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White Ethnic New York

Jews, Catholics, and the Shaping of Postwar Politics

Joshua M. Zeitz

Publication Year: 2007

Historians of postwar American politics often identify race as a driving force in the dynamically shifting political culture. Joshua Zeitz instead places religion and ethnicity at the fore, arguing that ethnic conflict among Irish Catholics, Italian Catholics, and Jews in New York City had a decisive impact on the shape of liberal politics long before black-white racial identity politics entered the political lexicon. Understanding ethnicity as an intersection of class, national origins, and religion, Zeitz demonstrates that the white ethnic populations of New York had significantly diverging views on authority and dissent, community and individuality, secularism and spirituality, and obligation and entitlement. New York Jews came from Eastern European traditions that valued dissent and encouraged political agitation; their Irish and Italian Catholic neighbors tended to value commitment to order, deference to authority, and allegiance to church and community. Zeitz argues that these distinctions ultimately helped fracture the liberal coalition of the Roosevelt era, as many Catholics bolted a Democratic Party increasingly focused on individual liberties, and many dissent-minded Jews moved on to the antiliberal New Left. Much of the historical literature on postwar American politics places race at the center as a driving force in the dynamically shifting political culture. Zeitz instead places religion and ethnicity at the fore, arguing that ethnic conflict among Irish Catholics, Italian Catholics, and Jews in New York City had a huge impact on the shape of liberal politics. Understanding ethnicity as an intersection of class, national origins, and religion, Zeitz demonstrates that these “white ethnics” had significantly diverging views on authority and dissent, community and individuality, secularism and spirituality, and obligation and entitlement that proved very powerful. New York Jews, he says, came from Eastern European traditions that valued dissent and encouraged political agitation; their Irish and Italian Catholic neighbors tended to value commitment to order, deference to authority, and allegiance to community. Zeitz argues that these differences ultimately fractured the liberal coalition of the Roosevelt era, as Catholics bolted a Democratic party increasingly focused on individual liberties, and the dissent-minded Jews moved on to the anti-liberal New Left. Historians of postwar American politics often identify race as a driving force in the dynamically shifting political culture. Joshua Zeitz instead places religion and ethnicity at the fore, arguing that ethnic conflict among Irish Catholics, Italian Catholics, and Jews in New York City had a huge impact on the shape of liberal politics. With significantly diverging views on authority and dissent, community and individuality, secularism and spirituality, and obligation and entitlement, the liberal coalition of the Roosevelt era fractured, as Catholics bolted a Democratic party increasingly focused on individual liberties, and the dissent-minded Jews moved on to the anti-liberal New Left. Historians of postwar American politics often identify race as a driving force in the dynamically shifting political culture. Joshua Zeitz instead places religion and ethnicity at the fore, arguing that ethnic conflict among Irish Catholics, Italian Catholics, and Jews in New York City had a decisive impact on the shape of liberal politics long before black-white racial identity politics entered the political lexicon. Understanding ethnicity as an intersection of class, national origins, and religion, Zeitz demonstrates that the white ethnic populations of New York had significantly diverging views on authority and dissent, community and individuality, secularism and spirituality, and obligation and entitlement. New York Jews came from Eastern European traditions that valued dissent and encouraged political agitation; their Irish and Italian Catholic neighbors tended to value commitment to order, deference to authority, and allegiance to church and community. Zeitz argues that these distinctions ultimately helped fracture the liberal coalition of the Roosevelt era, as many Catholics bolted a Democratic Party increasingly focused on individual liberties, and many dissent-minded Jews moved on to the antiliberal New Left.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press

Cover

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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7

Contents

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pp. vii-x

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Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiv

In the course of writing White Ethnic New York, I have incurred countless personal and intellectual debts. Whatever faults this book suffers are my responsibility alone, but whatever strengths it possesses are very much the collective achievement of many friends and colleagues. ...

