Michael Hoberman at The New England Historic Genealogical Society

Michael Hoberman on 'New Israel - New England: Jews and Puritans in Early America' at The New England Historic Genealogical Society - 9/12/12

The Ideologue: I want to ask you a question about Jewish precedent and Black American exile. My Black Christian upbringing [and cultural inheritance] is heavily steeped in the Old Testament.

Captive audience. Bible. You do the math.

[Audience chuckles]

Is there a similar narrative of Jewish people [and their descendants later on, Jewish Americans] like Irish and Italian immigrants wanting to participate in a normative Whiteness, or was there a strong intention to remain distinctly 'Jewish', to speak, read, and write the old 'language'? If so, how did they buck against this Ellis Island 'bleaching' that so many other ethnic people groups underwent upon arrival?

Michael Hoberman: Excellent question. I think both. I would have to say that in the later decades of the 19th century there was a strong - [particularly because of the Labor Movement and other leftward movements among immigrant Jews] well, they glorified Black Liberation, and at the same time, some of those same people - their cousins, their aunts, their uncles - were drawn in the other direction of wanting to move out of urban ghettos and establish themselves as 'white'.

I think Jews have always been pulled in both directions. You may know a book, the title of which speaks to your question called 'How Jews Became White Folks: And What That Says About Race in America' by Karen Brodkin. And that book, to my knowledge, looks at the earlier decades of the 20th century and the movement of Jews into the white middle class.

Because, in fact, when they were getting off those boats at Ellis Island, they weren't classified as 'white'. You know, I look at myself, and I [notice that] it's not quite 'white'. And another aspect of it that - well, another book, in my opinion, that should be written is about the degree to which [even if only vestigial] the Abolitionist Movement among Black people had an emphasis on the Hebrew stories were.

And people have made the point that [Black Southerners] were much more captivated by Old Testament stories than by turning the other cheek - somehow that didn't have the same appeal.

[Audience Chuckles]

The Ideologue: Thank you.