Ambivalent Embrace: Jewish Upward Mobility in Postwar America.

Author:Laughlin, Kathleen A.
 
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Ambivalent Embrace: Jewish Upward Mobility in Postwar America. By Rachel Kranson. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017. 232 pp.

Rachel Kranson's engaging cultural history of Jewish life in postwar America complements revisionist histories of the postwar years that interrogate the notion that the 1950s was an idyllic time characterized by an easy conformity and uncritical ideological consensus. She carefully explores the underlying tensions within the upwardly mobile Jewish community, which eventually contributed to the emergence of a Jewish counterculture in the late 1960s and 1970s. In a search for authenticity, when an increasing number of Jews were joining the ranks of the suburban middle class, postwar Jewish thought leaders romanticized a Jewish cultural life shaped by social isolation and economic vulnerability. Jews coming of age in the 1960s, empowered and inspired by wider critiques of conformity promulgated by social movements, especially from within the New Left, were similarly eager to construct an authentic Jewish identity. Just as historians of African Americans, gays and lesbians, and women have discovered preconditions to the activism of the 1960s and 1970s in nascent critiques of the white supremacy, heteronormative dominance, and oppressive gender ideals in postwar America, Kranson sees continuity from critiques of upward mobility in the 1950s to Jewish countercultural impulses in the 1970s.

Relying on the works and actions of Jewish leaders, Kranson examines how the process of upward mobility, manifested in a migration from cities to suburbs, raised concerns about the direction of Jewish identity. Employing statistical measures for upward mobility in categories such as educational attainment, entrance to the professions, income, and migration to the suburbs, Kranson implies that Jewish life in postwar America was a profound change that inspired romantic visions of a Jewish identity forged in the past. While "newly prosperous Jews used their growing resources to transform Jewish culture and practice, creating new modes of ritual and socialization that harmonized with their middle-class standing," Jewish leaders attempted to forge a more legitimate Jewish identity that evoked the isolation and poverty experienced in the shtetl and immigrant slums in the U.S. as well as in the creation of a separate state of Israel as a homeland for Holocaust survivors (3). The idealization of these distinctive historical...

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