in the South, experiencing some anti-Semitism, but not nearly at the level, they did in the North, or that Southern Jewry ever faced in the hands of the Confederate government or their southern neighbors as they did by the Union army and a future President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant.

The Confederacy did imbue subservience for African Americans in the form of slavery, but Jewish activists now, need to remember their own participation in the full life of the slave holding antebellum South and Confederacy. The white supremacist hatred that caused the Charleston Church shooting historically was not born in the Confederacy, but in its death, during Reconstruction and its aftermath resulting in the rise of Jim Crow segregationalist laws, and vicious hatred of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) where a defeated South could not find its footing after losing the life they loved.

In mourning a mythological Confederacy, this hatred was born, but with the civil rights movement’s victories, and the election of the first African American president, this hatred is but sporadic. Removing every monument or reminder of the Confederacy is not the solution to the problem, we need to learn from history not erase it. Although the Confederacy and its flag and confederate symbols and monuments are bearing the brunt of the blame now, the United States as whole is facing continuing problems with race relations. The epidemic of police shooting African Americans is predominately in the North or so-called border states. Unfortunately, persistent racism in the North has no symbol like the Confederate flag to blame, but it is still there, and is still a problem. As President Obama stated in his famous speech in March 2008 as a Democratic candidate, the country as a whole needs to strive for a “More Perfect Union” in order to end racism in the entire United States of America.

[i] “Robert Rosen, The Jewish Confederates,” Susannah J. Uralp, ed. Civil War Citizens: Race, Ethnicity, and Identity in America’s Bloodiest Conflict, 157.
[ii]  Steven Hertzberg, Strangers within the Gate City: The Jews of Atlanta, 1845-1915, (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1978), 13-14.
[iii]  Clive Webb, Fight Against Fear: Southern Jews and Black Civil Rights, (University of Georgia Press, 2001), 2.
[iv]   Robert N. Rosen, The Jewish Confederates, (University of South Carolina Press, 2000), p. 15-16
[v]   Marvin Perry and Frederick M. Schweitzer, Antisemitism: Myth and Hate from Antiquity to the Present, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2002), 241.
[vi]  Webb, Fight Against Fear, 7.
[vii]  Leonard Dinnerstein and Mary Dale Palsson, eds., Jews of the South, (Louisiana State University Press, 1973), 25.
[viii] Catherine Clinton, Southern Families at War: Loyalty and Conflict in the Civil War South, (Oxford University Press, 2000)p. 194.
[ix] Arthur W. Bergeron Jr., Lawrence Lee Hewitt, Louisianians in the Civil War, (Columbia, MO.: University of Missouri Press, 2002, 73.
[x]  Lauren F. Winner, “Taking up the Cross: Conversion among black and white Jews in the Civil War South” in Catherine Clinton, ed. Southern Families at War : Loyalty and Conflict in the Civil War South, (Oxford University Press, 2000), 194.
[xi]  Dinnerstein, Jews and the South, 89, 90.
[xii]  Dinnerstein, Jews and the South, 27.
[xiii]  Arthur Hertzberg, The Jews of America: Four Centuries of an Uneasy Encounter : A History, (Columbia University Press, 1998), 111.
[xiv]  Hasia Diner, The Jews of the United States, 1654 to 2000, (University of California Press, 2004), 155.
[xv] Bergeron, Louisianians in the Civil War, 2002. 75, 76.
[xvi]  Maurianne Adams and John H. Bracey, eds., Strangers & Neighbors: Relations between Blacks & Jews in the United States, ( University of Massachusetts Press, 1999), 35.
[xvii]  Webb, Fight Against Fear, 11.
[xviii]  Robert Rosen, Confederate Charleston, University of South Carolina Press, 88.
[xix]   Rosen, The Jewish Confederates, 14.
[xx]   Rosen, The Jewish Confederates, 38.
[xxi]   Lewis M. Killian, White Southerners, (University of Massachusetts Press, 1985), 73.
[xxii]  Rosen, The Jewish Confederates, 219.
[xxiii]  LTC John C. Whatley VI, Jews in the Confederacy.
[xxiv]  Rosen, The Jewish Confederates, 14.
[xxv]   Webb, Fight Against Fear, 11.
[xxvi]   Webb, Fight Against Fear, 11.
[xxvii] Isaac Hermann, Memoirs of a Veteran Who Served as a Private in the 60s in the War Between the States, (CSA Press, 1911). The biblical reference is to Exod. 3:17.
[xxviii]  Hasia R. Diner and Beryl Lieff Benderly, Her Works Prise Her: A History of Jewish Women in America from Colonial Times to the Present, (Basic Books, 2002), 100.
[xxix]  Jacob Rader Marcus, Memoirs of American Jews, 1775-1865, (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1955), 21
[xxx]  Marli F. Weiner, Mistresses and Slaves: Plantation Women in South Carolina, 1830-80, (1997), 1.
[xxxi]  Diner and Benderly, Her Works Praise Her, 106.
[xxxii]  Jacob R. Marcus, The American Jewish Woman: A Documentary History, 31.
[xxxiii]  Clinton, Southern Families at War, 195.
[xxxiv] Hertzberg, Strangers Within The Gate City, 26
[xxxv]   Seth Forman, “The Unbearable Whiteness of Being Jewish: Desegregation in the South and the Crisis of Jewish Liberalism,” 121.
[xxxvi]   Webb, Fight Against Fear, 8.
[xxxvii]   Arthur. Hertzberg, The Jews in America: Four Centuries of an Uneasy Encounter : a History, (Simon and Schuster, 1989), 47.
[xxxviii]   Clinton, Southern Families at War,  195.
[xxxix]   Korn, “Jews and Negro Slavery in the Old South, 1789-1865,” in Dinnerstein, Jews in the South, 136.
[xl]   Seth Forman, “The Unbearable Whiteness of Being Jewish: Desegregation in the South and the Crisis of Jewish Liberalism,” 121.
[xli]  Leonard Dinnerstein, Antisemitism in America, (Oxford University Press, 1994), xi.
[xlii]   Diane Ashton, “Shifting Veils: Religion, Politics and Womanhood Among Jewish Women During the Civil War” in Pamela S. Nadell and Jonathan D. Sarna, eds., Women and American Judaism: Historical Perspectives, (University Press of New England, 2001), 83.
[xliii]   Nadell and Sarna, Women and American Judaism, 82.
[xliv]   Dinerstein, Jews in the South, 136.
[xlv]   Nadell and Sarna, Women and American Judaism, 83.
[xlvi]   Nadell and Sarna, Women and American Judaism, 83.
[xlvii]   Dinerstein, Jews in the South, 137.
[xlviii]   Henry L. Feingold, Zion in America: The Jewish Experience from Colonial Times to the Present, (Twayne Publishers, 1974), 93.
[xlix]   Clinton, Southern Families at War, 196.
[l]    Clinton, Southern Families at War, 196.
[li]   Nadell and Sarna, Women and American Judaism, 83.
[lii]    George C. Rable, The Confederate Republic: A Revolution against Politics, (University of North Carolina Press, 1994), 185. (Michelbacher, Sermon Delivered, 3-14.)
[liii]    Clinton, Southern Families at War, 196.
[liv]    Leonard Rogoff, “Is the Jew White?: The Racial Place of the Southern Jew,” 195.
[lv]    Feingold, Zion in America, 93.
[lvi]    Clinton, Southern Families at War, 196.
[lvii]   Clinton, Southern Families at War, 196.
[lviii]   Dinnerstein, Jews in the South, 141, 142.
[lix]   Clinton, Southern Families at War, 196.
[lx]   Clinton, Southern Families at War, 196.
[lxi]   Clinton, Southern Families at War, 196.
[lxii]   Feingold, Zion in America, 93
[lxiii]   Dinnerstein, Jews in the South, 150.
[lxiv]   Feingold, Zion in America, 93.
[lxv]    Nadell and Sarna, Women and American Judaism, p. 83.
[lxvi]    Nadell and Sarna, Women and American Judaism, p. 83.
[lxvii]  http://www.truthinstitute.org/AJC_010701J_Conf.htm
[lxviii]  Bertram W. Korn, American Jewry and the Civil War, (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1951), 164.
[lxix]  Seth Forman, “The Unbearable Whiteness of Being Jewish: Desegregation in the South and the Crisis of Jewish Liberalism,” 121.
[lxx]  Adams and Bracey, eds., Strangers & Neighbors, 175.
[lxxi]  Dinnerstein, Jews in the South, 239.

