Inter­na­tion­al Jew­ish Human­i­tar­i­an­ism in the Age of the Great War

January 12, 2021

In 1914, sev­en mil­lion Jews across East­ern Europe and the East­ern Mediter­ranean were caught in the cross­fire of war­ring empires in a dis­as­ter of stu­pen­dous, unprece­dent­ed pro­por­tions. In response, Amer­i­can Jews devel­oped a new mod­el of human­i­tar­i­an relief for their suf­fer­ing brethren abroad, wan­der­ing into Amer­i­can for­eign pol­i­cy as they nav­i­gat­ed a wartime polit­i­cal land­scape. The effort con­tin­ued into peace­time, touch­ing every inter­war Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty in these trou­bled regions through long-term refugee, child wel­fare, pub­lic health, and pover­ty alle­vi­a­tion projects. Against the back­drop of war, rev­o­lu­tion, and recon­struc­tion, this is the sto­ry of Amer­i­can Jews who went abroad in sol­i­dar­i­ty to res­cue and rebuild Jew­ish lives in Jew­ish home­lands. As they con­struct­ed a new form of human­i­tar­i­an­ism and re-drew the map of mod­ern phil­an­thropy, they rebuilt the Jew­ish Dias­po­ra itself in the image of the mod­ern social wel­fare state.

Discussion Questions

In her path-break­ing Inter­na­tion­al Jew­ish Human­i­tar­i­an­ism in the Age of the Great War, Jaclyn Granick illus­trates how the destruc­tion wreaked by World War I was trans­for­ma­tive, not only in the annals of Jew­ish his­to­ry, but also in the his­to­ry of human­i­tar­i­an activism. Min­ing archives in places as dis­parate as New York, Wash­ing­ton, Gene­va, Cincin­nati, and Jerusalem and sift­ing through doc­u­ments in numer­ous lan­guages, Granick shows how the war and its dev­as­ta­tion cre­at­ed a long-last­ing sys­temic change across the Jew­ish world.” This change was wrought by a group of actors, who Granick painstak­ing­ly brings to life with her nuanced under­stand­ing of archival doc­u­ments — as well as their silences. The author has pro­duced a com­pelling sto­ry of how Amer­i­can Jew­ish fun­ders worked with experts in Europe to rebuild Jew­ish life in war-torn regions. She reveals how the activism of orga­ni­za­tions such as the Amer­i­can Jew­ish Joint Dis­tri­b­u­tion Com­mit­tee is cen­tral to any larg­er under­stand­ing of human­i­tar­i­an activism, US for­eign pol­i­cy, and world Jew­ish his­to­ry in the twen­ti­eth century.