Metropolitan Jews: Politics, Race, and Religion in Postwar Detroit, by Lila Corwin Berman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015. 324 pp.
Upon reading Lila Corwin Berman's Metropolitan Jews, I was reminded of a conversation I had with family friends years ago, weeks after I had moved to a new apartment in Brooklyn. My interlocutors, all Jews a generation older than myself, had spent their childhoods in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn before moving to the suburbs of Long Island. Though it had been decades since their suburban migration, I was struck by the deep sense of connection they still had with the "old neighborhood." They burst with anecdotes about their childhood haunts as they interrogated me about my own Brooklyn experiences. Was I old enough to remember their favorite bakeries, restaurants, and theaters? (I wasn't). Had I visited Erasmus High School, where they had once roamed the halls with singer Neil Diamond? (I hadn't).
Now that I have read Berman's groundbreaking study of the changing ways in which Detroit Jews continued their engagement with the city well after their suburban migration, I have a new set of questions to ask those ex-Brooklynites should I ever encounter them again. In addition to thinking about Brooklyn as a site of nostalgia and childhood memories, in what ways do they continue to invest in their old neighborhoods? Do they still maintain political or economic ties with the urban core of their metropolitan area? Do they use their philanthropic dollars to influence the "new" Brooklyn?
In Metropolitan Jews, Berman convincingly argues against the misconception that as Jews migrated to the prosperous suburban fringe of major cities, they neatly severed their ties with the blighted urban core. Instead, she shows that the Jews of the Detroit area-a group that she positions as a case study representing urban Jews around the country-maintained deep connections to the city, even as economic, political and demographic developments transformed their relationship to it. The study follows Detroit's Jews as they engage in neighborhood-based urban activism in the years just after World War II, as they become involved in city-wide politics in the 1950s and 1960s, and as they continued to shape the city in the 1970s and beyond with their private entrepreneurial and philanthropic investments. In a fascinating epilogue, the project also tracks the millennial return of young Jews to downtown Detroit, detailing the...