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  • International Jewish Humanitarianism in the Age of the Great War by Jaclyn Granick
  • Jessica Cooperman
Jaclyn Granick, International Jewish Humanitarianism in the Age of the Great War. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2021. 404 pp. Hardback $39.99. ISBN: 9781108495028

Jaclyn Granick's compelling new book, International Jewish Humanitarianism in the Age of the Great War, powerfully reminds its readers of the enormous impact of World War I, not only on the lives of millions of Jews across Europe and in Palestine, but on the philanthropic, social, and political structures of the Jewish world. Granick's book focuses on the devastating turmoil unleashed by World War I and examines the efforts of American Jews to stabilize and sustain the lives of Jews trapped in the "shatterzone" between the crumbling Russian, Austrian, German, and Ottoman empires. Through her thought-provoking exploration of the dynamics of Jewish humanitarian work, Granick offers reader a complex picture of American Jewish identity and its intertwined commitments to American Progressive ideals and diasporic Jewish community.

The book is primarily an account of the work done by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in Poland, Ukraine, Soviet Russia, and Palestine during and immediately following World War I. At numerous points, however, Granick considers how the goals and efforts of JDC intersected with and diverged from those of other American relief organizations, such as the American Red Cross and the American Relief Administration, and other Jewish organizations, including HIAS and Hadassah. Granick opens with an examination of how the JDC and its various partners maneuvered to send money and financial assistance to Jewish "war sufferers" during the period of American neutrality. She poignantly describes the immense challenge of moving funds to people in need in the midst of a global crisis—and the added complexities created by the United States's entry into the war in April 1917. As American policies made it increasingly difficult to send aid, JDC leaders found ways to partner with European Jewish organizations on both sides of the battle lines to bring money and life-saving resources to East European Jews in desperate need of help.

In the chapters that follow, Granick thematically explores the staggering demands faced by the JDC during the chaotic years after the war. While civilian populations across Eastern Europe suffered through the devastation and destabilization the war left behind, Jews lived in particularly precarious circumstances, becoming, Granick argues, "the war's paradigmatic [End Page 249] refugees" (111). Antisemitism lead both to wide-scale popular violence and to neglect from newly formed national governments that saw Jews as a "foreign element." In Ukraine, for example, pogroms led to approximately 200,000 Jewish deaths between 1917–1920 (92), and widespread famine left hundreds of thousands of Jewish children and adults facing imminent starvation and almost totally dependent on the JDC and the American Relief Administration for food (105). Granick offers detailed accounts of the strategies that Jewish agencies adopted as they struggled to feed the hungry, house refugees and orphans, tend to the sick, educate children, and establish stable Jewish economic systems in Eastern Europe and Palestine.

Many of the people behind this massive humanitarian effort are familiar figures in American Jewish history. As Granick describes, established leaders like Cyrus Adler, Judah Magnes, Louis Marshall, Jacob Schiff, and Felix Warburg, saw the establishment of the JDC as part of their widespread involvement in Jewish institutional life. Granick, however, also highlights the efforts of less well-lauded figures—particularly professional social workers like Boris Bogen, Jacob Billikopf, Frank Rosenblatt, and others—who led the JDC's strategic efforts and on-the-ground programs. And while the leadership of Jewish organizations remained dominated by men in the interwar period, Granick spotlights the work of women, like Harriet Lowenstein, who established the JDC's European headquarters in 1919, and Jesse Bogen, Boris's daughter, who accompanied her father in his travels and eventually led the JDC's efforts to promote the "financial adoption" of Jewish children in Europe by Jewish women in the United States (210).

While meticulous details of the material, financial, and medical aid provided by the JDC and other agencies lie at the heart of Granick's...