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eBook Encounter with Emancipation: The German Jews in the United States, 1830-1914
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Publisher:  Varda Books
Original Publisher:  The Jewish Publication Society
Published:  2001
Language:  English
Pages:   431

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ISBN: 1-59045-131-7

File size: 5.878 Mb

About the Book -- Encounter with Emancipation: The German Jews in the United States, 1830-1914

In the beginning they were country peddlers and small merchants, yet the German-Jewish immigrants to America in the second half of the nineteenth century built business empires, communal institutions, and political influence. Their struggle to create a viable Jewish life in America - the land where their spiritual and material resources stood some chance of overcoming prejudice and economic oppression - set the stage for the great wave of East European Jewish immigration in the years during and following World War I.

This superbly documented study, enriched by anecdotes and illustrations, portrays the first genuine encounter of Jewish society with emancipation. And the success of the "Americanization" process forced the Jews of nineteenth-century America to deal with a host of new problems - subtler forms of anti-Semitism, quotas, school prayer, and suspicions of Jewish "conspiracies." These challenges inspired creative (and, at times, misguided) leadership and response. Readers will discover that American Jewry of today has a great deal in common with the American Jewry of a century ago.

About the Book



Horizons of Freedom

"Alike with All Other Persuasions"

The Proper American Jew

The Americanization of Judaism

"All Israel Are Responsible for One Another"

The Jewish Question And Some Jewish Answers

Razing the Ghetto Walls



An Excerpt from the Book -- Encounter with Emancipation: The German Jews in the United States, 1830-1914

Christians admired Jews for their generosity both to fellow Jews and to non-Jews. "The Jews take care of their own poor and contribute to poor of all religions," the Baltimore American wrote in 1856. While some unfairly criticized Jews for how they made their money, Mayor Abram Hewitt of New York stated, few could dispute their reputation for knowing how to spend their wealth wisely. He added that no other people had done so much "to relieve distress, give education and elevate the standard of morality in our midst." Christians also invoked the Jewish philantropic spirit as a model for the larger community. An object of particular attention was Jew's Hospital (later Mountain Sinai) of New York, established in 1855. On that subject, German Americans noted that their community, the more populous, lagged far behind "the followers of the Old Testament [who] have a far keener snese of communal responsibility," and a Baptist newspaper in Chicago commented ruefully that "few Christian churches or denominations do as much." In 1900, when Montefiore Hospital in New York dedicated a new building, Theodore Roosevelt pointed to the lesson implicit in that Jewish venture:

I have come to express to you the debt of obligation that the people of the Untied States are under to you, not only for the deed itself but for the example of deed. There is an appropriate lesson to be learned in the citizenship which limits only the source from which it draws and leaves unlimited that to which it gives.

The plaudits they received convinced Jews of the efficacy of philanthropy as a weapon against anti-Semitism. Charity silences the Jew hater, according to the American Hebrew in 1880. Particularly sensitive that year to debates then engaging Germans on whether the Jew could ever be proper citizen, the journal maintained that charity proved the civic responsibility of the Jew and the interest in social betterment that he shared with Christians. Carl Schurz seconded that opinion. Decrying Western anti-Semitism of the 1880s, he said:

[The Jew] might take the clamorous anti-Semite by the hand, show him the hospitals, orphan homes, charity schools, founded and sustained by Jewish money, Jewish labor, Jewish public spirit, benevolence and devotion, and say to him: "If you have any sick, any aged, any children who cannot find help elsewhere, here we shall have room for them, and they are welcome." What has the anti-Semite to answer? No, no, [anti-Semitism] cannot survive. It must perish in shame.

If the Jew became a distributor instead of accumulator of wealth, Reform leader Kaufmann Kohler wrote in 1900, "then will his material success, instead of rousing the envy and hatred of the foe, evoke the admiration and emulation of all for the sense of equity and righteousness of the Jew."

An Excerpt from the Book


If pluralism has become a hallmark of America, so it is also a significant theme in American Jewish history. In her comprehensive work Naomi W. Cohen offers impressive evidence to claim that "it was the German Jew--not the Sephardic pioneers nor the numerous Russian Jews--who laid the foundations of the modern American Jewish community." Although historians may differ on conclusions, the tensions between ethnic and religious identity described in this book form a fascinating pattern with the goals of acceptance and integration... Familiar themes are developed here with scholarly perspective, balanced anecdotal detail, and full discussion of hardships and humiliations along with progress.

- Joseph Brandes

The American Historical Review

With emancipation as the rubric for understanding German Jews in America, [the author] sees the American-Jewish experience as an extension of the western European Jewish encounter with modernity rather than as part of a distinctly American immigration... Cohen makes an important contribution to the study of religion in nineteenth-century America through her thoughtful exploration of the relationship between religious liberty and religious equality... Cohen draws largely on published sources, but she does far more than synthesize the fruits of past scholarship... Future historians of American Jews--even social historians who look to different types of sources and ask other questions--will have to start their researches here.

- Deborah Dash Moore

The Journal of American History

In her introduction Professor Cohen warns that her book makes "no claim to all-inclusiveness." As a pioneering effort, it leaves much unsaid and many questions unanswered. It depends largely on English-language and secondary sources, and not always the most recent ones... Still, this volume, which is the product of years of research and careful reflection, is a mature work. Professor Cohen builds her synthesis around the theme of Jewish emancipation, the political process that conferred citizenship and legal equality on Jews where they had formerly been second-class citizens... Without being apologetic or anachronistic, [this book] offers something that American Jewish historical writing has rarely before provided, a past that speaks to contemporary concerns.

- Jonathan D. Sarna


Cohen's detailed, fact-crammed work is an important addition to studies about Jews and Judaism... {The author} deals particularly with the institutional responses worked out by the "reigning" German Jewish leadership who reacted to the "dilemmas inherent in emancipation," i.e., how to draw the boundary line between Jewish identities and cultural assimilation. Cohen (Hunter College and NYU Graduate Center) credits Jews from Germany and German-speaking regions of Poland and Austria with shaping the religious and secular philanthropic institutions and behavior patterns that prevail today... A rich mixture, making no concessions to undergraduate, non-specialized readers, but a necessary book for all academic libraries, undergraduate level and above.

- Choice

Naomi W. Cohen has triumphally explored a neglected chapter not only of American Jewish history but of American history itself. The deftness with which she has handled an immense range of sources and turned them into a gripping, incisive narrative is a fresh tribute to her established skill as a researcher and writer.

- Henry F. Graff


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