Full Text JBuzz Transcripts April 30, 2014: President Barack Obama Announces May As Jewish American Heritage Month

JBUZZ TRANSCRIPTS: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

President Obama Announces May As Jewish American Heritage Month

Source: JP Updates, 4-30-14‎

President Barack Obama issued Wednesday a Presidential proclamation announcing the month of May as the Jewish American Heritage Month (JAHM).

 

A national month of recognition of the more than 350-year history of Jewish contributions to American culture, JAHM acknowledges the achievements of American Jews in fields ranging from sports and arts and entertainment to medicine, business, science, government, and military service.

For thousands of years, the Jewish people have sustained their identity and traditions, persevering in the face of persecution. Through generations of enslavement and years of wandering, through forced segregation and the horrors of the Holocaust, they have maintained their holy covenant and lived according to the Torah. Their pursuit of freedom brought multitudes to our shores, and today our country is the proud home to millions of Jewish Americans. This month, let us honor their tremendous contributions — as scientists and artists, as activists and entrepreneurs. And let all of us find inspiration in a story that speaks to the universal human experience, with all of its suffering and all of its salvation.

This history led many Jewish Americans to find common cause with the Civil Rights Movement. African Americans and Jewish Americans marched side-by-side in Selma and Montgomery. They boarded buses for Freedom Rides together, united in their support of liberty and human dignity. These causes remain just as urgent today. Jewish communities continue to confront anti-Semitism — both around the world and, as tragic events mere weeks ago in Kansas reminded us, here in the United States. Following in the footsteps of Jewish civil rights leaders, we must come together across all faiths, reject ignorance and intolerance, and root out hatred wherever it exists.

In celebrating Jewish American Heritage Month, we also renew our unbreakable bond with the nation of Israel. It is a bond that transcends politics, a partnership built on mutual interests and shared ideals. Our two countries are enriched by diversity and faith, fueled by innovation, and ruled not only by men and women, but also by laws. As we continue working in concert to build a safer, more prosperous, more tolerant world, may our friendship only deepen in the years to come.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim May 2014 as Jewish American Heritage Month. I call upon all Americans to visit http://www.JewishHeritageMonth.gov to learn more about the heritage and contributions of Jewish Americans and to observe this month, the theme of which is healing the world, with appropriate programs, activities, and ceremonies.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of April, in the year two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-eighth.

JBuzz News February 26, 2014: So What is Post Holocaust American Judaism?

JBUZZ NEWS: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

So What is Post Holocaust American Judaism?

Source: Boulder Jewish News, 2-26-14

The Program in Jewish Studies at the University of Colorado Boulder together with the Department of Religious Studies and Naropa University are beginning a series of events that will examine Post Holocaust American Judaism, which is quickly becoming….READ MORE

JBuzz News August 30, 2013: March on Washington a reminder of black-Jewish relations at their best

JBUZZ NEWS: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

March a reminder of black-Jewish relations at their best

Source: Washington Post, 8-30-13

For many Americans, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington was a time of broad themes, of big-picture talks about race and economic justice. But for some, the events of the past week stirred specific memories — some good and others not — concerning relations between African Americans and Jews….READ MORE

JBuzz News August 28, 2013: On 50th Anniversary of March on Washington, Recalling Jews’ Singular Role

JBUZZ NEWS: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

On 50th Anniversary of March on Washington, Recalling Jews’ Singular Role

Half Century Later, Civil Rights Struggle Binds Two Peoples

 

Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington

Source: Forward, 8-28-13

As we commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington and the majestic “I Have a Dream” speech, we should reflect on the singular role the Jewish community played throughout the civil rights struggle and, in particular, remember with pride Jewish participation in the March on Washington itself….READ MORE

JBuzz News May 1, 2013: No White House party? What’s a Jew to do during Jewish American Heritage Month

