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13 | Is America Exile or Home? We Must Begin to Build for Permanence Israel Knox Israel Knox, “Is America Exile or Home? We Must Begin to Build for Permanence,” Commentary, November 1946, 401–8. Although Israel Knox (1904 or 1907–1986) lectured widely in the United States on Jewish communal issues and published prolifically on Jewish issues in the important Jewish periodicals of his day, he is not well known today, as either a Jewish communal or intellectual figure. Knox was born in Russia (the precise location is unknown) and came to the United States as a boy, in 1912. After earning a doctorate in philosophy from Columbia University in 1936, Knox directed the Englishspeaking division of the Workmen’s Circle in New York for ten years (1937–47). After that he taught philosophy, first at Ohio University and then at New York University, where he taught from 1951 until his retirement in the late 1970s. In November 1946, Knox’s article “Is America Exile or Home?” set off a lively, yearlong debate in the fledgling Commentary magazine about the nature of the Jewish community and Jewish nationalism in the United States. Commentary was founded in 1945, a moment when American Jewry—and, for that matter the world—was, in Knox’s words, “at the crossroads.” The destruction of European Jewry made even more crucial questions, already debated for many years, about America’s place in shaping the Jewish future. In the tradition of the Menorah Journal , Commentary sought to provide a venue for Jewish scholars, intellectuals, and public figures to debate Jewish politics and culture in the United States. In his controversial article, Knox presses American Jews to view the current moment through a Dubnovian lens: if Jewish history follows a pattern of shifting hegemonic centers, then the United States is surely poised to conclusively inherit Europe’s mantle. But American Jewry’s leadership, according to Knox, had not yet gained the necessary self-confidence to create the institutional framework for the next phase of Jewish civilization, instead deferring to the remnant leadership of the Jewish community in Europe and focusing on the political objectives of Zionism. It is the latter factor that troubles Knox most because that focus, he believes, is out of sync with how American Jews as a whole view the Zionist project. If American Jewish institutions do not focus their educational efforts on building a cultural and 204 | p r e s e r vat i o n a n d r e c o n s t r uc t i o n permanent foundation for Jewish life in the United States, then being Jewish will become decreasingly meaningful to American Jews. Responses to Knox’s essay largely discussed where and how to focus American Jewish energy during the Jewish cultural revival. Some argued for the promotion of Jewish high culture; others focused on accepting English as the new Jewish language ; and still others argued against an institutional approach to cultural revival. Some also dismissed the idea of building Jewish culture in America at all, arguing instead that Jews should embrace American culture and its spirit of universalism. Interestingly, only Knox’s arguments about how to “build for permanence”—not his premise that America was home, rather than exile—provoked controversy. Knox’s claim that Zionism mistakenly equates peoplehood and statehood and his insistence that “the United States is neither Galut nor hutz la‑aretz” met with no response or challenge from the American Jewish figures who wrote in Commentary . Instead, in the forums that followed on topics such as “Jewish Culture for America?” and “Jewish Culture in This Time and Place,” the contributors presumed the leading role of the American community in what remained of world Jewry in 1946 and 1947. Because of the war and the extermination camps, America’s Jewish community has today become the largest and strongest in the world. This statement has been dinned into the ears of American Jews from the pulpit, press, and platform, and above all by the spokesmen of fund-raising campaigns. Though in the process of repetition it has become almost a cliché, it still remains a fact. It is the most significant thing that has happened to American Jews, changing their outlook and their attitude toward the remaining Jews overseas as well as towards themselves. Traveling around the country and talking to Jews of various shades of opinion and of various degrees of Jewishness, one becomes inescapably aware of this. Last year’s...


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