New York Jews, so visible and integral to the culture, economy and politics of America’s greatest city, has eluded the grasp of historians for decades. Surprisingly, no comprehensive history of New York Jews has ever been written. City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York, a three volume set of original research, pioneers a path-breaking interpretation of a Jewish urban community at once the largest in Jewish history and most important in the modern world.
Volume I, Haven of Liberty, by historian Howard B. Rock, chronicles the arrival of the first Jews to New York (then New Amsterdam) in 1654 and highlights their political and economic challenges. Overcoming significant barriers, colonial and republican Jews in New York laid the foundations for the development of a thriving community.
Volume II, Emerging Metropolis, written by Annie Polland and Daniel Soyer, describes New York’s transformation into a Jewish city. Focusing on the urban Jewish built environment—its tenements and banks, synagogues and shops, department stores and settlement houses—it conveys the extraordinary complexity of Jewish immigrant society.
Volume III, Jews in Gotham, by historian Jeffrey S. Gurock, highlights neighborhood life as the city’s distinctive feature. New York retained its preeminence as the capital of American Jews because of deep roots in local worlds that supported vigorous political, religious, and economic diversity.
Each volume includes a “visual essay” by art historian Diana Linden interpreting aspects of life for New York’s Jews from their arrival until today. These illustrated sections, many in color, illuminate Jewish material culture and feature reproductions of early colonial portraits, art, architecture, as well as everyday culture and community.
Overseen by noted scholar Deborah Dash Moore, City of Promises offers the largest Jewish city in the world, in the United States, and in Jewish history its first comprehensive account.
- "This bold, well-researched and beautifully-illustrated history of New York's Jews (1654-1865) introduces the theme of republicanism into American Jewish history, and properly contextualizes Jews within the larger history of the metropolis. A remarkable accomplishment, Haven of Liberty will stand for years to come as the definitive history of New York City's early Jewish community."
—Jonathan D. Sarna, Chief Historian, National Museum of American Jewish History
- "Finally a history of the Jews of New York. Emerging Metropolis demonstrates, with prodigious research and lucid prose, that New York played a crucial role in shaping the Jews, and that the Jews left an indelible stamp on America's great metropolis, New York. Soyer and Polland tell a complicated story that looks both into the inner live of New York's Jews--in all their complexity--and at the same time surveys the impact of the many other New Yorkers among whom the Jews lived. In doing so the authors show how this city created a Jewish experience that was truly sui generis while it simultaneously shaped modern Jewry around the world."
—Hasia R. Diner, Director, Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History
- "Chronicling New York Jewish life during the era of mass migration, Emerging Metropolis provides a riveting account of the complex matrix of social organizations, economic activities, political movements, and cultural productions created by immigrant Jews. Polland and Soyer bring the city’s spaces to life as they describe the invention of a multifaceted Jewish community that took shape within and helped to shape New York’s diverse and polyglot urban culture."
—Beth S. Wenger, Director, Jewish Studies Program, University of Pennsylvania
- "Jeffrey Gurock’s masterful and sensitively drawn survey offers a penetrating blend of distinguished scholarship and acute observation from someone who has lived the life and knows well its complexities and nuances. Drawing upon a wide range of opinions and shades of Jewishness, he has fashioned a vivid, richly detailed, and endlessly fascinating narrative about variegated Jewish life in the iconic diaspora metropolis. Balanced, engrossing, and learned. Read and enjoy!"
—Thomas Kessner, Distinguished Professor of History, City University of New York Graduate Center
- "In 1900, the Jewish population of New York was despised, impoverished, and ghettoized. A century later, it had become the most accomplished, the most prosperous, and the most successful ethnic group in the nation. This is the story of that journey and that achievement, and no one has told it with more authority and sensitivity than Jeffrey Gurock. And as they used to say on subway advertisement, you don't have to be Jewish to love this book."
—Kenneth T. Jackson, editor-in-chief, The Encyclopedia of New York City
- "This ambitious three-volume history, overseen by Moore (Judaic Studies and History/Univ. of Michigan; American Jewish Identity Politics, 2008, etc.), provides a lively, much-needed overview of the role that Jews have played in the history and success of the Big Apple, helping to transform it into a "city of promises, some fulfilled, some pending, some beckoning new generations."The first volume, Haven of Liberty: New York Jews in the New World, 1654-1865, by Rock (History/Florida International Univ.; Cityscapes, 2001, etc.), traces the history of New York Jews back to the first Dutch Jews who settled in the New Amsterdam colony in the mid-17th century, where they fought for the rights to own real estate and run businesses. As the years went by, Jewish-owned businesses prospered despite widespread antisemitism, as the city as a whole grew into an economic powerhouse. The volume also covers the rise of Reform Judaism and, later, disputes within the community regarding slavery. In Emerging Metropolis, New York Jews in the Age of Immigration, 1840-1920, Polland, the vice president of education for the Lower East Side Tenemant Museum (Landmark of the Spirit: The Eldridge Street Synagogue, 2008), and Soyer (History/Fordham Univ.) show how the influx of immigrant Jews from Europe changed the city, as Jewish organizations proliferated and the community began to make itself felt in city politics, journalism and the arts. In the third volume, Jews in Gotham: New York Jews in a Changing City, 1920-2010, Gurock (Jewish History/Yeshiva Univ.; Orthodox Jews in America, 2009, etc.) such as the 1991 Crown Heights riot and Jewish feminism. Each volume also includes a vibrant photo- and illustration-packed "visual essay" by art historian Linden, which ably supplements and enriches the text.Such a large historical project could have easily descended into tedious and dry academia, but instead all three volumes are briskly paced, well-researched and insightful. Aficionados of urban histories, in particular, will find much to enjoy."
