Bringing Zion Home: Israel in American Jewish Culture, 1948-1967.

Author:Silver, M.M.
Position:Book review

Bringing Zion Home: Israel in American Jewish Culture, 1948-1967. By Emily Alice Katz. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2015. xiii + 215 pp.

This is a valuable study that conveys a wealth of useful information about Israel's presence in American Jewish life, and in the United States generally, in the period preceding the 1967 Six Day War. Claiming that American Jewish culture was "constructed" in the 1950s via the development of various performances and practices, Katz concentrates on topics in performing and visual arts, non-fiction publication, and economics that have been mostly overlooked by historians whose work on early American-Israel connections focused overwhelmingly on diplomatic, military and political issues (13). Most of the book's findings on subjects such as the mini-cult of Israeli folk dance, patterns of consumption of Israeli products, and exhibitions of Israeli fashion or art, derive from careful, original research. Future explorations of the Israeli-American Jewish relationship and its origins will need to take Katz's findings into account because it is impossible to separate dynamics in realms of high culture or consumer choice from more overtly political or identity issues that have dominated discussions of American Zionist history.

Katz analyzes ways in which American Jewish cultural or economic entrepreneurs utilized Israeli practices and products in this pre-1967 period due to a mix of motivations, some of them contradictory. They brought Israeli artistic or religious products into their own homes and sponsored Israeli art exhibitions or folk dancing events in public venues as a result of their own existential needs to express Jewish particularity, or to articulate ideas of compatibility between American and Israeli historical experience, or to identify themselves as patriotic Americans harnessed to various Cold War ideals and projects of cultural exchange. She is particularly insightful in the identification of cultural orientations, some of them gender-based, in areas of performing arts, fashion and consumerism, and publication, that ran counter to an evolving "muscular" narrative celebrating Israel as a fighting, victorious counterpoint to Jewish suffering in the Diaspora.

As an important corrective to over-stated descriptions of American Jewish reticence about Israel in the 1950s, a Cold War period when Jews in the U.S. faced considerable pressure about political loyalty and relatively little official...

To continue reading