Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History
Welcome to the the Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History at New York University. Founded in 2003 and directed by Hasia R. Diner, Paul S. and Sylvia Steinberg Professor in American Jewish History, the Goldstein-Goren Center studies the mutual impact of the United States and the Jewish people. The Goldstein-Goren Center was made possible through the support of the Cukier Goldstein-Goren Foundation. The center sponsors scholarly conferences, publications and scholars who explore some of the key areas of American history and their points of engagement with the Jews who lived in the United States and elsewhere. The Center takes as the focus of its programs and publications the relationships forged between American Jewry and wider developments in American society and culture.
“Our goal as scholars and researchers is to examine the Jews as one element in a diverse polity and consider the ways in which Jews interacted with America as a society constituted by many religious and ethnic groups,” said Professor Diner. In addition to programming, publications and support of research fellows, the Center also endows graduate student fellowships, "in order to train the next generation of scholars in this crucial field.”
The Goldstein-Goren Center has entered into a relationship with the New York University Press, one of the pre-eminent publishing houses in the American world of letters and scholarship. Titles, descriptions, and links to purchase the Goldsten-Goren Series in American Jewish History can be found below.
Professor Hasia Diner's interview on The Takeaway, regarding anti-Semitism and Jewish history
Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History Book Series
A Mortuary of Books
The astonishing story of the efforts of scholars and activists to rescue Jewish cultural treasures after the Holocaust.
In March 1946 the American Military Government for Germany established the Offenbach Archival Depot near Frankfurt to store, identify, and restore the huge quantities of Nazi-looted books, archival material, and ritual objects that Army members had found hidden in German caches. These items bore testimony to the cultural genocide that accompanied the Nazis’ systematic acts of mass murder. The depot built a short-lived lieu de memoire—a “mortuary of books,” as the later renowned historian Lucy Dawidowicz called it—with over three million books of Jewish origin coming from nineteen different European countries awaiting restitution.
A Mortuary of Books tells the miraculous story of the many Jewish organizations and individuals who, after the war, sought to recover this looted cultural property and return the millions of treasured objects to their rightful owners. Some of the most outstanding Jewish intellectuals of the twentieth century, including Dawidowicz, Hannah Arendt, Salo W. Baron, and Gershom Scholem, were involved in this herculean effort. This led to the creation of Jewish Cultural Reconstruction Inc., an international body that acted as the Jewish trustee for heirless property in the American Zone and transferred hundreds of thousands of objects from the Depot to the new centers of Jewish life after the Holocaust.
The commitment of these individuals to the restitution of cultural property revealed the importance of cultural objects as symbols of the enduring legacy of those who could not be saved. It also fostered Jewish culture and scholarly life in the postwar world.
A groundbreaking history of the practice of Jewish name changing in the 20th century, showcasing just how much is in a name.
Our thinking about Jewish name changing tends to focus on clichés: ambitious movie stars who adopted glamorous new names or insensitive Ellis Island officials who changed immigrants’ names for them. But as Kirsten Fermaglich elegantly reveals, the real story is much more profound. Scratching below the surface, Fermaglich examines previously unexplored name change petitions to upend the clichés, revealing that in twentieth-century New York City, Jewish name changing was actually a broad-based and voluntary behavior: thousands of ordinary Jewish men, women, and children legally changed their names in order to respond to an upsurge of antisemitism. Rather than trying to escape their heritage or “pass” as non-Jewish, most name-changers remained active members of the Jewish community. While name changing allowed Jewish families to avoid antisemitism and achieve white middle-class status, the practice also created pain within families and became a stigmatized, forgotten aspect of American Jewish culture.
This first history of name changing in the United States offers a previously unexplored window into American Jewish life throughout the twentieth century. A Rosenberg by Any Other Name demonstrates how historical debates about immigration, antisemitism and race, class mobility, gender and family, the boundaries of the Jewish community, and the power of government are reshaped when name changing becomes part of the conversation.
