American Jewish History: A Primary Source Reader. Ed. by Gary Phillip Zola and Marc Dollinger. Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press, 2014. xxv + 445 pp.
With American Jewish History: A Primary Source Reader, Gary P. Zola and Marc Dollinger have created a collection that will, justifiably, be widely adopted by instructors who teach about the American Jewish experience. The first major primary source collection in the field of American Jewish history since the publication almost twenty years ago of Jacob Rader Marcus's The Jew in the American World: A Sourcebook (1996), the new book provides a wide-ranging and engaging overview of the American Jewish community from its birth in 1654 with the arrival of Sephardic refugees from Brazil through the contemporary debates of the early twenty-first century.
The central challenge for editors of a primary source reader is, of course, selecting which of the endless possible documents to include. The collection must be comprehensive enough to convey the breadth of the subject yet concise enough to be usable and approachable. It must be different enough from previous works to justify the investment, yet it cannot ignore key texts and events. The contents must reflect current historiographical concerns without simply being trendy.
In approaching this task, Zola and Dollinger have drawn on a wealth of experience in the archives and in the classroom. As the executive director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives and editor of The American Jewish Archives Journal, Zola has a deep familiarity with the holdings of one of the premier repositories of American Jewish archival material. Dollinger, the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies and Social Responsibility at San Francisco State University, teaches widely in Jewish studies and has particular expertise in the fields of Jews and American politics and American Zionism, some of the primary concerns that animate today's Jewish community.
As the editors comment in the introduction, in choosing sources they have "deliberately tried to enlarge the canon" and "sought to include a comprehensive cross-section of primary source materials that would broaden a reader's understanding of the Jewish experience across a variety of perspectives." As such, they have shifted the focus from elites to "ordinary people" and included a wide range of voices, male and female, religious and secular, urban and rural, in an attempt to...