'Jew and American in the Making': Education and Childrearing in the American Jewish Community, 1945-1967
Furman, Joshua J.
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My dissertation examines American Jewish ideas about childhood, parenting, and identity within the context of the aftermath of the Holocaust and the beginning of the Cold War, as a pervasive mood of anxiety about the future direction of American Jewry and its prospects for survival set in among communal leaders. I analyze a wide range of prescriptive literature on American Jewish parenting from psychologists, rabbis, and social workers, as well as Jewish children's magazines and educational materials from religious schools and summer camps. I argue that concerns about antisemitism, intermarriage, and the viability of Jewish life in suburbia drove the need for a philosophy of education and childrearing that prioritized positive experiences and attachments to Judaism and Jewish culture, without inhibiting the transition of Jews and Judaism into mainstream middle-class American life. Building on insights from Kurt Lewin and other Jewish psychologists, as well as Cold War-era notions about the Judeo-Christian origins of American democratic values, rabbis and educators argued that Jewish education should produce not only happy, well-adjusted Jews, but well-informed and loyal American citizens as well. As the first full-length study of American Jewish approaches to education and childrearing after World War II, this project sheds light on important and contested issues in several areas of scholarly interest. It demonstrates the central importance of Kurt Lewin's work to the formulation of the guiding motives and methods that directed Jewish education after 1940. It helps clarify what we know about the nature and extent of Holocaust education in the American Jewish community before the mid-1960s. It offers new perspectives into the process by which American Jews articulated a middle-class identity for themselves that was grounded in both customs and ideas from Jewish tradition as well as contemporary insights found in secular American culture. It also offers a case study for considering how minority groups in an open society such as the United States seek both to integrate themselves into American culture and to preserve their distinctiveness.