A HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN AMERICA by Howard M. Sachar

A HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN AMERICA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 With this comprehensive, insightful, and spirited opus, Sachar (Modern History/George Washington Univ.; A History of Israel, 1976 and 1977, etc.) rises to the position of preeminent Jewish historian of our day. Sachar's study aims far above the ``Look Who's Jewish'' genre of pop Jewish-American history, yet there are passages about men of Jewish descent who sponsored Columbus's voyages, speculation about the Jewishness of Abraham Lincoln's ancestry, and, much later, lists of Jewish entertainers, scientists, scholars, etc., whose Jewishness was often less than relevant. Sachar is at his best when succinctly presenting a generation's grappling with social, philosophical, political, and theological issues after major Jewish milestones like the influx of Eastern European immigrants, the Holocaust, and the Six-Day War. Both the ``beatification'' and ``martyrology'' of Holocaust study and the new religion of Israelism are critically discussed. Sachar has a historian's gift for mapping out the key crossroads facing the American Jewish community at each major juncture, from the American Revolution to the current ``quota crisis'' with the black community. He then offers a journalist's-eye view of the major figures behind the ideas and movements. Journalist Sachar can be rather subjective as he paints Orthodox rabbis (``hairshirt tribalists'') like Bernard Revel as amoral opportunists, and liberal secularists like Rabbi Stephen Wise as intrepid pioneers. Most laypeople of any stripe, though, will appreciate his saucy dismissal of most American rabbis as ``preening pulpiteers, social climbers, publicity and financial bonus seekers.'' In his reviews of major cultural figures, Sachar praises anyone that Irving Howe likes and trashes celebrated artists like Elie Wiesel--and, while noting that America has always swallowed up her Jews, he favors saccharine projections about the children of intermarried couples being ``raised as Jews.'' There are chapter headings like ``the German-Jewish Conscience at Efflorescence'' and adjectives such as ``latitudinarian,'' but this immensely readable tome offers several centuries' worth of crystallized energy.

Pub Date: May 2nd, 1992
ISBN: 0-394-57353-6
Page count: 1056pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1992




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