Invent­ing Great Neck-Jew­ish Iden­ti­ty and the Amer­i­can Dream

Judith S. Goldstein
  • Review
By – October 26, 2011

In staid lan­guage, this book exam­ines lead­ing 20th cen­tu­ry Amer­i­can-Jew­ish val­ues— edu­ca­tion, medical/​health care, and reli­gious affil­i­a­tion — aston­ish­ing­ly max­i­mized in sub­ur­ban Great Neck, from 1920 to 1960. Prox­i­mate to New York City, sur­round­ed by placid Long Island Sound, Great Neck mer­its three lines in an ency­clo­pe­dia— F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gats­by, which skew­ered its flam­boy­ant, the­atri­cal, dis­solute res­i­dents, Jews among them, and the Unit­ed States Mer­chant Marine Acad­e­my. Both live on, in their fashion. 

The pur­chase of homes, beau­ti­ful but depres­sion-dec­i­mat­ed, by mod­er­ate­ly suc­cess­ful Jew­ish busi­ness­men increased after World War II. Gold­stein notes that Jews met lit­tle Gen­tile sell­er or builder resis­tance, unlike adja­cent com­mu­ni­ties while the new sub­ur­ban­ites retained immi­grant ways and accents, Jew­ish-Amer­i­can val­ues tri­umphed — the estab­lish­ment of schools of nation­al­ly-rec­og­nized excel­lence, estab­lish­ment of impres­sive syn­a­gogues and lead­er­ship, and two hos­pi­tals (accept­ing Jew­ish physi­cians) — with­in a twen­ty to thir­ty year span, metic­u­lous­ly detailed. 

The epi­logue indi­cates cur­rent dis­sen­sion, a scan­dal, etc. Demo­graph­ics and an edi­to­r­i­al pen­cil are scant. This book fills a niche for stu­dents of 20th cen­tu­ry sub­urbs, and for Jew­ish Great Neck res­i­dents — past and present. Acknowl­edg­ments, bib­li­og­ra­phy, epi­logue, illus­tra­tions, index, intro­duc­tion, notes.

Arlene B. Soifer earned degrees in Eng­lish, and has had many years of expe­ri­ence as a free­lance writer, edi­tor, and pub­lic rela­tions professional.

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