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

No White House party? What’s a Jew to do during Jewish American Heritage Month

Source: Jewish Telegraphic Agency (blog), 5-1-13

May is Jewish American Heritage Month, a commemoration first recognized by President George W. Bush in 2006. Since then, hundreds of programs have taken place nationwide annually to honor the rich contributions of Jews to American culture and society….READ MORE

JBuzz News March 8, 2013: Richard Breitman, Allan J. Lichtman: “FDR and the Jews” New Book Tries for Balanced View on Roosevelt and Jews

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Book Tries for Balanced View on Roosevelt and Jews

Source: NYT, 3-8-13

FPG/Getty Images

A new Harvard University Press book examines President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s broader record on Jewish issues.

https://i2.wp.com/www.hup.harvard.edu/images/jackets/9780674050266.jpgIn “FDR and the Jews,” Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman, professors at American University, contend that Roosevelt hardly did everything he could. But they maintain that his overall record — several hundred thousand Jews saved, some of them thanks to little-known initiatives — exceeds that of any subsequent president in responding to genocide in the midst of fierce domestic political opposition….READ MORE

JBuzz News February 6, 2013: Ira Sheskin: University of Miami’s Judaic Studies Center announces the revival of the ‘American Jewish Year Book’

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

UM’s Judaic Studies Center announces the revival of the ‘American Jewish Year Book’

Publication returns after 4-year hiatus

Source: Eureka Alert, 2-6-13

IMAGE: This is the cover of the 2012 edition of the “American Jewish Year Book. ”

Click here for more information.

The University of Miami Sue and Leonard Miller Center for Contemporary Judaic Studies and the George Feldenkreis Program in Judaic Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences announce the return to print of The American Jewish Year Book: The ‘Official’ Record of the North American Jewish Communities.

After a four year hiatus, the newly released American Jewish Year Book (AJYB) contains important findings about the Jewish population in the United States. Despite concerns about the decline of the Jewish community’s numbers, figures in the AJYB’s chapter indicate that the numbers remain stable at approximately 6.5 million, according to Dr. Ira Sheskin, UM professor and co-editor of the AJYB. This is important in view of the continuing debate over which community, Israel or the United States – has the world’s largest Jewish community. The other very important finding is the growth of the number of Jews, 500,000, who identify themselves as secular members of a community rather than as Jews by religion….READ MORE

JBuzz News January 20, 2013: Deborah Dash Moore: History of Jewish New York takes 2012 National Jewish Book Awards honors

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

History of Jewish New York takes 2012 National Jewish Book Awards honors

Source: JTA, 1-20-13

A history of New York Jewry took Jewish book of the year honors in the 2012 National Jewish Book Awards.

The three-volume “City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York,” published by the New York University Press and edited by Deborah Dash Moore, won the Everett Family Foundation Jewish Book of the Year award, the Jewish Book Council announced Jan. 15….READ MORE

JBuzz News November 9, 2012: Ibrahim Sundiata: Brandeis Professor and journalist reflect on complicated black-Jewish relations

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Professor and journalist reflect on complicated black-Jewish relations

Source: The Brandeis Hoot, 11-9-12

Professor Ibrahim Sundiata’s new Class, “The History of Black-Jewish Relations in America,” examines two groups that have helped to define the American experience….READ MORE

JBuzz News July 18, 2012: Taking to the battlefields with Jewish Civil War reenactors

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Taking to the battlefields with Jewish Civil War reenactors

Source: JTA, 7-18-12

The Jewish presence is felt as Civil War reenactors commemorate 150 years since some of the conflict’s major battles….READ MORE»

JBuzz News July 16, 2012: In 1930s, Blacks told Jews: ‘We Shall Overcome’

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

In 1930s, blacks told Jews: ‘We shall overcome’

Source: Haaretz, 7-16-12

The civil rights pin belonging to Joyce Ladner, a black student who studied under a Jewish professor in exile during World War II….READ MORE

JBuzz News April 9, 2012: Kenneth Libo: Historian of Jewish immigration, dies at 74

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Kenneth Libo, historian of Jewish immigration, dies at 74

Source: NYT, 4-9-12

Kenneth Libo, a historian of Jewish immigration who, as a graduate student working for Irving Howe in the 1960s and ’70s, unearthed historical documentation that informed and shaped “World of Our Fathers,” Howe’s landmark 1976 history of the East European Jewish immigration to the United States, died on March 29 in New York. He was 74.

The cause was complications from an infection, said Michael Skakun, a friend and fellow historian.

Libo’s contribution was acknowledged by Howe and the publishers of “World of Our Fathers,” who listed his name beneath the author’s on the cover of the book: “With the Assistance of Kenneth Libo.”

Scholars familiar with his archival work credit Libo with adding a level of emotional detail, and a view of everyday life in the teeming tenements of the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York, that the book might have lacked without his six years of work. “I don’t think ‘World of Our Fathers’ could have been written without the spade work done by Ken Libo,” said Jeffrey S. Gurock, a professor of Jewish history at Yeshiva University. “He had a certain researching genius, a feel for visceral detail.”

Libo worked with Howe on two more books and shared billing on both as co-author — “How We Lived,” a 1979 anthology of pictures and documentary accounts of Jewish life in New York between 1880 and 1930; and “We Lived There, Too,” an illustrated collection of first-person accounts by Jewish immigrant pioneers who moved on from New York to settle in far-flung outpostsaround the country, like New Orleans; Abilene, Kan.; and Keokuk, Iowa, between 1630 and 1930.

He became the first English-language editor of The Jewish Daily Forward in 1980, lectured widely, taught literature and history at Hunter College, and later in life helped several wealthy Jewish New York families research and write their self-published family histories.

But throughout his life, Libo was known best for his involvement in “World of Our Fathers,” a best-seller that Howe, a socialist and public intellectual, once described in part as an effort to reclaim the fading memory of Jewish immigration from the clutches of sentimental myth, Alexander Portnoy and generations of Jewish mother jokes.

The book was a large canvas — depicting a lost world of tenements, sweatshops and political utopianism — written with elegiac lyricism.

By most accounts Howe gave the book its vision, its voice and its intellectual legs. Libo gave it people and their stories.

