November 1, 2001
Jews in U. S. Politics
A woman who was the trusted adviser to the governor of New York in the 1920s.
The ambassador to Turkey in 1889.
The attorney general in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.
Belle Moskowitz, Solomon Hirsch and Edward Levi were all Jews involved in U.S. political life in different periods. Previously confined to the footnotes of political science textbooks or familiar only to political junkies, these figures and others are part of a new book charting Jews' impact on American political life.
The book, "Jews in American Politics," (Rowman & Littlefield, $39.95) is not simply a "locate the landsman" exercise but an attempt to address a number of issues -- such as Jewish political behavior, Jewish advocacy and the relationship between politics and Jewish identity -- along with important demographic information and more than 400 biographical profiles.
Today, as politics is seen as just another profession toward which Jews gravitate, the changes in the level of Jewish political involvement through the decades are interesting to follow. From hiding one's Judaism in order to enter politics to last year's watershed event -- when Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) became the first Jewish vice presidential candidate for a major party -- the leaps make for good reading.
Some of the old challenges Jews faced in politics have not entirely disappeared. While it is possible today to balance one's Judaism with a political life -- and it is much more legitimate for a candidate today to have a strong religious identity -- having it all remains a conundrum.
Observant Jews such as Lieberman, Jack Lew -- the former director of the Office of Management and Budget -- and Stuart Eizenstat, the former deputy treasury secretary, are the models for today's young Jews, says Ira Forman, co-editor of the book with L. Sandy Maisel.
The Jews' future in American politics depends on "where as a community we are going to go," Forman says, either toward continued distinctiveness or greater assimilation.