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New York Jews and the Great Depression : uncertain promise /
Beth S. Wenger.
New Haven, Conn. ; London : Yale University Press, 1996.
xiv, 269 p. : ill., map.
More Details
New Haven, Conn. ; London : Yale University Press, 1996.
catalogue key
Includes bibliographical references and index.
A Look Inside
About the Author
Author Affiliation
Beth S. Wenger is the Kate Family Term Chair in American Jewish History at the University of Pennsylvania, where she is an assistant professor of history.
Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 1996-11-11:
In the 1930s, the two million Jews living in New York City represented the largest ethnic group in the city. Jewish immigrants had established themselves as successful professionals and entrepreneurs during the prosperous '20s, but with the crash of 1929 and the ensuing years of the Great Depression, they were faced with more than just economic crisis. Wenger, a professor of Jewish history at the University of Pennsylvania, offers an informative history in which the Depression became the catalyst that transformed the Jewish immigrant into the American Jew. She puts a positive, though not altogether convincing or reassuring, spin on a process of acculturation through which "New York Jews ensured the persistence of Jewish identity and community by tailoring Jewish ethnicity to American norms." Challenged by rising anti-Semitism, employment discrimination and college quotas, New York Jews drew upon a tradition of private philanthropy and communal responsibility to establish "informal networks for economic assistance and personal support." In the New Deal era, the Jews of New York found that public welfare and social legislation were at one with this tradition, and forged a lasting bond with the Democratic Party. Wenger provides valuable detail on the history of philanthropy, social services and political activism in the Jewish community, though there is less than one would like on the personal and social lives of these first- and second-generation immigrants. But readers interested in the history of Jews in New York will appreciate the author's thorough treatment of a decade of transition. Photos. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Appeared in Choice on 1997-04-01:
Wenger's unassuming study should not be taken as a balanced assessment of the Great Depression. Its imbalance, however, is its strength. Wenger focuses on New York City's Jewish immigrants--and their offspring and family life--during the 1930s. She challenges the conventional narrative of Jewish upward mobility. Concentrated in white-collar jobs, Jews did not suffer from hunger or from the severe economic dislocation of unskilled labor. Rather, they experienced stalled mobility and economic insecurity, as well as job discrimination and a systemic antisemitism. Wenger looks at how family survival strategies negotiated the hard times; social and ideological distinctions between East and West European Jews; the formidable admission quotas in place on the college level; Jewish youngsters, their working lives, and the political radicalism of a minority of them; the vibrant culture of the distinct communities of Jewish newcomers; their unwavering loyalty to the Democratic Party and the New Deal; and Jewish social service agencies and their efforts during the parlous times. Soundly conceived and clearly written, this study sensitizes readers to the cumulative impact of the Depression on one particular immigrant group. An important addition to both American ethnic and interwar scholarship. Upper-division undergraduates and above. M. Cantor University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Appeared in Library Journal on 1996-12:
In this work developed from a doctoral dissertation, Wenger (Jewish history, Univ. of Pennsylvania) sets out to show that the Jewish experience in America has been a checkered one. To countless Jewish immigrants, America was a golden land; and New York City, which had the greatest Jewish population and a wide and noteworthy network of Jewish institutions, was a fitting mirror of American Jewish life. After the prosperity and expansion of the 1920s, the harshness of the Depression had a stultifying effect on the Jewish community, which Wenger illustrates through documents and interviews. Ultimately, it was the belief in Roosevelt, the New Deal, and the force of purposeful democratic change in America that kept hope alive for many Jews. Wenger succeeds in reversing some commonly held misconceptions of Jewish history, chief of which is that American Jewish history is solely the story of a rags-to-riches ethnic and religious community. Her book will most likely be appreciated by a scholarly audience. Recommended for academic and public libraries with strong Jewish studies holdings.‘Paul M. Kaplan, Lake Villa Dist. Lib., Ill. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This item was reviewed in:
Publishers Weekly, November 1996
Library Journal, December 1996
Choice, April 1997
To find out how to look for other reviews, please see our guides to finding book reviews in the Sciences or Social Sciences and Humanities.
Bowker Data Service Summary
This chronicle of New York's Jewish families during the years of the great depression describes a defining moment in Jewish history. Wenger tells the story of a generation of immigrants and their children as they faced an uncertain future in America.
Table of Contents
List of Figures and Tablesp. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Introductionp. 1
An Ethnic Economyp. 10
A Family Affairp. 33
Starting Out in the Thirtiesp. 54
The Landscape of Jewish Lifep. 80
From Neighborhood to New Dealp. 103
Private Jewish Philanthropy in the Welfare Statep. 136
The Spiritual Depressionp. 166
American Jews and the American Dreamp. 197
Appendixp. 207
Abbreviationsp. 211
Notesp. 213
Indexp. 261
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

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