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November 24, 1989 - Image 49

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-11-24

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

In her latest book,

Arthur Hertzberg's latest
book provides a challenging
revisionist history of the
Jewish experience in America.

KIMBERLY LIFTON

Staff Writer

A

rthur Hertzberg
knows his message
might make people
angry, but he believes his
purpose these days is to tell
Jews the truth about their
heritage in America.
"American Jews are
engaged in self-delusion,"
Hertzberg says. "They don't
understand themselves. The
story of Jews in America is
about the poor; it is not the
history of a random sample
of Jews from Europe who
came to America. It is the
history of enormous energies

Arthur Hertzberg

of the Jewish poor who came
here and their limitations."
Hertzberg was in West
Bloomfield last week to
promote his latest book, The
Jews in America: Four Cen-
turies of an Uneasy En-
counter. It took 10 years to
research and write the 388-
page book, which, Hertzberg
says, is "a serious attempt to
re-write American Jewish
history."
"I don't write books think-
ing about the views of my
audience," says Hertzberg,
who authored the Zionist
Idea, The French
Enlightenment and the. Jews
and Judaism. "I write books
because I am looking for the
truth."
Jews have flourished in
America, Hertzberg says. In
fact, Jews make up the
wealthiest group in America
— equaled only by urban

Episcopalians, he says. But,
he adds, Jews have not suc-
cessfully defined their
Jewishness.
American Jews, Hertzberg
says, have lost their
cohesiveness and are at a
crossroads. He suggests in
the book that Judaism will
not survive without a new
source of unifying energy. To
find that source, he writes
that Jews must link them-
selves to the intellectual and
spiritual traditions which
they have neglected in re-
cent generations.
"Such change of direction
will occur only when
American Jews rethink
their history without

Lucy Dawidowicz
remembers Vilna before
and after the war

ELIZABETH APPLEBAUM

Features Editor

L

ucy Dawidowicz took a
footlocker, American
cigarettes and a pas-
sion for Yiddish when she
went in 1938 to Vilna.
Confident her U.S.
passport would save her
from any danger,
Dawidowicz went to the city
famous for its Jewish culture
and folklore to do research at
YIVO, the Yiddish Scientific
Institute. And as
Dawidowicz progressed in
her work, Adolf Hitler
amassed his power, until at
last he would destroy vir-

F TH E PE

apologies and illusions," he
writes. "In the course of
these four centuries, Jews
have realized their eman-
cipation. They can no longer
define themselves by fear
and exclusion."
He says anti-Semitism is
not the problem it once was.
Those trying to combat anti-
Semitism are fighting group
tension, he says. As long as
America is in reasonable
economic condition, there
won't be anti-Semitism, he
says, adding a few skinheads
shouldn't frighten an entire
community.
"Jews have made the
Holocaust into a paranoia,"
he says. "I am much more
concerned about the inner
city and balancing the
budget than a few
skinheads.
"If you really believe a
Holocaust can happen here,

tually all the Vilna Jewish
community, which disap-
peared into the smoke of
human souls at Auschwitz.
In town last week as a
guest for the Jewish Book
Fair, Dawidowicz said she
had wanted for many years
to write her recollections of
Vilna, but had little more
than her memory as a
resource.
Then several years ago a
friend called with the
message, "I was just clean-
ing out my attic and I found
all the letters you wrote me
from Vilna. Would you like
them?" Two weeks later, her
sister also gave Dawidowicz
letters she had saved from
her years in Vilna. Along
with other documentation,
these formed the basis of
Dawidowicz's new book
From That Place and Time:
A Memoir, 1938-1947.

Dawidowicz was living in
New York, a young scholar
involved in everything from
the Young Communist
League to English literature
at Columbia University,
when her teacher Jacob
Shatzky, "a stocky man,
with a head that seemed
disproportionately large to
his short body," suggested
she study Jewish history. At
first she balked, though
Dawidowicz later decided to
follow Shatzky's advice. She
started with the Yiddish
press of England, resear-
ching her subject at the New
York Public Library.
Shatzky recommended
that Dawidowicz continue

Lucy Dawidowicz

her research at YIVO in
Vilna. Although by 1938
Hitler's hatred of Jews in
neighboring Germany was
infamous, Dawidowicz said
she could not pass up the
chance to study at the in-
stitute, famous for its schol-
arship and Yiddish publica-
tions.
"By going to Vilna I would
escape from the dead end I
was trapped in,"
Dawidowicz writes in From
That Time and Place. "I
would leave behind the
dreariness at home, the
difficulty of finding a
suitable job, the uncertainty
of a career. Even more allur-
ing was the idea that I was
about to embark on a great
adventure, that I stood at
the threshold through which
I would cross into an ex-
citing and exotic world."
In her new book,

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS 49

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