He mined archives of Yiddish newspapers like The Forward, Der Tog and Freheit; the case records of social service organizations like the Henry Street Settlement House; the letters of activists like Lillian Wald and Rose Schneiderman; memoirs by forgotten people whose books he found in the 5-cent bins of used bookstores. He interviewed old vaudevillians like Joe Smith of Smith and Dale (the models for Neil Simon’s “Sunshine Boys”) for the story of Yiddish theater.

In an essay about the book, published in 2000 in the journal of the American Jewish Historical Society, Libo wrote that in the summer months “Irving did the bulk of the writing while I remained in New York with an assistant to run down facts.”

Kenneth Harold Libo was born Dec. 4, 1937, in Norwich, Conn., one of two sons of Asher and Annette Libo. His father was a Jewish immigrant from Russia, his mother American-born. His parents operated a chicken farm, friends said.

He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1959, served in the Navy and taught English at Hunter College of the City University until he began work on “World of Our Fathers” in 1968 with Howe, who died in 1993.

He received his Ph.D. in English literature from the City University of New York in 1974. He never married and no immediate family members remain.

JBuzz News April 2, 2012: Magnes Collection for Jewish Art and Life Merger with UC Berkeley Has Its Costs

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Magnes Merger Has Its Costs

Source: NY Jewish Week, 4-2-12

The Magnes Collection, founded 50 years ago, has the largest 
collection of archives of Jews in the American West.

The Magnes Collection, founded 50 years ago, has the largest collection of archives of Jews in the American West.

Partnership with UC-Berkeley seen mostly as a boon but questions linger about prized collection’s independence.

The new home of the Magnes Collection for Jewish Art and Life, a Bay Area institution renowned for its archives of material relating to Jews in the American West, displays all the museum’s ambition.

Prominently situated just off the main campus of UC-Berkeley, with which it merged in 2010, it has all the hallmarks of a cutting-edge building: sleek wooden displays made from local re-salvaged elm; floor-to-ceiling glass walls allowing glimpses into the museum’s vast collection of Judaica, the third largest in North America; and a spacious hall for lectures and functions, as well dance, theater and art.

“In the museum model, this accessibility was much harder to achieve,” said Alla Efimova, the Magnes’ director, referring to the collection’s past focus on being more of an art museum than a research and educational facility, as it now primarily sees itself. “The new design was about making the collection accessible and encouraging work with the collection,” she said.

Few doubt that the Magnes’ merger and new home will vastly increase its use, but museum watchers agree that the move comes with some significant costs. Already, Berkeley classes for Jewish studies courses are held weekly in its building. Scholars like Jeffrey Shandler, a professor at Rutgers, are planning not only to use the Magnes’ enormous archives for research, but also to create innovate exhibits based on them.

Not long ago, Shandler began talking with the Magnes’ chief curator, Francesco Spagnolo, about using the archives for a project — likely a book or article — on the Jewish fascination with list making. “He said, ‘This would make a great exhibit,’” Shandler recounted. Now, with the Magnes’ new home having a centrally located gallery, that exhibit is underway, set to open some time later this year.

The new building has been a boon for artists like Emmanuel Witzhum, an Israeli artist-in-residence at Berkeley. He had no plans for an exhibit at the Magnes when he applied to Berkeley, but the museum approached him about exhibiting work. “It was perfect,” he said, “They immediately got the idea.”

Founded 50 years ago by the Bronx-born Jewish educator, Seymour Fromer, the Magnes’ ambitions always exceeded the realities of being a small Jewish museum. Over the years, Fromer and his wife, Rebecca Camhi Fromer, amassed not only the largest archive of Jewish American Western history, but also a treasure trove of exotic Judaica.

Some of the highlights are on view at the Magnes’ inaugural exhibit, titled “The Magnes Effect: Five Decades of Collection.” There is a 19th-century purple velvet wedding dress from Rhodes; a sword given by the Ottoman rulers of Palestine to the Jewish developer, who, in 1892, financed the road connecting Jaffa to Jerusalem; even a century-old ketubah from the Jewish community in Kochi, India.

All these holdings were hard to display in its former home, a cramped residential house in Berkeley, where the museum had been since 1966. “Even Google maps had a hard time giving directions on how to get there,” said Spagnolo, the Magnes’ chief curator.

The Magnes’ new building, along with its merger with Berkeley, has been widely praised by scholars, fundraisers and museum directors alike. As an independent institution until its merger in 2010, the Magnes had limited staff and hours, and found it difficult to preserve and organize its archives. Now that the heart of its collection — the documents of the Jewish American West — sit in the Bancroft Library on campus, accessing them will be considerably easier for scholars.

Moreover, the renovated new building — at 25,000 square feet, roughly three times the size of the collection’s former home — enables it to house 80 percent of its exotic collection of Judaica in-house, not, as it had in the past, in an off-site storage facility. By taking over administrative costs, Berkeley has also cut the Magnes’ annual operating budget in half. Instead of roughly $2 million a year to operate, it will now cost just under $1 million.

But the changes come at a price. Merging the Magnes with a much larger, and secular, institution like Berkeley was never part of Fromer’s vision. He died in 2009, before the decision was made. And the merger only highlights the mishaps and difficult choices the Magnes has had to make simply in order to survive.

“In an ideal situation, it could have remained independent,” said Fred Rosenbaum, another leading scholar of the Jewish American and the West. While acknowledging the ultimate benefits of the merger, he couldn’t help but lament the decision.

“Just a minor caveat,” he said: “There was something wonderful about the old Magnes. There was a kind of feeling in the air of being a part of something special. Now it will be highly efficient, but it won’t have the warmth, the intangible, of being a highly creative independent Jewish institution.”

Perhaps the most important sacrifice Magnes made was the relinquishment of the central item that made it famous in the first place: its collection of Jewish archives of the West. The include the papers of the Haas family, an original owner of Levi Strauss and Company, and many founders of the Bay Area’s Jewish community. All of those documents have been moved to the Berkeley’s Bancroft Library, itself a renowned institution with one of the largest collections of materials relating to the American West.

Many scholars of Jewish history think this is good for Jewish scholarship.

“I think it’s great — it’s better than good,” said Marc Dollinger, chair of the Jewish studies department at San Francisco State University and a leading scholar of Jews in the American West. “It’s better to house [the Jewish West documents] at a research library; it’s more accessible to a wider audience.”