Mining court documents, oral histories, archival records, and contemporary literature, Fermaglich argues convincingly that name changing had a lasting impact on American Jewish culture. Ordinary Jews were forced to consider changing their names as they saw their friends, family, classmates, co-workers, and neighbors do so. Jewish communal leaders and civil rights activists needed to consider name changers as part of the Jewish community, making name changing a pivotal part of early civil rights legislation. And Jewish artists created critical portraits of name changers that lasted for decades in American Jewish culture. This book ends with the disturbing realization that the prosperity Jews found by changing their names is not as accessible for the Chinese, Latino, and Muslim immigrants who wish to exercise that right today.
A compelling story of how Judaism became integrated into mainstream American religion.
In 1956, the sociologist Will Herberg described the United States as a “triple-melting pot,” a country in which “three religious communities - Protestant, Catholic, Jewish – are America.” This description of an American society in which Judaism and Catholicism stood as equal partners to Protestantism begs explanation, as Protestantism had long been the dominant religious force in the U.S. How did Americans come to embrace Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism as “the three facets of American religion?”Historians have often turned to the experiences of World War II in order to explain this transformation. However, World War I’s impact on changing conceptions of American religion is too often overlooked.
This book argues that World War I programs designed to protect the moral welfare of American servicemen brought new ideas about religious pluralism into structures of the military. Jessica Cooperman shines a light on how Jewish organizations were able to convince both military and civilian leaders that Jewish organizations, alongside Christian ones, played a necessary role in the moral and spiritual welfare of America’s fighting forces. This alone was significant, because acceptance within the military was useful in modeling acceptance in the larger society.
The leaders of the newly formed Jewish Welfare Board, which became the military’s exclusive Jewish partner in the effort to maintain moral welfare among soldiers, used the opportunities created by war to negotiate a new place for Judaism in American society. Using the previously unexplored archival collections of the JWB, as well as soldiers’ letters, memoirs and War Department correspondence, Jessica Cooperman shows that the Board was able to exert strong control over expressions of Judaism within the military. By introducing young soldiers to what it saw as appropriately Americanized forms of Judaism and Jewish identity, the JWB hoped to prepare a generation of American Jewish men to assume positions of Jewish leadership while fitting comfortably into American society.
This volume shows how, at this crucial turning point in world history, the JWB managed to use the policies and power of the U.S. government to advance its own agenda: to shape the future of American Judaism and to assert its place as a truly American religion.
Fifty years after the start of the women’s liberation movement, a book that at last illuminates the profound impact Jewishness and second-wave feminism had on each other.
Jewish women were undeniably instrumental in shaping the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Yet historians and participants themselves have overlooked their contributions as Jews. This has left many vital questions unasked and unanswered—until now. Delving into archival sources and conducting extensive interviews with these fierce pioneers, Joyce Antler has at last broken the silence about the confluence of feminism and Jewish identity.
Antler’s exhilarating new book features dozens of compelling biographical narratives that reveal the struggles and achievements of Jewish radical feminists in Chicago, New York and Boston, as well as those who participated in the later, self-consciously identified Jewish feminist movement that fought gender inequities in Jewish religious and secular life. Disproportionately represented in the movement, Jewish women’s liberationists helped to provide theories and models for radical action that were used throughout the United States and abroad. Their articles and books became classics of the movement and led to new initiatives in academia, politics, and grassroots organizing. Other Jewish-identified feminists brought the women’s movement to the Jewish mainstream and Jewish feminism to the Left. For many of these women, feminism in fact served as a “portal” into Judaism.
Recovering this deeply hidden history, Jewish Radical Feminism places Jewish women’s activism at the center of feminist and Jewish narratives. The stories of over forty women’s liberationists and identified Jewish feminists—from Shulamith Firestone and Susan Brownmiller to Rabbis Laura Geller and Rebecca Alpert—illustrate how women’s liberation and Jewish feminism unfolded over the course of the lives of an extraordinary cohort of women, profoundly influencing the social, political, and religious revolutions of our era.
