Natan and the Jewish Book Council are thrilled to announce the Fall 2020 Natan Notable Book: Dr. Nancy Sinkoff’s From Left to Right: Lucy S. Dawidowicz, The New York Intellectuals, and the Politics of Jewish History (Wayne State University Press, March 2020).
Twice a year, Natan Notable Books recognizes recently-published or soon-to-be-published non-fiction books that promise to catalyze conversations aligned with the themes of Natan’s grantmaking: reinventing Jewish life and community for the twenty-first century, shifting notions of individual and collective Jewish identity, the history and future of Israel, understanding and confronting contemporary forms of antisemitism, and the evolving relationship between Israel and world Jewry.
In making the Fall 2020 selection, Natan is recognizing not only Professor Sinkoff’s work of wide-ranging, diligent historical scholarship, which emanates from a deep understanding of a century of Jewish history in America and Eastern Europe; but also the life, work and intellectual contributions of an under-appreciated and nearly-forgotten historian and public intellectual, Lucy S. Dawidowicz (1915−1990).
The parallels between today’s Jewish and American conversations and those that Dawidowicz navigated in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s are uncanny. The list of subjects she tackled in her scholarship, writing and public speaking could be those of any courageous thinker today: struggling with ways of expressing, retaining, and educating for Jewish particularism in an America that prizes universalism; the place of religion in the American public square and the negotiation of “church-state” relations for particularist communities; the complex relationship between Black people and Jews in America; the increasingly widespread acceptance on the left of criticism of Zionism as “racism” and of Israel as a “genocidal” state; the universalization of both antisemitism and the Holocaust as expressions of “hate” and “bigotry” rather than of specific, intentional animus toward the Jews as a particular group; and the challenges of commemorating, understanding and deriving lessons from the Holocaust.
The Natan Notable Books committee is proud to shine a spotlight on Dawidowicz’s steadfastness, mental acuity, practical intelligence, and courage in expressing forthright, controversial — yet highly educated and researched — views. As Sinkoff so brilliantly documents, Dawidowicz’s experiences, scholarship, and political evolution not only illuminate the critical issues of 20th century Jewish life, but they also offer guidance for navigating our own complicated times as Jews in America in the 21st century.
Finally, in an era of pithy Tweets and “hot-takes,” when evidence and data often seem in short supply, Sinkoff offers us a model for a life devoted to complexity, rigor, and careful thinking. In naming Sinkoff’s work the Natan Notable Book for Fall 2020, Natan is proud to echo the sentiments that Dawidowicz herself offered to a fellow historian in 1975: “I am very grateful to you, for you are among that small company of scholars that take ideas seriously.”
Professor Sinkoff will receive a $5,000 cash prize, as well as customized support for promoting the book and its ideas, drawing on Natan’s and Jewish Book Council’s extensive networks throughout the Jewish philanthropic and communal worlds. Natan, Jewish Book Council, and other partners will be hosting a series of virtual public events in the coming months to deepen and expand conversations around the book and to engage with the ideas it raises, such as the diversity of political opinions in Jewish public life, evolving conceptions of Zionism and Israel on the Jewish and American left, and the changing ways that the Holocaust is understood and used in academia and public discourse.
The deadline for submission for Spring 2021 Natan Notable Books is Dec. 31, 2020, open to non-fiction titles published between July 1, 2020 — June 30, 2021. For more information or to submit a title, click here. Inquiries can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.