Strangers in the Land: Blacks, Jews, Post-Holo­caust America

Eric J. Sundquist
  • Review
By – June 25, 2012
Eric J. Sundquist, pro­fes­sor of lit­er­a­ture at UCLA, has writ­ten a book which demon­strates both his eru­di­tion and his tex­tured grasp of the prag­mat­ic bond between blacks and Jews in post-World War II Amer­i­ca. Strangers in the Land: Blacks, Jews, Post-Holo­caust Amer­i­ca offers a rich, schol­ar­ly analy­sis of America’s social and intel­lec­tu­al his­to­ry in the late 20th cen­tu­ry. It is the dis­pro­por­tion­ate influ­ence on Amer­i­can con­scious­ness of these groups, con­sid­er­ing their size, which defines much of what we now know as Amer­i­can cul­ture. The black-Jew­ish par­a­digm is in large mea­sure the his­to­ry of post- World War II Amer­i­ca. 

This is a book rich in ideas. Sundquist exam­ines what has been por­trayed as a spe­cial rela­tion­ship between blacks and Jews in an unro­man­ti­cized fash­ion, acknowl­edg­ing the ten­sions that exist both between these groups of out­siders, and between them and an Amer­i­ca that would deny full cit­i­zen­ship sta­tus to the oth­er.” He pro­vides extend­ed analy­sis of lit­er­ary con­tri­bu­tions that enlight­en, polit­i­cal trends that define alliances and con­flicts, soci­o­log­i­cal expe­ri­ences that illu­mi­nate debate, and reli­gious loy­al­ties that often exclude, while defin­ing the lib­er­al-con­ser­v­a­tive dichoto­my found in mod­ern life. What Sundquist calls the fault line in Jew­ish lib­er­al­ism” has evolved into a shift from a uni­ver­sal­ist focus on social action to a more par­tic­u­lar­ist focus on Jew­ish reawak­en­ing’ and renew­al of com­mu­ni­ty,” and this increas­ing­ly reflects how we behave on the cusp of the 21st century.

A prodi­gious vol­ume of thought, this is not a book for the casu­al read­er. But for a schol­ar, or for some­one who is rea­son­ably well-read and can appre­ci­ate an inter­play of ideas fil­tered through the edi­fy­ing light of lit­er­a­ture, this is a com­pelling and admirable work. More­over, the pre­car­i­ous exis­tence of blacks and Jews mer­its study and con­tin­ued dia­logue if their past resilience is to be assured in the future.
Noel Kriftch­er was a pro­fes­sor and admin­is­tra­tor at Poly­tech­nic Uni­ver­si­ty, hav­ing pre­vi­ous­ly served as Super­in­ten­dent of New York City’s Brook­lyn & Stat­en Island High Schools district.

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