I am deeply humbled to be honored by you this evening. The roster of Lee Max Friedman Award winners, going all the way back to when the American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS) established this prize in 1960, includes the field's marquis scholarly contributors. Amazingly, I have known, personally, every one of them, with the single exception of Rabbi David de Sola Pool.
I owe a special debt of gratitude to the second Lee Max Friedman Award winner, back in 1961: Professor Jacob Rader Marcus, then the "dean" of American Jewish historians and Professor of Jewish History at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion(HUC-JIR) in Cincinnati. His capacious scholarship, communal-mindedness, generosity of spirit, and overall menschlichkeit had a shaping influence on my life. Many of the other scholarly awardees from the sixties, seventies, and eighties--including Salo Baron, Bertram W. Korn, Abraham W. Karp, Moshe Davis, Abram Sachar, Malcolm Stern, and Oscar Handlin, all of blessed memory--likewise encouraged me from a young age. I feel deeply fortunate to have been raised in such a supportive scholarly environment, and I welcome the opportunity I have had to give back.
My assignment this evening, from my friend, the hard-working chair of the Academic Council of the AJHS, Riv-Ellen Prell, professor of American studies at the University of Minnesota, is to reflect on my career and my work in the field--but for not more than fifteen minutes. I recall that in 1968, Andy Warhol declared, "In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes." This is my onetime opportunity.
I first became interested in the field of American Jewish history in high school. The psychologist will no doubt attribute much to the influence of my parents: Jewish studies was, in many ways, the Sarna family business.
The Encyclopedia Judaica, in an article by Gary P. Zola, Executive Director of the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives and Professor of the American Jewish Experience at HLC-JIR in Cincinnati, quotes me as theorizing that my interest in the field stems from the fact that I am the first member of my family born in the United States. "He became convinced," the article reports, "that by synthesizing American and Jewish history, he could gain a deeper understanding of his own world." There is a lot of truth to that. An alternative possibility, suggested by more cynical analysts, is that I went into the only Jewish field that my father, of blessed memory, knew nothing about.
Whatever the case, in my senior year in high school, I produced a long paper, adorned with no fewer than Z50 footnotes, entitled "Antisemitism in the United States, 1778-1945." The paper introduced me to the literature of American Jewish history and whetted my appetite for more.
A new occasion soon presented itself in, of all things, a driver's education course. In Massachusetts, it had been decreed that driver's education was henceforward to be a serious subject. To pass, one needed to do more than simply learn how to drive safely; a written paper on some aspect of the automobile and its history was added to the requirements. Those were rebellious days, so I decided to write about the "antisemitism of Henry Ford." I wrote a...