THE FATE OF THE JEWS: The American Jew and Israel by Roberta Strauss-Feuerlicht

THE FATE OF THE JEWS: The American Jew and Israel

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Strauss-Feuerlicht (Justice Crucified, McCarthy and McCarthyism) is unhappy about the Israeli attack on Lebanon, and about American Jews' loss of idealism--sentiments many Jews share. She is also, however, a fierce anti-Zionist--opposed in principle to the idea of a Jewish state and in practice to Jewish colonization of Palestine; and she excoriates the ""oligarchy of millionaries and professional Jews, who not only moved the community to the right. . . but smothered dissent with a false unanimity. . . ."" Yet much of her book, selectively reprising Jewish history, is invested with nothing more extraordinary than a belief that the Jewish heritage was ""not monotheism or chosenness,"" but ethics: the Ten Commandments and the laws of the Torah. For some Jews, nonetheless, those too are fighting words (qv. Why the Jews, p. 702); and they do result in a history at variance from the norm. Strauss-Feuerlicht does not vaunt the Masada martyrs, but rather the sage who escaped and spread Judaism; ""Judaism survived not in Jewish states but in the diaspora."" Similarly: Jewish separateness ""inspired reciprocal intolerance""; the Jews' ""denial of nationhood""--in order, under Napoleon, to become French citizens--was right and appropriate; Jewish ""socialism or liberalism"" was both a response to persecution and the political position ""closest in spirit to the ethical imperatives of Judaism."" Strauss-Feuerlicht's heroes, then, are the Russian labor and socialist Jews who fought for immediate rights (notwithstanding Zionist nonos) and the American Jewish socialist leaders--Abraham Cahan, Morris Hillquit, Meyer London--who ""wed the best of religious ideals to the best of political and economic action."" Two other, more divergent stresses, as regards the US, are Jewish complicity in black slavery (foreshadowing later wrongs) and the catch-as-catch-can nature of East European immigration (to counter the Statue-of-Liberty stereotype). In the 20th century, the focus is on American Jewish political attitudes (the embrace of FDR, the half-embrace of Reagan); Jewish-black friction (""the Bronx Slave Market"" of the 1930s, the N.Y.C. teacher strikes, the Andrew Young affair); and the unholy alliance with Israel. Strauss-Feuerlicht is a deft extractor and fluent expositor (with YA experience). Her outlook on the Jewish past is stimulating; her material on American Jewish attitudes and behaviors seldom sees print; her overall viewpoint is not too different from Hannah Arendt's--save for her extreme judgments. Quite apart from the fact that many Jews will detest what she has to say (and despise her for saying it), she lacks what gives weight to the best Jewish wrestlings with these problems: a troubled mind.

Pub Date: Aug. 30th, 1983
Publisher: Times Books