Milton Meltzer Kirkus Reviews - Essay

Kirkus Reviews

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Jewish Americans: A History in Their Own Words offers some] documentary material reflecting aspects of American Jewish history—but, as an entity, [is] less coherent or substantial than Meltzer's various earlier books on the subject. A handful of selections show Jews confronting historical anti-Semitism: Asser Levy's appeal to the New Amsterdam authorities for the Jews' "burgher rights"; the protest of three Paducah, Ky., Jews, to Lincoln, against Grant's order expelling Jews from the Tennessee district; a rabbi's memoir of bucking Klan agitation in 1920s Indiana. A considerable number, especially of early date, attest to Jewish participation in mainstream American events—the Revolution (a patriot, a Tory), the Mexican War, Western settlement, the Gold Rush. Also of this ilk are Ernestine Rose's 1832 feminist speech and August Bondi's recollection of John Brown. A very few derive, without Meltzer's precisely saying so, from particularly Jewish union or radical activity (Rose Schneiderman's Triangle Fire speech, Emma Goldman's protest against deportation). The largest number, however, are snippets of Jewish life…. These are classics of immigrant autobiography—and so is Maurice Hindus' awe at "the decorative and juice-soaked tomato," and other things American, or Charles Angoff's memory of his father's disdain for just such American things. The chronicles of more recent times mainly commemorate salient experiences (a Jewish G.I. at Buchenwald, an Auschwitz survivor, an American kibbutznik) and have little individual flavor. Not an especially auspicious group, then, or in any single way outstanding—except for some of those vivid and affecting immigrant impressions. (pp. 1002-03)

A review of "The Jewish Americans: A History in Their Own Words," in Kirkus Reviews (copyright © 1982 The Kirkus Service, Inc.), Vol. L, No. 17, September 1, 1982, pp. 1002-03.