A vivid history of the American Jewish merchants who concentrated in the nation’s most important economic sector.
In the nineteenth century, Jewish merchants created a thriving niche economy in the United States’ most important industry—cotton—positioning themselves at the forefront of expansion during the Reconstruction Era. Jewish success in the cotton industry was transformative for both Jewish communities and their development, and for the broader economic restructuring of the South. Cotton Capitalists analyzes this niche economy and reveals its origins. Michael R. Cohen argues that Jewish merchants’ status as a minority fueled their success by fostering ethnic networks of trust. Trust in the nineteenth century was the cornerstone of economic transactions, and this trust was largely fostered by ethnicity. Much as money flowed along ethnic lines between Anglo-American banks, Jewish merchants in the Gulf South used their own ethnic ties with other Jewish-owned firms in New York, as well as Jewish investors across the globe, to capitalize their businesses. They relied on these family connections to direct Northern credit and goods to the war-torn South, avoiding the constraints of the anti-Jewish prejudices which had previously denied them access to credit, allowing them to survive economic downturns.
These American Jewish merchants reveal that ethnicity matters in the development of global capitalism. Ethnic minorities are and have frequently been at the forefront of entrepreneurship, finding innovative ways to expand narrow sectors of the economy. While this was certainly the case for Jews, it has also been true for other immigrant groups more broadly. The story of Jews in the American cotton trade is far more than the story of American Jewish success and integration—it is the story of the role of ethnicity in the development of global capitalism.
Finalist, Celebrate 350 Award in American Jewish Studies
Tells the remarkable story of the Jewish moguls in Hollywood who established the first anti-Nazi Jewish resistance organization in the country in the 1930s.
In April 1939, Warner Brothers studios released the first Hollywood film to confront the Nazi threat in the United States. Confessions of a Nazi Spy, starring Edward G. Robinson, told the story of German agents in New York City working to overthrow the U.S. government. The film alerted Americans to the dangers of Nazism at home and encouraged them to defend against it.
Confessions of a Nazi Spy may have been the first cinematic shot fired by Hollywood against Nazis in America, but it by no means marked the political awakening of the film industry’s Jewish executives to the problem. Hollywood’s Spies tells the remarkable story of the Jewish moguls in Hollywood who paid private investigators to infiltrate Nazi groups operating in Los Angeles, establishing the first anti-Nazi Jewish resistance organization in the country—the Los Angeles Jewish Community Committee (LAJCC).
Drawing on more than 15,000 pages of archival documents, Laura B. Rosenzweig offers a compelling narrative illuminating the role that Jewish Americans played in combating insurgent Nazism in the United States in the 1930s. Forced undercover by the anti-Semitic climate of the decade, the LAJCC partnered with organizations whose Americanism was unimpeachable, such as the American Legion, to channel information regarding seditious Nazi plots to Congress, the Justice Department, the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department.
Hollywood’s Spies corrects the decades-long belief that American Jews lacked the political organization and leadership to assert their political interests during this period in our history and reveals that the LAJCC was one of many covert "fact finding" operations funded by Jewish Americans designed to root out Nazism in the United States.
Have Jews been successful because of cultural factors distinct to them as a group, or because of the particular circumstances that they encountered in America?
Winner, 2016 Best First Book Prize from the Immigration and Ethnic History Society
Finalist, 2016 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature
Winner, 2015 Book Prize from the Southern Jewish Historical Society
Finalist, 2015 Jordan Schnitzer Book Award from the Association for Jewish Studies
Winner, 2014 National Jewish Book Award in American Jewish Studies from the Jewish Book Council
The majority of Jewish immigrants who made their way to the United States between 1820 and 1924 arrived nearly penniless; yet today their descendants stand out as exceptionally successful. How can we explain their dramatic economic ascent?