But few deny that the merger was one made out of dire need. A series of inopportune choices, including a hasty merger with the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco in 2002 (that ended a year later), and the purchase of two new buildings — one just before the dot-com crash in 2000, another before the 2008 recession — left the Magnes badly damaged….READ MORE

JBuzz News March 15, 2012: Jonathan Sarna: Barach College Jewish Studies Center Presents ‘General Ulysses S. Grant and the Jews’

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Jewish Studies Center Presents ‘General Ulysses S. Grant and the Jews’ with Jonathan Sarna

Source:  EON: Enhanced Online News, 3-15-12

On March 21, 2012, The Jewish Studies Center at Baruch presents a talk entitled “General Ulysses S. Grant and the Jews” with featured speaker Dr. Jonathan Sarna. The event is scheduled at 1 p.m. in Engelman Recital Hall, located on the first floor of the Newman Vertical Campus, 55 Lexington Avenue.

Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant

“the single best description of American Judaism during its 350 years on American soil.”

Dr. Sarna is the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University and Chief Historian of the new National Museum of American Jewish History. Dubbed by the Forward newspaper in 2004 as one of America’s 50 most influential American Jews, he was Chief Historian for the 350th commemoration of the American Jewish community, and is recognized as a leading commentator on American Jewish history, religion and life. Dr. Sarna has written, edited, or co-edited more than twenty books, including the Jews and the Civil War: A Reader and A Time to Every Purpose: Letters to a Young Jew. He is best known for the acclaimed American Judaism: A History. Winner of the Jewish Book Council’s “Jewish Book of the Year Award” in 2004, it has been praised as being “the single best description of American Judaism during its 350 years on American soil.”

The discussion is co-sponsored by Baruch’s Alumni Relations Office and the Office of College Advancement. For more information, contact Jessica Lang, Director of the Jewish Studies Center, at (646) 312-3975 or jessica.lang@baruch.cuny.edu.

JBuzz News March 1, 2012: Lila Corwin Berman: Collaboration enriches professor’s exploration of the American Jewish experience at Temple’s Feinstein Center for American Jewish History

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Collaboration enriches professor’s exploration of the American Jewish experience

Lila Corwin Berman, shown at the 227-year-old Congregation Rodeph Shalom on North Broad Street, examines the American Jewish experience from a historical perspective, bridging religion, politics and questions about identity.

Lila Corwin Berman always has her eyes on bridges, both constructing and deconstructing them. But she’s not an engineer — she’s an historian.

As the new director of Temple’s Feinstein Center for American Jewish History, Berman explores the bridges between academics and practitioners, the past and present, history and politics, religion and identity, and the city and suburbs.

“At the center, we strive to make academic work meaningful by not only serving the scholarly community but also engaging with the public,” said Berman.

Founded in 1990, the Feinstein Center brings together scholars and lay people interested in the American Jewish experience. To that end, the center collaborates regularly with external institutions, such as the Gershman Y and the National Museum of Jewish American History. It also sponsors conferences, fellowships and public events all devoted to new approaches to understanding the many dimensions of Jewish experience in the United States….READ MORE

Arriving at Temple just three years ago from Penn State, Berman spent her first year getting acclimated, but an upcoming symposium titled “The Art of Being Jewish in the City: Aesthetics, Politics and Power” will be the grand finale of a full two years of conferences, events and even a performance focused on Jews and urbanism.

“Temple’s Department of History is an ideal place to locate this type of exploration,” said Berman. “It is full of top-notch urban historians, and a lot of forces in the department intersect around urban questions.”

According to Berman, as Jews were leaving American cities during the post-war period, they were also grappling with being middle class and suburban, and there was a part of them that was staying behind.

“Many of them never left cities in their minds,” she said.

“Through these two-years of programming and upcoming conference, we are asking, ‘How did Jews retain their investment in cities both as part of their identity but also materially, politically and economically?'”

The Art of Being Jewish in the City

How are Jews imagining, funding and creating urban arts and culture for the future?

As the culmination of two years of programming, Temple’s Feinstein Center for American Jewish History is hosting “The Art of Being Jewish in the City,” a day-long symposium exploring arts-led urban development and the role that Jews play in envisioning new forms of urban life.

The symposium invites the public to join in conversation with some of today’s most important urban thinkers.

Thursday, March 15, 9 a.m.- 5:30 p.m.
The Edward H. Rosen Hillel Center for Jewish Life
1441 Norris St. (at corner of N. 15th St.), Philadelphia

The conference is free, but registration is required. Visit www.temple.edu/feinsteinctr/symposium, email feinsteincenter@temple.edu or call 215-204-9553.

JBuzz Op-eds February 28, 2012: Jonathan D. Sarna: General Ulysses S. Grant’s Uncivil War Against The Jews

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Jonathan D. Sarna: Gen. Grant’s Uncivil War Against The Jews

Source: NY Jewish Week, 2-28-12

Ulysses S. Grant.
Ulysses S. Grant.

The surprising tale of how he turned into ‘America’s Haman.’

Purim serves as an appropriate moment to recall a man known for a time as “America’s Haman.” That Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s story ended very differently than the story of Haman in the Book of Esther reminds us how America itself is different, and how often it has surprised Jews for the better.

On Dec. 17, 1862, as the Civil War entered its second winter, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant issued the most Haman-like order in American history: “The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.” Known as General Orders No. 11, the document blamed “Jews, as a class” for the widespread smuggling and cotton speculation that affected the area under Grant’s command. It required them to leave a vast war zone stretching from northern Mississippi to Cairo, Ill., and from the Mississippi River to the Tennessee River.

Less than 72 hours after the order was issued, Grant’s forces at Holly Springs, Miss., were raided, knocking out rail and telegraph lines and disrupting lines of communication for weeks. As a result, news of General Orders No. 11 spread slowly, and did not reach company commanders and army headquarters in Washington in a timely fashion. Many Jews who might otherwise have been banished were spared.

A copy of General Orders No. 11 finally reached Paducah, Ky. — a city occupied by Grant’s forces — 11 days after it was issued. Cesar Kaskel, a staunch union supporter, as well as all the other known Jews in the city, were handed papers ordering them “to leave the city of Paducah, Kentucky, within twenty-four hours.” As they prepared to abandon their homes, Kaskel and several other Jews dashed off a telegram to President Abraham Lincoln describing their plight.

