Preparing for a faculty workshop, I was asked to comment about a collection of texts on the idea of Jewish peoplehood. One set of readings were taken from C.B. Sherman’s The Jew Within American Society, a text from 1965, with which I was unfamiliar. The material was only so-so, until this precise point, where the author hit the mark of our own contemporary moment circa 2016.
Sherman argues that Jewish group identity solidified in the inter-war period in response to the rise of Nazism in Germany. Writing about the “Effects of Anti-Semitism At Home and Abroad,” Sherman writes, “Nazism suddenly confronted American Jews with the fact that Jewish life is nowhere fully secure, that there is no land immune to Jew-hatred.” He goes on to warn that it would be wrong to overlook indigenous anti-Semitism articulated in “American slogans,” “American traditions,” and “the peculiarities of the American mentality.” Writing about the frontier suspicion of “otherness in spiritual matters,” Sherman tags Lindbergh and the open embrace in the late 1930s and early 1940s of anti-Semitism as a part of the “America First Program” (pp.201-3).
Indeed, to quote the good Dr. Seuss, whose anti-Japanese racism should not be forgotten, this joining together continues to “mystify the mightiest minds of the land.”