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Author Describes Security of American Jews And Calls Them “Hosts, Not Visitors”

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
March-April 2002

In an essay entitled “Hosts, Not Visitors” in the book Jews In American Politics, David M. Shribman, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist with the Boston Globe, writes that, “For centuries, from the military struggles of the biblical Saul and David to the brittle prospects of European Jews in the charnal house that was Europe at the end of the last millennium, American Jews have such a curious mix of security and audacity that they can contemplate a future in the politics of the sole remaining superpower that is active, unapologetic and unabashedly optimistic.”  

Shribman points out that, “For Jews, the American difference is the assurance of safety and prominence - and, above all, possibility - for others as well. Here we have enough security to go around. Here we have enough prosperity to go around ... From the very start, even in colonial days, the quality that set America apart was its openness to Jews as immigrants ... A far more surprising and enduring event has happened: Jews have been comfortable in their American home not as visitors but as hosts.”  

He notes that, “The emergence of Jews as part of the host population of the U.S. is one of the signal and least remarked on qualities of this remarkable land and this remarkable people. Clearly, American society is no longer being shaped by waves of Jewish immigration. Instead, a broader society, of which American Jews are but one part, is itself being shaped by waves of immigrants that no longer include substantial numbers of Jews. As the new immigrants reach American shores ... they are confronting the challenges of assimilating into a nation in which Jews and Jewish culture indisputably are a part ... This status as part of the host population is reflected in many indicators ... Jewish culture is no longer a part from but is, instead, a part of the broader culture. Al Jolson, Fanny Brice, the Marx Brothers, Vladimir Horowitz, Bob Dylan - all are known as American cultural icons. They are, of course, all Jews.”  

In Shribman’s view, “...the greatest indicator of the place of Jews among the host population of this country is their place in the political life of the country, not only as agents of change (which is the traditional role of newcomers seeking to shape a nation to their inclinations and interests) but also, unavoidably and significantly as agents of the status quo. It is in the latter role ... that American Jews seal their place in the host community of the nation ... Not until American Jews felt so vested in the way things already were did they begin to assert themselves as conservatives and thus as a bulwark against radical change. In that role, especially, they established themselves as implementers of the host community and, in political terms, the host coalition.”  

Shribman concludes, “As part of the host community, Jews can be expected to play an important role in every aspect of American life - in sports, in entertainment, in letters, and politics. Full participation in all these realms - not the least of which is politics, in which the character of a people is molded - is, after all, the obligation of a host.”  

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