Commentary Magazine

American Jewish Yearbook, 1950, prepared by the American Jewish Committee

Volume 51

American Jewish Year Book, 1950.
by The American Jewish Committee. Morris Fine, Editor; Jacob Sloan, Assistant Editor; and Irving Kaplan, Editorial Assistant.
The American Jewish Committee and The Jewish Publication Society of America. 590 pp. $4.00.

The current issue, the fifty-first, of this standard reference work has undergone some important changes. Not only has the format of the volume been increased in size and its general physical make-up made more attractive, but its contents have been expanded and rearranged. Statistical matter, which previously appeared at the end of the book, has been incorporated in the body of the volume, and a detailed index has been added. The result is a more handsome as well as more useful volume.

About one half of the year book is devoted to descriptions of various aspects of Jewish life in the United States during the past year, grouped under four major headings: socioeconomic, civic and political, communal, and cultural phases of Jewish life. The other half is given over to accounts of Jewish life and activities throughout the world, and includes a record of the United Nations deliberations on human rights, directories of Jewish organizations, lists of Jewish periodicals, and a number of other items that have become regular fixtures of the series. Perhaps more so than in previous years the editors have succeeded in presenting a well-rounded and comprehensive picture of Jewish life, particularly in the United States.

Considerable space in the first section is devoted to two leading articles, one on certain demographic features of American Jews by Ben B, Seligman, and the other on their economic status by Eh E. Cohen. Both of these articles undertake to assess and evaluate the findings of various community surveys and other studies made in recent years, and to arrive at some sort of general interpretation of the diverse data. Both reports go into rather detailed and painstaking examinations of the available facts and figures, with, however, only meager results. Owing to the different objectives of the communities making surveys, leading to different approaches and different means of collecting data, the authors are not able to arrive at safe generalizations past the few general facts that are already known: as, for example, that the Jewish population is replenishing itself at a slower rate than the population as a whole, that Jews tend to have smaller families, live in urban areas, and occupationally are to be found concentrated in trade and commerce, white collar work, and the professions. The article on economic status and occupational structure finds that the living standard of the American Jew compares favorably with that of the average American; and adds the further interesting fact, emerging from an analysis of various studies, that whereas for the country as a whole the number of clerical workers and semi-skilled factory workers increased between 1940 and 1948, among the Jews the number in these categories declined (as did the number of salespeople), and there was an increase in the proprietary and managerial classes.

Even these few conclusions are, undoubtedly, as the writers are well aware, open to question. And the same is true for the Jewish population statistics included in the volume, which are almost entirely a recapitulation of the data in the preceding volume, based largely on rough estimates. Yet in spite of the serious gaps in the available data, there probably exists more and better information about the Jews than about any other ethnic group in the United States.



The sections dealing with the civic, communal, and cultural aspects are vivid and readable, and it is particularly gratifying to note that the various specific fields are generally considered from a broad point of view, that is, within the framework of American society rather than as problems limited to the Jews. There are signs of a recognition, long overdue among the masses of the Jewish people, and even among Jewish writers, that Jewish problems cannot be isolated from those facing the larger community.

In the present volume, this broader outlook is particularly evident in the handling, by authorities, of such topics as civil rights, education, employment, and intergroup relations.

The cultural life of American Jews is particularly well recorded in the current volume, in articles on English-language literature of Jewish interest, Yiddish and Hebrew literature, Jewish scholarship, painting, the dance, music, the motion picture, and radio and television—each is treated critically as well as descriptively by writers demonstrating a thorough knowledge and understanding of their fields. (In such a complete catalogue, one is surprised to see that the theater has been omitted.)

The Year Book has for many years served as an indispensable reference work in the field of Jewish affairs, and the changes introduced in the present volume have further enhanced its value as a source of information on things Jewish.

Its logical arrangement, readability, authoritative treatment of subjects, and objectivity of approach make it a work that scholars and intelligent laymen alike will find most useful. We are all indebted to the American Jewish Committee which for more than a half-century has prepared this serviceable and increasingly valuable handbook for the Jewish community and the general public.



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