Integration of American Jews Through Journalism

March 9, 2020

Neville Teller ● Jerusalem Post

Ron Rubin is an avid collector of American newspapers stretching right back to the early 18th century. A professor of political science at the University of New York for more than 50 years, Rubin retired in 2016 and devised the idea of telling the story of America’s Jews through what appeared in the newspapers of the time. In Strangers and Natives he brings the concept to brilliant realization, hence his book’s subtitle: A Newspaper Narrative of Early Jewish America 1734-1869.

Turning the pages of this book is a continuous delight to the eye, for throughout the volume, the selected news items and articles are illustrated by reproductions of the originals. So as a by-product of the history, we also see how American journalism developed over the centuries. This triumph of book design is the work of the highly experienced Peri Devaney, who is rightfully credited on the cover.

Strangers and Natives tackles the development of the Jewish community in America from a variety of angles, starting back in 1734, some 60 years before the Declaration of Independence. On March 25 of that year, The New York Weekly Journal carried an advertisement urging anyone who believed they were owed anything by the late Benjamin Elias to come forward. Elias had been a merchant as well as a Hebrew teacher and shochet (ritual slaughterer) at Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue that was the first Jewish congregation in North America.

Rubin ends his story, except for an additional item or two, with The Alexandria Gazette’s account of the first Rosh Hashanah after the end of the Civil War in 1865 – the Jewish New Year of 5626. Jews featured prominently on both sides of that conflict. The secretary of state of the Confederate States of America – the 11 breakaway states opposed to ending slavery – was Judah P Benjamin. In February 1865, with the South fast crumbling and already thinking of suing for peace, The Baltimore Clipper carried a front-page account of a speech by Benjamin advocating what must have seemed a radical proposal to the South generally. He proposed freeing African American slaves as a way of enhancing the manpower of the Confederate Army. Such a move, he said, would add 680,000 additional troops.

On the other hand, in April 1865, one week after President Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated, The Pittsburgh Commercial ran an article praising the Jewish contribution to the Union cause. It set out the numbers of enlisted Jews from the different states of the Union, calculating that a total of 40,000 Jewish soldiers had, in its own words, “shown a full share of patriotism since the war began.”

Across 12 chapters, Rubin traces the saga of how Jews slowly became integrated into the American way of life. He covers the development of Jewish communal affairs, including the expansion of synagogues across the growing country, and the part played by Jews in the fields of education and literature, in journalism, business, politics and various other aspects of the rapidly growing nation. He does not omit the obstacles placed in their way from time to time.

For example, antisemitism reared its ugly head quite early on, and Rubin records instances in The New York Gazette in 1746, and The Pennsylvania Gazette in 1751, of the offer of rewards following the vandalism of Jewish burial grounds. Against this, the philo-semitism of Benjamin Franklin is well documented. As The Pennsylvania Gazette records, well ahead of the British Parliament, Franklin’s so-called Jew Bill of 1753 proposed allowing foreign-born Jews to obtain English citizenship, bypassing the required oath of loyalty to the Church of England. To its credit, the Gazette was strongly in support if the bill, but it was a proposal well ahead of its time, and popular opposition proved too strong.

A century later, the American press followed the long and intense struggle within the British Parliament on the related issue of permitting a practicing Jew to sit in the House of Commons without swearing loyalty to the Church of England.

In 1847, Baron Lionel de Rothschild was elected to Parliament as an MP for the City of London. As The New York Herald reported, he refused to take his seat because he was required to take an oath to the Christian faith. When he was reelected in 1849, the paper noted that he had won “by an overwhelming majority,” and commented that “the event is regarded as an unmistakable sign of the determination of the citizens to secure what is termed full religious liberty.” In point of fact, the impasse continued, as Rothschild won his seat again in 1852 and then in 1857. It was not until 1858, after the provision of Christian affirmation was removed, that he finally entered the House of Commons.

Rothschild’s struggle, reported in the American press, was carefully followed by American Jews. It may well have played a part in ensuring the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, 10 years later, which finally removed religious restrictions on holding any political office in the United States.

