THE INCIDENT AT MASSENA: The Blood Libel in America by Saul S. Friedman

THE INCIDENT AT MASSENA: The Blood Libel in America

Email this review


With its anti-Semitism, antialienism, and anti-Catholicism,"" writes Saul Friedman, ""Massena was no different from any number of little towns across the country in 1928."" In a style reminiscent of Frederick Lewis Allen, Friedman--Associate Professor of Jewish and Near East History at Youngstown State University--colorfully depicts American society in the late 1920s as a framework for his story. There are two themes: the ""blood libel"" accusation against the Jews of Massena, New York, resulting from a rumor that they have kidnapped a child on the eve of Yom Kippur to use her blood in a religious rite; and the split in the national Jewish leadership that keeps the incident from fading even after the child returns unharmed and town officials apologize for the rumors. This was the first instance of ""blood libel"" against American Jews, but Friedman looks back through the ages at similar charges leveled against Jews and Christians alike. Because Massena's 19 Jewish families were frightened by the accusation, they mistakenly sought advice from both Louis Marshall of the American Jewish Committee and Rabbi Stephen Wise of the American Jewish Congress. When the apologies and publicity went to Wise, Marshall's ""monomania"" kept him insisting on additional restitution, despite pleas from Jews in Massena to let the matter rest. According to Friedman, this rift between the two major Jewish groups and their leaders was a forerunner of the ""backbiting and conniving that would deprive American Jewry of effective action during the Holocaust."" A small but significant piece of social history.

Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 1978
Publisher: Stein & Day