The Politics of Non-Assimilation
Author: David Verbeeten (Pembroke 2007)
Publisher: Northern Illinois University Press
Over the course of the twentieth century, Eastern European Jews in the United States developed a left-wing political tradition. Their political preferences went against a fairly broad correlation between upward mobility and increased conservatism or Republican partisanship. Many scholars have sought to explain this phenomenon by invoking antisemitism, an early working-class experience, or a desire to integrate into a universal social order. In this original study, David Verbeeten instead focuses on the ways in which left-wing ideologies and movements helped to mediate and preserve Jewish identity in the context of modern tendencies toward bourgeois assimilation and ethnic dissolution.
Verbeeten pursues this line of inquiry through case studies that highlight the political activities and aspirations of three “generations” of American Jews. The life of Alexander Bittelman provides a lens to examine the first generation. Born in Ukraine in 1892, Bittelman moved to New York City in 1912 and went on to become a founder of the American Communist Party after World War I. Verbeeten explores the second generation by way of the American Jewish Congress, which came together in 1918 and launched significant campaigns against discrimination within civil society before, during, and especially after World War II. Finally, he considers the third generation in relation to the activist group New Jewish Agenda, which operated from 1980 to 1992 and was known for its advocacy of progressive causes and its criticism of particular Israeli governments and policies. By focusing on individuals and organizations that have not previously been subjects of extensive investigation, Verbeeten contributes original research to the fields of American, Jewish, intellectual, and radical history. His insightful study will appeal to specialists and general readers interested in those areas.