Strangers and Natives provides a unique perspective on American-Jewish history – the first account to draw its material solely from contemporary newspapers. By doing so, and because of Peri Devaney’s fascinating design, which shows the actual items in print, we are able to see history unfold as it was happening. The book goes well beyond news stories. We see also advertisements, announcements, obituaries and accounts charting the changing pattern of Jewish life and achievement. It is highly recommended.


New review – Torah of the Mind, Torah of the Heart

January 26, 2020

Tradition

Since his passing over twenty years ago, the absence of Rav Professor Yitzhak (Isadore) Twerky zt”l has been sorely felt by those who learned his Torah, studied his scholarship, and saw in him a model of spiritual engagement integrated with intellectual rigor.

We are now gratefully in the debt of R. Twersky’s disciple, Rabbi David Shapiro, who has published the first volume of Torah of the Mind, Torah of the Heart: Divrei Torah of the Talner Rebbe on Bereshit and Shemot (Urim Publications), which records a sampling of R. Twersky’s teachings in the Talner Beis Midrash where he served as the Admor (the only Harvard Professor ever to lay claim to such a position outside the Ivory Tower). The short essays in the book, arranged according to the weekly portion, focus on religious-philosophical themes. Central among these are: the need for humility and inwardness, avoiding routinization in religious life, developing sensitivity to God’s role in our daily encounters, and the centrality of kedusha and our responsibility to generate it within society.

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Featured – Heal Us O Lord

December 9, 2019

Hadassah Magazine’s Guide to Jewish Literature

“During my teaching career I often had students entering the field of medicine and nursing. I would tell them to always remember that they are doing God’s work. Rabbi Dr. Goldstein is such a person, who did God’s work as a chaplain for close to forty years… Rabbis, social workers, physicians, nurses and children with aging parents will want to read this book.”
-Rabbi Dr. Norman Strickman.


Featured – Jews in Medicine

December 2, 2019

Hadassah Magazine’s Guide to Jewish Literature

No specialized medical or Jewish knowledge is required to appreciate the fascinating history of medical contributions made by Jewish physicians throughout the ages. Profiles of more than 450 Jewish physicians are divided by region and area of specialization, all within a historical context. A perfect gift for a beloved doctor or medical student.


Books About Jews Who Make Us Proud – “Jews in Medicine”

October 13, 2019

Dinah Rokach ● Young Israel Shomrai Emunah of Greater Washington (Rosh Hashanaha Hashomer bulletin)

Follow the history of Jews in the Holy Land beginning in Talmudic times and through the Diaspora and to the State of Israel as you learn and take pride in the accomplishments of Jewish doctors throughout the ages. Read short biographies, most of them accompanied by black-and-white photographs and illustrations, that will inspire and make you proud.

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Review: Jews in Medicine

September 25, 2019

Ilka Gordon AJL News and Reviews

Jews in Medicine is a very interesting and readable discussion of the history of Jews in medicine and Jewish physicians. The book begins with the physicians and medical theories of the Talmudic era and ends with contemporary physicians both living and deceased. The first six chapters are divided by geographical location and period: for example, physicians in Christian lands, Spain, Italy, Provence, and Turkey during the Gaonic period and before and after the expulsion from Spain. There is also a brief discussion of the rise of independent Jewish hospitals in the United States (once 113 and now only 22) and the reason for their decline.

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Author Event with Silvia Fishbaum – June 2, 2019

June 2, 2019

An event not to be missed

A Woman’s Courageous Journey to Religious & Political Freedom

Sunday, June 2, 7:30 pm

@ Bridgeworks, 780 Long Beach Blvd. Long Beach NY

On the 40th anniversary of her freedom, Silvia Fishbaum will share her remarkable story of her escape from Soviet occupied Czechoslovakia and anti-Semitism.

In today’s world with anti Semitism rising it’s ugly head throughout Europe and reaching its highest levels ever in the United States with attacks on Synagogues, this lecture is of paramount importance, especially for young adults and teens in the middle school and high school.

After sharing her extraordinary story, Silvia will be available for book signing opportunities.

Light refreshments. FREE Entry
Sponsor $100 includes an autographed book by Silvia Fishbaum. 
Click here to reserve