The Death of an American Jewish Community

This is a deeply troubling book delving into the turbulent and murky waters of America’s decaying cities. It is an account of the death of a vital Boston community where once 90,000 Jews lived, and where today 120,000 African Americans dwell in conditions that resemble the worst of the Third World. The authors, Hillel Levine, who is both a rabbi and a professor of sociology and religion at Boston University, and Lawrence Harmon, a newspaper editor, believe that what they uncovered in Boston may be true for American cities in general. “There are no winners in this story,” they write, only “big losers—mainly the black and Jewish residents” who violently collided in the Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan neighborhoods, brought into conflict by forces that were little understood at the time, and that are still explained in terms that tend to blame the victims. The tragedy is that seemingly well-intentioned philanthropists, business people, religious leaders, and politicians brought about the downfall of this once thriving community.

THE DEATH OF AN AMERICAN COMMUNITY, in its attempt to shed some light on contemporary sources of social conflict and urban decay, is an important study with implications that reach far beyond the Boston neighborhoods that are its focus. As the authors point out, “the most vitriolic ethnic confrontations in recent years have occurred between blacks and those with whom they have far less in common even than with Jews”—for example, the conflicts between blacks and Koreans in New York and Los Angeles. While THE DEATH OF AN AMERICAN JEWISH COMMUNITY is a tragic tale of what can and did go wrong in one urban area, its lessons learned may be of invaluable importance to others.