Lincoln, in all likelihood, never saw that telegram. He was busy preparing to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. The irony of his freeing the slaves while Grant was expelling the Jews was not lost on contemporaries. Some Jewish leaders feared that Jews would replace blacks as the nation’s stigmatized minority.

Kaskel decided to appeal to Abraham Lincoln in person. Paul Revere-like, he sped down to Washington, spreading news of General Orders No. 11 wherever he went. With help from a friendly congressman, he obtained an immediate interview with the president, who turned out to have no knowledge whatsoever of the order, for it had not reached Washington. According to an oft-quoted report, he resorted to biblical imagery in his interview with Kaskel, a reminder of how many 19th-century Americans linked Jews to Ancient Israel, and America to the Promised Land:

“And so,” Lincoln is said to have drawled, “the children of Israel were driven from the happy land of Canaan?”

“Yes,” Kaskel responded, “and that is why we have come unto Father Abraham’s bosom, asking protection.”

“And this protection,” Lincoln declared “they shall have at once.”

General-in-Chief of the Army Henry Halleck, ordered by Lincoln to countermand General Orders No. 11, chose his words carefully.  “If such an order has been issued,” his telegram read, “it will be immediately revoked.”

In a follow-up meeting with Jewish leaders, Lincoln reaffirmed that he knew “of no distinction between Jew and Gentile. To condemn a class,” he emphatically declared, “is, to say the least, to wrong the good with the bad. I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners.”…READ MORE

JBuzz Reviews February 22, 2012: Historian Harold Holzer Reviews Jonathan Sarna’s When General Grant Expelled the Jews

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

“When General Grant Expelled the Jews” by Jonathan Sarna

By Harold Holzer

Source: WaPo, 2-22-12

WHEN GENERAL GRANT EXPELLED THE JEWS

By Jonathan D. Sarna

Nextbook/Schocken. 201 pp. $24.95

 

Not all Civil War-era Jews were speculators, peddlers or smugglers, and not all Civil War-era speculators, peddlers and smugglers were Jews. But Americans living through the rebellion — and many crises before and since — often cast blame on the tiny minority that 19th-century Northerners and Southerners often referred to as “the Israelites.” Shocking as it seems, one of the most notorious offenders was the greatest Union hero of the war: Ulysses S. Grant.

That Grant harbored anti-Semitic inclinations should come as no surprise. He was educated at West Point and spent years in the Army, both bastions of period intolerance. In 1862, he assumed a particularly chaotic military command, including border states technically loyal to the Union but filled with slave-owners and Confederate sympathizers. Into this combustible mix swarmed speculators eager to turn chaos into cash — among them, certainly, Jewish ones. Grant and his chief lieutenant, William T. Sherman, groused about the Jews’ presence repeatedly but initially kept their concerns to themselves.

General Grant

(Knopf) – ’When General Grant Expelled the Jews’ by Jonathan D. Sarna

What apparently sent Grant over the edge was the arrival of another camp follower — his greedy father, accompanied by three Jewish business partners, all eager to use the general to secure profitable cotton-trading permits. Grant blamed the Jews.

Still, no historian has been able to fully understand — much less justify — why, on Dec. 17, 1862, Grant issued his notorious General Orders No. 11 deporting Jewish citizens. “The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade,” went the chilling text, “. . . are hereby expelled from [his command in the West] within twenty-four hours.” Those returning would be “held in confinement until an opportunity occurs of sending them out as prisoners.” Just two weeks before Abraham Lincoln was scheduled to extend freedom to one minority group with the Emancipation Proclamation, his most promising general thus initiated a virtual pogrom against another.

In the end, as the gifted and resourceful historian Jonathan D. Sarna points out in this compelling page-turner, General Orders No. 11 uprooted fewer than 100 Jews. But for a few weeks, he suggests, it terrorized and infuriated the Union’s entire Jewish population. It also inspired one of the community’s first effective lobbying campaigns. Jewish newspapers compared Grant to Haman, the infamous vizier of Persia in the Book of Esther. A delegation of Jewish leaders traveled to the White House to protest directly to the president, who quickly but quietly had the order revoked, eager to right a wrong but reluctant to humiliate a valuable military commander. As Lincoln carefully put it, “I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners.” He never mentioned the episode publicly.

Grant tried not to as well, understandably omitting it from his otherwise exhaustive memoirs. In 1868, however, he did issue a letter confessing: “I do not pretend to sustain the Order. . . . [It] was issued and sent without any reflection and without thinking of the Jews as a sect or race. . . . I have no prejudice against sect or race.” But Sarna notes that this weak and “self-serving” statement — neither an admission nor an apology — “did not actually bear close scrutiny.” Besides, it was motivated as much by politics as regret. At the time, Grant was running for president, and Jews were threatening to block-vote against the Republican. Although no statistical evidence survives, most Jews probably did vote Democratic in 1868. The general won anyway. And to his credit, he continued to evolve.

The Jewish tradition encourages atonement and makes forgiveness mandatory. Grant made amends; the Jews forgave. As president, Grant appointed Jews to official posts, welcomed Jewish delegations, supported Jewish relief efforts in Europe and once attended a worship service at a Washington synagogue, the first president to do so. When he died, Jews mourned him as a hero.

Sarna’s account shines brightest around the edges of the story, offering valuable new insights into ethnic politics, press power and the onetime ability of leaders to flip-flop with grace. In a particularly stunning, if disturbing, argument, he suggests that many Northern Jews brought suspicion on themselves by questioning emancipation, fearful that freed blacks, abetted by anti-Semitic abolitionists, would compete with immigrant Jews for economic opportunity. Sarna shows how ineffective communications within Grant’s command further ignited unfounded calumnies against Jews. And he posits that the general’s military subordinates might have urged their overworked chief to ban Jewish speculators in order to leave the field open for their own graft.

Some quibbles: The illustration of “Grant, about 1860” is a photo of a beef contractor mistaken for the general; and Sarna’s occasional embrace of au courant phrases (“He was a one-man Anti-Defamation League,” “speak truth to power”) proves jarring.