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Introduction

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pp. 1-10

In the fall of 1954 Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser, the spiritual leader of the Forest Hills Jewish Center in Queens, used his Rosh Hashanah sermon to trumpet the harmony between traditional Judaism and social criticism. It was a theme he revisited often with his congregants on the High Holidays (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), when his synagogue was filled to peak capacity. ...

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1. Communities

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pp. 11-38

Reflecting upon his childhood in the New York City suburb of Scarsdale in the 1950s, Joshua Koreznick recalled that "virtually everyone was Jewish." On Yom Kippur, Judaism's most sacred day, "the school was open, but it was a little ludicrous . . . almost like playing a game, [pretending] that it was not a Jewish community." ...

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2. Dissent

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pp. 39-60

In Annie Hall (1977), his classic satire of postwar Jewish life, filmmaker Woody Allen invested his onscreen alter ego with nearly every imaginable characteristic commonly associated with New York Jews. High-strung, neurotic, overly disputative, and relentlessly overintellectual, Alvy Singer exists in a world built entirely of cliches to which even he subscribes. ...

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3. Authority

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pp. 61-88

Between the 1940s and 1960s, many of the ideological differences between Jewish and Catholic New Yorkers originated with a fundamental disagreement over the definition of good citizenship. Jewish religious leaders used the scriptures to remind their congregants, in the words of one rabbi, that "history shows us how the idealist with his far-fetched ideas can overthrow reality and create new epochs." ...

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4. Fascism

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pp. 89-113

In 1949 a seventh-grade social studies teacher from Brooklyn named May Quinn found herself at the center of a gathering political storm. Quinn was hardly a stranger to controversy. Six years earlier, a dozen of her public school colleagues had filed an official complaint alleging that she promoted "intolerance and un-Americanism" in her classroom. ...

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5. Communism

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pp. 114-140

For several days in the late summer of 1949, national attention turned to Peekskill, New York, a small town forty miles upstate from Manhattan. There, a predominately Catholic mob twice ambushed a benefit concert featuring the renowned left-wing political activist and virtuoso, Paul Robeson. ...

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6. Race

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pp. 141-170

In December 1966 the liberal Catholic magazine Commonweal announced that white "backlash" had come to Brooklyn. Only a month before, New York City voters had approved a binding referendum that eliminated the Civilian Complaint Review Board, a commission established by Mayor John Lindsay to hear official charges of police misconduct. ...

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7. Reaction

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pp. 171-195

Throughout the 1960s, social upheaval in New York drew Jews and Catholics closer together in their position on race relations. Both groups began the decade as wholehearted supporters of integration and ended it as skeptics of its social value. It would follow naturally that the city's Irish, Italian, and Jewish voters might forge a united electoral block ...

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8. Upheaval

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pp. 196-222

Americans living in the late 1960s witnessed a general unraveling of authority in virtually every area of life—from the church to the classroom, and from the dinner table to the political convention. Many of these social and political disturbances pitted parents against their children. ...

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Conclusion

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pp. 223-228

Roughly around the time that Rose Shapiro took to the synagogue circuit to denounce John Lindsay, and Joe Kelly took to the streets to defend God and country against the anarchic forces of urban liberalism, American scholars and public intellectuals began turning their attention to the question of ethnicity—particularly, white ethnicity—for the first time in several decades.1 ...

Notes

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pp. 229-268

Index

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pp. 269-278


E-ISBN-13: 9781469602691
E-ISBN-10: 1469602695
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807857984
Print-ISBN-10: 080785798X

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 2 illus., 10 tables
Publication Year: 2007

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Jews -- New York (State) -- New York -- History -- 20th century.
  • Catholics -- New York (State) -- New York -- History -- 20th century.
  • New York (N.Y.) -- Politics and government -- 20th century.
  • New York (N.Y.) -- Religion -- 20th century.
  • New York (N.Y.) -- Ethnic relations.
  • United States -- Religion -- 1945-1960.
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