The American Jewish Experience: From Shtetl to Suburb
Prof. Tony Michels
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Fall 2008

Course Description
     A century and a half ago, the United States was a backwater of the Jewish world, then centered in Europe and the Ottoman Turkish Empire. Yet, by the 1950s, the United States became home to the largest, most prosperous and most secure Jewish community in modern history. Why did millions of Jews come to the United States? How has life in a liberal political and capitalist economic order shaped the Jewish experience in America? In turn, how have Jews influenced American culture, politics, and society? This course surveys the history of American Jews from the 18th century until the late 20th century. Topics include patterns of political behavior (radicalism, liberalism, and nationalism), social mobility, Jewish culture in Yiddish and English, inter-ethnic group relations, religion, and problems in community building. The course combines lectures, in-class discussions, film, and audio recordings. The readings consist of secondary and primary sources.


There is also a course packet, which you can buy from the Copy Center.

Course Requirements
     An in-class midterm exam, one six-page take-home assignment, and a final exam are required.

Lectures and Reading

Week 1: Becoming Citizens: Jews in Colonial and Early America

Week 2: The Rise of American Jewry

Week 3: Forging American Judaism
You are required to attend one of two documentary films about Wisconsin Jewish history being shown on campus. “Chosen Towns” and “Built on Scrap”. The filmmakers will be present at each. In addition, you are required to write a one-page response paper.
Week 4: Slums, Sweatshops, and Socialism: Eastern European Jews in Urban America

Week 5: The Yiddish Cultural Renaissance

Week 6: “The Jewish Problem” in Interwar America

Week 7: Judaism Reconstructed
You are required to attend a lecture Professor Meri-Jane Rochelson at the Pyle Center. The lecture is entitled, “The Melting Pot: A Centennial Look Back at Israel Zangwill’s Play.” No response paper is required.
Week 8: Jews in American Popular Culture (Act. 1)

Week 9: The Great Depression and the Rise of Jewish Liberalism

Week 10: The Destruction of European Jewry and its Aftermath

Week 11: Cold War America: Contentment and its Costs

Week 12: Jews in American Popular Culture (Act 2)

Week 13: Jews in American Popular Culture (Act 2, continued)

Week 14: The End of Consensus: the Jewish Community in Conflict

Week 15: Assimilation or Renewal?