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  • Louis Marshall and the Rise of Jewish Ethnicity in America by M.M. Silver
  • Jessica Cooperman
M.M. Silver. Louis Marshall and the Rise of Jewish Ethnicity in America. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2013. 616 pps. Cloth $49.95. ISBN 978-0-8156-1000-7.

Louis Marshall and the Rise of Jewish Ethnicity in America fills a significant gap in our understanding of this towering figure in America Jewish history. M.M. Silver’s book illustrates the profound scope of Marshall’s engagement with issues facing American and world Jewry from the time he moved to New York City in 1894 to his death in 1929. It successfully demonstrates the remarkable extent of his activities, offering a useful analysis of Marshall’s commitment to Jewish rights and of how his understanding of Jewish interests evolved over time.

Silver divides Marshall’s life into four periods. The first looks at his early years in Syracuse, New York and then moves “from upstate to uptown,” as Marshall transitioned from successful local attorney to one of the leading figures in American Jewish life. Silver describes this as Marshall’s “moral [End Page 207] amelioration phase,” and in this light examines Marshall’s involvement with projects intended to educate and “improve” Eastern European Jewish immigrants, including the Educational Alliance, the Jewish Theological Seminary, and an ill-fated foray into the Yiddish newspaper business via his supervision of Di Yidishe Velt on behalf of a group of “uptown” investors.

The second section initiates what Silver sees as Marshall’s turn away from the paternalistic politics of a Jewish elite concerned with making sure that Jews “had no distinctive issues or concerns of their own in the public domain” (79), and toward an embrace of Jewish ethnic politics sympathetic to the perspectives of “downtown” Jews. This change in Marshall’s attitude and approach, Silver claims, “did not exactly promote unity between settled elite and poor immigrant Jewish groups,” but, he argues, it was at this point that Marshall put systems into place that “provided a steady lever for coordinated action between disparate Jewish groups on issues of obvious, overwhelming concern to all Jews.” (79) In this context, Silver examines numerous events, including Marshall’s organization of the American Jewish Committee, mediation between Jewish garment workers and bosses, efforts to abrogate the Russo-American Treaty of 1832, and most extensively, his long struggle to stave off immigration restriction.

The third section, “War and Peace,” examines Marshall’s work during and immediately following World War I, focusing in particular on the tensions surrounding the formation of the American Jewish Congress, and on Marshall’s work as part of the American Jewish Congress’s delegation to the postwar Paris peace talks. The last section examines the period of “Marshall Law,” as Silver, following Israel Zangwill, calls the final years of Marshall’s life. The material in the section highlights both the extent of Marshall’s personal power and influence, perhaps best exemplified in his successful showdown with Henry Ford over antisemitic accusations made in Ford’s newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, and also foreshadows the end of patrician control over Jewish communal politics, as seen in Marshall’s futile struggle to exercise control over disparate Jewish groups resistant to his ongoing faith in constitutional rights as the best path to a secure Jewish future.

Silver’s book does an excellent job at portraying Marshall’s deep commitment to and tireless advocacy for Jewish rights in the United States and beyond. Silver also demonstrates the interrelated nature of Marshall’s activities so that the reader can appreciate how the founding of the American Jewish Committee, for example, served simultaneously “as a means to streamline responses to the dire emergency faced by Russian Jewry,” and as “a forum for rationalized discussion about [community] control and for minimizing the dangers and damages the contests about control had already caused or could cause in the future.” (108) This sense of interconnectedness is particularly fascinating in the chapter “Jews and Birds,” in which Silver argues that Marshall’s advocacy for environmental protection was tied both to his Judaism and his to patriotic commitment to the land of America.

The book is long...


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pp. 207-209
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