What is still the best analysis ever offered about Grant’s greatest mistake came from his widow. In her own unsparing memoirs, Julia Dent Grant called General Orders No. 11 “obnoxious,” admitting that her husband “had no right to make an order against any special sect.” Sarna’s excellent study offers no excuses either and comes closer than ever to an explanation.

Harold Holzer is chairman of the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Foundation. His latest book is “Emancipating Lincoln.”

 

Dianne Ashton: Rowan University professor is new editor of Jewish American history journal

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Dianne_edited.jpgRowan University professor Dianne Ashton is the first female editor of American Jewish History

As a professor of religion studies at Rowan University, a published author and — now — the first female editor in the 118-year history of the “American Jewish History” journal, Dianne Ashton says she doesn’t know where she finds the time. But she loves every minute of it.

“It’s great just to be the editor. The fact that I’m the first woman is just really a matter of historical events,” said Ashton of her new position at the helm of the premier journal on the study of Jewish history in America. “It’s an extreme honor and great responsibility to be the editor of a very important journal on the American Jewish experience. It has a great reputation, and it’s my responsibility to keep that up.”

Ashton said, in her new role, she has to learn quickly.

“A journal has to come out on time, and it’s a fairly complicated process,” said Ashton. “The articles are submitted, I review them and then each one goes to two scholars for review. They come back to me, I edit them and then they go back to the authors for revisions. All this must happen before they reach the publisher so there’s a lot of pressure to keep moving.”

Ashton said the editor role is also unpredictable. She doesn’t always know when articles will come across her desk, how long it will take for scholars to submit reviews or who might need to be reminded of a deadline.

“I have learned to nag politely,” said Ashton, with a laugh.

American Jewish History explores the role of Jewish Americans in events throughout the country’s history, including some involvements that were largely unknown….READ MORE

Moshe Sokolow: Thanksgiving: A Jewish Holiday After All

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Moshe Sokolow: Thanksgiving: A Jewish Holiday After All

Source: Jewish Ideas Daily, 11-23-11

Thanksgiving

In 1789, in response to a resolution offered by Congressman Elias Boudinot of New Jersey, President George Washington issued a proclamation recommending that Thursday November 26th of that year “be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation.”

In New York City, Congregation Shearith Israel convened a celebration on that day at which its minister, Gershom Mendes Seixas, embraced the occasion: “As we are made equal partakers of every benefit that results from this good government; for which we cannot sufficiently adore the God of our fathers who hath manifested his care over us in this particular instance; neither can we demonstrate our sense of His benign goodness, for His favourable interposition in behalf of the inhabitants of this land.”

While the celebrations at that venerable Orthodox synagogue continue unabated to this day, other American Jewish appreciations of Thanksgiving have ranged from the skeptical to the outright antagonistic. In an essay entitled “Is Thanksgiving Kosher?” Atlanta’s Rabbi Michael Broyde examines three rabbis’ halakhic positions on the subject: that of Yitzhak Hutner, who ruled Thanksgiving a Gentile holiday and forbade any recognition of it; that of Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who regarded it as a secular holiday and permitted its celebration (particularly by eating turkey), and that of Moshe Feinstein, who permitted turkey but prohibited any other celebration because of reservations over the recognition of even secular holidays.

Newly presented historical information, however, may swing the annual autumnal pendulum back in favor of participation in what now appears to have begun as a holiday with both a patent Jewish theme and associated rituals. In his recent book, Making Haste From Babylon, Nick Bunker reveals an item of particular significance for both Jewish observers and critics of Thanksgiving….READ MORE

Puritans

And from this Psalme, and this verse of it, the Hebrues have this Canon; Foure must confess (unto God) The sick, when he is healed; the prisoner when he is released out of bonds; they that goe down to sea, when they are come up (to land); and wayfaring men, when they are come to the inhabited land. And they must make confession before ten men, and two of them wise men, Psal. 107. 32. And the manner of confessing and blessing is thus; He standeth among them and blesseth the Lord, the King eternal, that bounteously rewardeth good things unto sinners, etc. Maimony in Misn. Treat. Of Blessings, chap. 10, sect. 8.

Moshe Sokolow, professor of Jewish education at the Azrieli Graduate School of Yeshiva University, is the author of Studies in the Weekly Parashah Based on the Lessons of Nehama Leibowitz (2008).

Joyce Ladner: Remembering a Jewish professor who fled Nazis to the Deep South

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Remembering a Jewish professor who fled Nazis to the Deep South

Source: Herald Tribune, 11-11-11

Joyce Ladner

Joyce Ladner, a civil rights activist and Sarasota resident, discusses her early involvement in the fight for desegregation. On Monday, Ladner will appear at a discussion of Jewish academicians who fled their teaching positions for new lives in the U.S. Largely shunned by white American universities, many of these exiled scholars wound up teaching at historically black colleges in the Jim Crow south.

Facts

INTERESTED?

“Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges”
6 p.m. Monday
Temple Beth Sholom, 1050 South Tuttle Ave., Sarasota
Free
For more information, call (941) 321-7852


In the years prior to the Holocaust, Jewish academicians fled their teaching positions in Germany for new lives in the U.S. Largely shunned by white American universities, many of these exiled scholars wound up teaching at historically black colleges in the Jim Crow south, where they carved out a precarious niche and helped speed integration.

“As white people in a community that was racially segregated, they were looked on with suspicion by blacks if they mingled freely with whites,” wrote historian John Hope Franklin, “and they were regarded as peculiar by whites if their social life was spent among blacks.”

Joyce Ladner, a civil rights activist and Sarasota resident, saw the phenomenon first hand. She will appear Monday at a public discussion about that part of American history at Temple Beth Sholom in Sarasota on Monday night.

Titled “Beyond Swastika and Jim Crow: Jewish Refugee Scholars at Black Colleges,” the discussion is connected with an exhibit on display at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg.