- "The full saga of Jewish New York, from the first small band of refugees to a population of two million, from a community ostracized in the colonial city to one that has produced leading intellectuals, social activists, financiers, and more, appears here edited by a leading scholar of the subject and narrated by four historians. Florida International University historian Rock relates how 23 Dutch Jews fled Brazil after it fell to Portugal and the Inquisition. They landed in New Amsterdam, where they were hostilely received. But later, New York, as a British colony and then one of the original 13 states, was first to extend its citizenship to its Jewish residents, and Jews adopted the ideals of the American Revolution, participating with enthusiasm in politics. New York was the pivotal point in many aspects of American Jewish history, such as the contest between Reform and Orthodox Jewry in the 1850s, and in antebellum New York Jews became financial and industrial leaders as well as theatrical and musical impresarios, founded the secular fraternal organization B'nai Brith, and built Jews' Hospital (today's Mt. Sinai). While many Jewish leaders openly supported the Southern cause in the 1850s, Jews served with distinction in the Union army, and the Jewish garment industry received a big boost with wartime's demand for uniforms.Polland, of the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and Soyer, of Fordham University, pick up the tale in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as Eastern European immigrants flooded the city. Jews left their mark on New York with a vibrant Yiddish culture, building synagogues like the striking MoorishTemple Emanu-El, establishing charities and settlement houses, department stores like Macy's, banks, labor unions, and Jewish-owned general newspapers like the New York Times. Gurock describes how, in the interwar years, 90% of tuition-free CCNY's enrollment was Jewish, with Nobel laureates and polio-vaccine pioneer Jonas Salk among alums. New York Jews were at the center of national Jewish organizational life, rallying support for European Jews during the Holocaust, and later for Zionism, and for Soviet Jews. Feminist leaders based in New York galvanized the nation while a 1968 battle over control of public schools was a turning point in black-Jewish relations.Art historian Linden trains her gaze on artifacts like a colonial circumcision clip, certificates of manumission of Jewish-owned slaves, and boxing gloves worn by Jewish champ Benny Leonard.[T]his is overall a highly valuable and vastly immersing study of how New York came to be considered a Jewish city."
"This surprisingly accessible narrative by four historians covers 1654 to the present, exploring the early communal entities that accommodated later mass migration, as well as the 20th-century challenges posed by Zionism and by ethnic and racial changes in the city."
—The New York Times
"The three volumes are an important contribution to our understanding New York's Jews."
—The Buffalo Jewish Review
"[The book's] thorough, encyclopedic approach and general eveneness and clarity make it invaluable to historians and other scholars and of significant interest and utility to genealogists researching early Jewish family trees."
"This work will long remain an invaluable resource for students of Jewish history and the history of New York City."
"I now take the assemblage to be as much an intellectual statement as a commercial one, a way to house and contain the fluidity and variability of the history that resides within its aggregate 1,000 pages. It's an admission that what lies ahead is a whopping big yarn, a moveable feast of a story."
—Jewish Review of Books
“…City of Promises is a comprehensive and ambitious work that contributes to the fields of urban and immigration studies as well as to Jewish history; it will be indispensable to scholars and students for years to come.”
—Hadassa Kosak, The Journal of American History
"Individually and collectively, the volumes in City of Promises mark a new high in American urban, ethnic, and religious history. They will stimulate readers to know more, even as they demonstrate their authors’ remarkable success at synthesizing what we do know. These are wonderful books, testaments to the best in American history. They deserve wide attention as reconstructions of a remarkable past and as models for many more like them.”
—The American Jewish Archives Journal>
“[U]nlike many multivolume publications, the narrative of City of Promises actually gets stronger as it moves along. The rich detail and fine writing is animated by the stories of individuals and families, neighborhoods and communities, grounded in prodigious research. The three volumes richly deserved selection by the 2012 National Jewish Book Award as “Jewish Book of the Year.” City of Promises will remain a compelling account of New York Jewish life for the next generation, and it sets a high standard against which histories of American ethnic groups can be measured in years to come.”
"American Jews have long been viewed as quintessentially urban people and New York City as the iconic Jewish metropolis. Surprisingly then, City of Promises is the first scholarly narrative of New York Jews from its mid-seventeenth-century origins to the present...City of Promises will remain a compelling account of New York Jewish life for the next generation, and it sets a high standard against which histories of American ethnic groups can be measured in years to come."
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