The articles in this issue illuminate very different elements of the American Jewish past and, at the same time, help us to understand some of the trends in our historiography. Each, in its own way, explores the subtleties of Jews’ experience of being outsiders to American culture as well as how they sometimes became insiders.
We begin with Cynthia Gensheimer’s account of the life of Annie Jonas Wells and the fluid religious loyalties common in Quincy, Illinois during the mid-to-late nineteenth century. Influenced by the “circle of ladies” with whom she shared intellectual, charitable, and social activities, as well as by her family’s particular Jewish and American connections, Annie enthusiastically embraced the Presbyterianism of her minister husband. Gensheimer helps us to understand how Annie’s experience compared with that of other American Jewish women, and what it teaches us about the shifting religious loyalties and the popular religious ideas at play in that era.
While Gensheimer provides a window into a female world that understood religious identity to be something that supported a particular sort of gendered behavior, Ronnie Grinberg offers a different analysis of Jews and gender. She explains how ideas of Jewish masculinity defined the lives and behavior of the group once dubbed by Irving Howe as New York Jewish Intellectuals. In the 1920s and 1930s, in part as a reaction to the “imperial masculinity” adopted by exclusive educational institutions serving and run by America’s elite, the Jewish students at City College of New York developed a combative intellectualism. Grinberg explains how and why this new gender ideal differed from both the Patrician elite American male and the Talmud scholar sometimes seen to be a “sissy” by outsiders.
William Palmer shifts our focus to mid-twentieth-century discussions by American historians that reveal an uneasiness among senior scholars trained in elite institutions. Focusing upon the famous 1962 speech called The Great Mutation delivered by leading historian, Carl Bridenbaugh, he shows us the antisemitism lurking just beneath the surface in a professional dispute about how history ought to be done. Palmer helps us to understand the shifting tides of historiography and the rise of urban-bred, non-elite historians who changed ideas about what might be appropriate subjects and methods in the study of history. Palmer explains a leading historian’s dismay at the growing influence of American cultural outsiders like Jews. [End Page vii]
Arlene Lazarowitz explains how the country’s Jews flexed their political muscle a decade later, to influence Middle East policy made by President Gerald R. Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. As Ford and Kissinger worked toward the pact known as Sinai Agreement II, they juggled their own hopes to achieve peace between Israel and its Muslim neighbors with American dependence upon middle-eastern oil. America’s Jews then lobbied Congress in hopes of attaining more favorable treatment of Israel by the U.S. government. Lazarowitz shows us how the complex matters of Cold War politics, oil, and upcoming presidential elections all factored into Ford’s ability to make policy.
The scholarship in this issue provides four different windows on the American Jewish past. Our authors focus upon individual lives, but also explore larger trends that occurred over a century of Jewish life in the U.S. They help us to understand Jewish women in the nineteenth-century Midwest; the young men who spent their time in the libraries of CCNY and the New York Public Library in the early 20th century; the reaction, by mid-twentieth-century, of American intellectual elites to the growing influence of young historians who may have spent their time in those New York institutions; and, finally, to the ways that Jews became a factor in an American President’s policy decision-making. Yet, together, they teach us about some of the subtleties of the American Jewish experience, from its gender ideals to its historiography, to Jews capacity to influence national policy. [End Page viii]