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Stepping Into Zion

Hatzaad Harishon, Black Jews, and the Remaking of Jewish Identity

Janice W. Fernheimer

Publication Year: 2014

By studying the multiracial Jewish organization Hatzaad Harishon, Janice W. Fernheimer’s Stepping into Zion considers the question “Who is a Jew?”— a critical rhetorical issue with far-reaching consequences for Jews and non-Jews alike.

Hatzaad Harishon (“The First Step”) was a New York-based, multiracial Jewish organization that worked to increase recognition and legitimacy of black Jews in the sixties and seventies. In Stepping into Zion, Janice W. Fernheimer examines the history and archives of Hatzaad Harishon to illuminate the definition and borders of Jewish identity, which have
critical relevance to Jews of all traditions as well as to non-Jews.

Fernheimer focuses on a period when white Jewish identity was in flux and deeply influenced by the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. In 1964, white and black Jews formed Hatzaad Harishon to foster interaction and unity between black and white Jewish communities. They raised the question of who or what constitutes Jewishness or Jewish identity, and in searching for an answer succeeded—both historically and rhetorically—in gaining increased recognition for black Jews. Fernheimer traces how members of Hatzaad Harishon, who did not share the same set of definitions, were able to create common ground in a process she terms “interruptive invention.”

Through insightful interpretation of Hatzaad Harishon’s archival materials, Fernheimer chronicles the group’s successes and failures within the larger rhetorical history of conflicts that emerge when cultural identities shift or expand. Stepping into Zion offers “interruptive invention” as a framework for understanding and changing certain dominant discourses about racial and religious identity, allowing those who may lack institutional power or authority to begin to claim it.

Published by: The University of Alabama Press

Title Page, Editorial Board, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-xi

It takes many years, much courage, and even more support to write a book. Without the critical feedback and loving support of many friends, colleagues, and family members, this manuscript would not have reached this finished state. And yet, while many sets of eyes and ears have looked at and listened...

Part I: Creating Inventional Opportunities for Audiences with Different Degrees of Authenticity, Authority, and Power

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Introduction: Redefining Rhetorical Success

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pp. 3-15

Rhetoricians have always made great claims for the possibilities of rhetoric. Cicero describes it as “the alternative to violence” and I. A. Richards posits that it is the “art of removing misunderstanding.” The Western rhetorical tradition also champions rhetoric as not just an analytic art but also a...

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Chapter 1. You’re Jewish?: Hebrew Israelites, Black Jews, and Disrupted Identity Discourses

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pp. 16-36

The questions of “Who is a Jew” and “What is a Jew?” have long plagued numerous communities, Jewish and non-Jewish alike. These questions evoke arguments of definition on multiple levels, and at every turn the answers have implications for how Jewish identity is claimed by individuals and recognized by others regardless of whether these others are Jewish. Depending...

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Chapter 2. Solving Common Ground’s Rhetorical Paradox: Interruptive Invention and the Potential for Incremental Success

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pp. 37-58

Although much of contemporary criticism has tended to shy away from the term identity because of the essentialist connotations often associated with it, Dana Anderson cogently argues for rhetorical theory’s need to recuperate the term as a doxastic, commonsense notion of how people think of themselves as selves (7–9). Anderson persuasively declares that identity provides...

Part II: Toward a Continuum of Rhetorical Recognition and Partial Success

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Chapter 3. Making Space for Black Jews: Dissociative Disruption and the Rhetoric of Partial Recognition

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pp. 61-81

Now that we have investigated the way identity works as a rhetorical strategy for creating and revising common ground, let us return to the Hebrew Israelites’ conflict with the Israeli government. Deeper analysis of their conflict helps crystallize the relational way that the rhetorical strategy of identity...

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Chapter 4. Interrupting Whiteness: Hatzaad Harishon Youth Dance on the Edge of Jewish Identification, 1964–1969

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pp. 82-109

In 1964 the Civil Rights Act was passed in the U.S. On June 5, 1967, another Arab-Israeli war broke out (Israelis refer to it as the Six-Day War, while Palestinians refer to it as Al-Naksah— literally, “the Setback”). In 1968 the Ocean Hill-Brownsville school board controversy erupted in New York...

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Chapter 5. Uncomfortable Communion: Black Power, Jewish Anxiety, and the Difficulty of Cross-Audience Communication, 1970 and 1971

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pp. 110-129

The Hebrew Israelites’ 1969 emigration to Israel put fuel on the conversion crisis’s fire and intensified the already complicated negotiations among mainstream white Jews, self-identified Black Jews, and Black Israelites in New York as well as the members of Hatzaad Harishon. As chapter 3 details, these conflicts escalated when the Israelites’ leader Ben Ammi arrived...

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Epilogue: From Interruption to Acceptance—The Rise of Jewish Multiculturalism and Jewish Identity 2.0

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pp. 130-148

Despite their brief existence and eventual demise, Hatzaad Harishon’s history illustrates that revolutionary shifts to dominant discourses often occur incrementally rather than instantaneously.1 More than that, its trajectory draws attention to the multiple steps involved in bringing about change...


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pp. 149-170


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pp. 171-194


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pp. 195-204

E-ISBN-13: 9780817387471
E-ISBN-10: 0817387471
Print-ISBN-13: 9780817318246
Print-ISBN-10: 0817318240

Page Count: 232
Publication Year: 2014