The Rag Race argues that the Jews who flocked to the United States during the age of mass migration were aided appreciably by their association with a particular corner of the American economy: the rag trade. From humble beginnings, Jews rode the coattails of the clothing trade from the margins of economic life to a position of unusual promise and prominence, shaping both their societal status and the clothing industry as a whole.
Comparing the history of Jewish participation within the clothing trade in the United States with that of Jews in the same business in England, The Rag Race demonstrates that differences within the garment industry on either side of the Atlantic contributed to a very real divergence in social and economic outcomes for Jews in each setting.
Winner of the 2009 National Jewish Book Award in American Jewish Studies
Recipient of the 2010 Guggenheim Fellowship in Humanities-Intellectual & Cultural History
It has become an accepted truth: after World War II, American Jews chose to be silent about the mass murder of millions of their European brothers and sisters at the hands of the Nazis.
In this compelling work, Hasia R. Diner shows the assumption of silence to be categorically false. Uncovering a rich and incredibly varied trove of remembrances—in song, literature, liturgy, public display, political activism, and hundreds of other forms—We Remember with Reverence and Love shows that publicly memorializing those who died in the Holocaust arose from a deep and powerful element of Jewish life in postwar America. Not only does she marshal enough evidence to dismantle the idea of American Jewish “forgetfulness,” she brings to life the moving and manifold ways that this widely diverse group paid tribute to the tragedy.
Diner also offers a compelling new perspective on the 1960s and its potent legacy, by revealing how our typical understanding of the postwar years emerged from the cauldron of cultural divisions and campus battles a generation later. The student activists and “new Jews” of the 1960s who, in rebelling against the American Jewish world they had grown up in “a world of remarkable affluence and broadening cultural possibilities” created a flawed portrait of what their parents had, or rather, had not, done in the postwar years. This distorted legacy has been transformed by two generations of scholars, writers, rabbis, and Jewish community leaders into a taken-for-granted truth.
In the early 1930’s, the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) organized large numbers of Black and Hispanic workers through a broadly conceived program of education, culture, and community involvement. The ILGWU admitted these new members, the overwhelming majority of whom were women, into racially integrated local unions and created structures to celebrate ethnic differences. All Together Different revolves around this phenomenon of interracial union building and worker education during the Great Depression.
Investigating why immigrant Jewish unionists in the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU) appealed to an international force of coworkers, Katz traces their ideology of a working-class based cultural pluralism, which Daniel Katz newly terms “mutual culturalism,” back to the revolutionary experiences of Russian Jewish women. These militant women and their male allies constructed an ethnic identity derived from Yiddish socialist tenets based on the principle of autonomous national cultures in the late nineteenth century Russian Empire. Built on original scholarship and bolstered by exhaustive research, All Together Different offers a fresh perspective on the nature of ethnic identity and working-class consciousness and contributes to current debates about the origins of multiculturalism.
Winner of the 2014 National Jewish Book Award, Anthologies and Collections
The year 1929 represents a major turning point in interwar Jewish society, proving to be a year when Jews, regardless of where they lived, saw themselves affected by developments that took place around the world, as the crises endured by other Jews became part of the transnational Jewish consciousness. In the United States, the stock market crash brought lasting economic, social, and ideological changes to the Jewish community and limited its ability to support humanitarian and nationalist projects in other countries. In Palestine, the anti-Jewish riots in Hebron and other towns underscored the vulnerability of the Zionist enterprise and ignited heated discussions among various Jewish political groups about the wisdom of establishing a Jewish state on its historical site. At the same time, in the Soviet Union, the consolidation of power in the hands of Stalin created a much more dogmatic climate in the international Communist movement, including its Jewish branches.
Featuring a sparkling array of scholars of Jewish history, 1929 surveys the Jewish world in one year offering clear examples of the transnational connections which linked Jews to each other—from politics, diplomacy, and philanthropy to literature, culture, and the fate of Yiddish—regardless of where they lived. Taken together, the essays in 1929 argue that, whether American, Soviet, German, Polish, or Palestinian, Jews throughout the world lived in a global context.
