Reading about Judaism, Antisemitism, in America

Dr. Rachel Gordan presents as part of a panel at the American Jewish Historical Society conference (Philadelphia, June 2018).

“How antisemitic was this country, this America, these United States?” — Laura Z. Hobson

In the 1940s Laura Z. Hobson (1900-1986) set out to tell the story of antisemitism by writing Gentlemen’s Agreement (1947) about a magazine writer who poses as a Jew to research the bigotry and hate directed at American Jews. The book became a bestseller and Hobson would go on to further success. 

With an upcoming team-taught course on “Women and Religion in Popular Fiction” and current research and a book-in-progress about Hobson, Dr. Rachel Gordan is able to combine her enjoyment of popular fiction with her passion for Jewish studies. 

Soon, Gordan will share her work and interests to the Jewish Studies faculty at Dartmouth College, in Hanover, NH with the presentation, “What the Jews Believe: Introduction to Judaism Literature and the Mid-century Middlebrow Moment in American Jewish Culture.” 

Gordan will present on how, during the first half of the 20th-century, articles and books about Jews, published by mainstream magazines and presses, often focused on the problems of Jews in America. In the immediate postwar years, many of the same authors who had written about the problems of American Jews, now wrote about the religion of American Jews.

These magazine articles and books attempted to explain, in terms that the majority, non-Jewish population would understand, America’s new “third faith.” With titles such as What the Jews Believe, Basic Judaism, What Is a Jew? these primers on Judaism suggested that it was acceptable to know next to nothing about Judaism, and that it was perfectly American to want to read a Life magazine article about Judaism.