On Modern Jewish Politics, by Ezra Mendelsohn
Ezra Mendelsohn, who teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, approaches the study of modern Jewish history with sober intelligence. Although his writing is always informed—one might say, haunted—by the knowledge that in the end nothing worked for the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe, in his books and monographs Mendelsohn has clarified in nuanced detail the many initiatives and adaptive measures European Jews undertook on their own behalf prior to 1939, as well as the reasons for their failure. Now, in On Modern Jewish Politics, Mendelsohn moves from particular cases toward an overarching explanation of how modern Jews functioned politically in the period between the two world wars, not only in Europe but also in the United States.
The task of explanation is complicated, Mendelsohn shows, by the inutility of the usual terms of political typology: Right vs. Left, secular vs. religious, nationalist vs. socialist, and so forth (not that such divisions did not exist in the Jewish community). Take the example of the Bund, an avowedly Marxist organization founded in 1897. Expelled by Lenin from the Communist International because of its insistence on such “chauvinistic” principles as the championship of Yiddish and Jewish national self-defense, the Bund enjoyed its only major success in the late 1930′s, becoming the strongest Jewish political party in Poland by leading the struggle against anti-Semitism in that country.
About the Author
Ruth R. Wisse is the Martin Peretz professor of Yiddish and professor of comparative literature at Harvard. She is the author most recently of Jews and Power (Nextbook/Schocken).