It is generally accepted that Jews and evangelical Christians have little in common. Yet special alliances developed between the two groups in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Evangelicals viewed Jews as both the rightful heirs of Israel and as a group who failed to recognize their true savior. Consequently, they set out to influence the course of Jewish life by attempting to evangelize Jews and to facilitate their return to Palestine. Their double-edged perception caused unprecedented political, cultural, and theological meeting points that have revolutionized Christian-Jewish relationships. An Unusual Relationship explores the beliefs and political agendas that evangelicals have created in order to affect the future of the Jews. Additionally, it analyses Jewish opinions and reactions to those efforts, as well as those of other religious groups, such as Arab Christians.
This volume offers a fascinating, comprehensive analysis of the roots, manifestations, and consequences of evangelical interest in the Jews, and the alternatives they provide to conventional historical Christian-Jewish interactions. It also provides a compelling understanding of Middle Eastern politics through a new lens.
Winner of the 2013 New York Book Show Award in Scholarly/Professional Cover Design
Jewish Radicals explores the intertwined histories of Jews and the American Left through a rich variety of primary documents. Written in English and Yiddish, these documents reflect the entire spectrum of radical opinion, from anarchism to social democracy, Communism to socialist-Zionism. Rank-and-file activists, organizational leaders, intellectuals, and commentators, from within the Jewish community and beyond, all have their say. Their stories crisscross the Atlantic, spanning from the United States to Europe and British-ruled Palestine.
The documents illuminate in fascinating detail the efforts of large numbers of Jews to refashion themselves as they confronted major problems of the twentieth century: poverty, anti-semitism, the meaning of American national identity, war, and totalitarianism. In this comprehensive sourcebook, the story of Jewish radicals over seven decades is told for the first time in their own words.
Milt Gross (1895-1953), a Bronx-born cartoonist and animator, first found fame in the late 1920s, writing comic strips and newspaper columns in the unmistakable accent of Jewish immigrants. By the end of the 1920s, Gross had become one of the most famous humorists in the United States, his work drawing praise from writers like H. L. Mencken and Constance Roarke, even while some of his Jewish colleagues found Gross’ extreme renderings of Jewish accents to be more crass than comical.
Working during the decline of vaudeville and the rise of the newspaper cartoon strip, Gross captured American humor in transition. Gross adapted the sounds of ethnic humor from the stage to the page and developed both a sound and a sensibility that grew out of an intimate knowledge of immigrant life. His parodies of beloved poetry sounded like reading primers set loose on the Lower East Side, while his accounts of Jewish tenement residents echoed with the mistakes and malapropisms born of the immigrant experience.
Introduced by an historical essay, Is Diss a System? presents some of the most outstanding and hilarious examples of Jewish dialect humor drawn from the five books Gross published between 1926 and 1928—Nize Baby, De Night in de Front from Chreesmas, Hiawatta, Dunt Esk, and Famous Fimmales—providing a fresh opportunity to look, read, and laugh at this nearly forgotten forefather of American Jewish humor.
A revealing look at how death and burial practices influence the living.
Dust to Dust offers a three-hundred-year history of Jewish life in New York, literally from the ground up. Taking Jewish cemeteries as its subject matter, it follows the ways that Jewish New Yorkers have planned for death and burial from their earliest arrival in New Amsterdam to the twentieth century.
Allan Amanik charts a remarkable reciprocity among Jewish funerary provisions and the workings of family and communal life, tracing how financial and family concerns in death came to equal earlier priorities rooted in tradition and communal cohesion. At the same time, he shows how shifting emphases in death gave average Jewish families the ability to advocate for greater protections and entitlements such as widows’ benefits and funeral insurance. Amanik ultimately concludes that planning for life’s end helps to shape social systems in ways that often go unrecognized.