The presentation is built atop research compiled by the late author Gabrielle Simon Edgcomb, who identified 41 of the German exiles in a 1993 book. It became a PBS documentary in 2000. Bonnie Gurewitsch, curator/archivist with the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, will be on hand to give an overview at the temple….READ MORE

Annelise Orleck: Historian reflects on tragic Triangle Fire at Brooks Memorial Library

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Annelise Orleck: Historian reflects on tragic Triangle Fire at Brooks Memorial Library

Source: Common News, 10-26-11


Originally published in The Commons issue #124 (Wednesday, October 26, 2011).

Dartmouth College professor Annelise Orleck will discuss the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in a talk at Brooks Memorial Library on Nov. 2.

Her talk, “100 Years since Triangle: The Fire that Seared a Nation’s Conscience,” is part of the Vermont Humanities Council’s First Wednesdays lecture series and takes place at 7 p.m.

On March 25, 1911, a fire at the factory in Greenwich Village killed 146 young workers, most of them young immigrant Jewish and Italian women.

With exits locked, women leapt to their deaths while thousands watched. Half a million New Yorkers lined the funeral route, and politicians vowed to change workplace safety laws.

Orleck will talk about these events and their historical significance.

Orleck is professor of history at Dartmouth College, where she teaches U.S. political history, women’s history, and the history of race, ethnicity, and immigration, as well as Jewish studies. She is author of Common Sense and a Little Fire: Women and Working Class Politics in the United States (1995) and Storming Caesars Palace: How Black Mothers Fought Their Own War on Poverty (2005). She is co-editor of The Politics of Motherhood: Activist Voices from Left to Right.

The Vermont Humanities Council’s First Wednesdays series is held on the first Wednesday of every month from October through May, featuring speakers of national and regional renown. Talks in Brattleboro are held at Brooks Memorial Library.

Upcoming Brattleboro talks include “American Oracle: The Civil War in the Civil Rights Era,” with Race and Reunion author David Blight on Dec. 7; “An Evening with Ken Burns,” with acclaimed PBS filmmaker Ken Burns on Jan. 4 (to be held at Latchis Theater); and “Willa Cather’s Prairie Landscapes” with Amherst College professor Michele Barale on Feb. 1.

For more information, contact Brooks Memorial Library at 802-254-5290 or contact the Vermont Humanities Council at 802-262-2626 or by email.

Jews in the Civil War: Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Grey

Source: The Philadephia Jewish Voice, 5-13-11
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, the National Museum of American Jewish History presented Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Gray,  a first-of-its-kind documentary that reveals the little-known struggles that faced Jewish-Americans both in battle and on the home front during the Civil War. This film reveals an unknown chapter in American history when allegiances during the War Between the States deeply split the Jewish community. It examines a time when approximately 10,000 Jewish soldiers fought on both sides; 7,000 Union and 3,000 Confederate. It exposes General Ulysses Grant’s controversial decision to expel all Jews from his territory, and tells the stories of President Lincoln’s Jewish doctor who serve as a spy in the South and how five Union Jewish soldiers received the Congressional Medal of Honor. It features commentary by noted historians, with Sam Waterston as the voice of Abraham Lincoln and narration by Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Milius (Apocalypse Now). This moving film allowed me to discover many surprising facts about American Jews during the Civil War…READ MORE

Annelise Orleck: Clouds Blur Triangle Shirtwaist Fire’s Meaning

Source: The NY Jewish Week, 3-10-11

As centennial of Triangle blaze nears, historians debate event’s Jewish character.

Burning topic: Was tragic fire a Jewish issue?

It is just weeks away from the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, New York City’s worst workplace disaster prior to Sept. 11. But instead of providing clarity, the time since the March 25, 1911 tragedy, and the array of commemorative events being held this month, has raised at least one befuddling question: to what extent was the fire a specifically Jewish event?

After all, the majority of the fire’s 146 victims were Jewish immigrant women, and it was Jewish organizations, from B’nai B’rith and The Yiddish Forward, to workers’ unions dominated by Jews, that brought the fire to public attention. But leading historians of the fire still disagree vehemently over how much the Jewish character of the event matters.

“Within the Jewish and Italian communities, it still does have a unique resonance,” said Annelise Orleck, a professor of 20th-century American history at Dartmouth who has written extensively about the fire. “But to the country and to the world at large, it [has been] less significant that the victims were Jewish and Italian than that they were young girls.”

The fire, set off by a match thoughtlessly tossed away, and exacerbated by the fact that the factory’s exits were locked, killed 146 mostly teenage women in less than 20 minutes. But factory deaths were common then, if not that numerous at one time, which has led scholars to believe that the most salient feature that forced the event into the national consciousness was the age and gender of the victims. “If they were just Jewish men, or grown men, it probably wouldn’t have had the impact it did,” Orleck said.

Many were girls barely 15 who had jumped to their deaths from the nine-story factory in Greenwich Village. A public funeral was held two weeks later, with several of the victims so badly burned they were impossible to identify. Nearly 400,000 New Yorkers joined in the public mourning ceremonies, which gave momentum to the slate of workers’ rights legislation that followed, from collective bargaining rights to safety codes and minimum wages….READ MORE

Jonathan D. Sarna: What the Civil War meant for American Jews, then and now

Source: The Forward, The Jewish Chronicle, 3-10-11

WALTHAM, Mass. — The 150th anniversary of the Civil War is upon us. April 12 is the anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter, the war’s opening shot. From then, through the sesquicentennial anniversary on April 9, 2015 of Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House and five days later of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, every major event in the “ordeal of the union” seems likely to be recounted, re-enacted, re-analyzed and, likely as not, verbally re-fought.

The American Jewish community, meanwhile, has expressed little interest in these commemorations. A few books, a play, a film and a forthcoming scholarly conference form the totality of the Jewish contribution to the sesquicentennial. When I suggested a talk on the Civil War and the Jews in one setting, the organizers questioned the relevance of the topic. Only a small minority of Jews, they observed, boast ancestors who participated in the Civil War. By the time most Jewish immigrants to America arrived, the war was but a distant memory.

Fifty years ago, for the Civil War centennial, the level of interest within the Jewish community seemed noticeably higher. New York’s Jewish Museum mounted a grand exhibit titled “The American Jew in the Civil War.” Fully 260 photographs, documents and objects appeared in the multi-gallery show. It was the largest display of Jewish Civil War memorabilia ever assembled….READ MORE: The Jewish Chronicle – What the Civil War meant for American Jews then and now