"We rarely look each other in the eye":
The Making of an Invisible Jewish Left in the 1960s U.S.
Jewish activists were a conspicuous presence in the U.S. New Left of the 1960s. Yet in contrast to the large and influential Jewish Left that preceded the Second World War, Jews in the U.S. New Left rarely presented themselves as a collective force. Postwar Jewish radicals came of age in the wake of the Red Scare, when much of the historic working-class ethnic base of Jewish activism was being rapidly incorporated into America’s white middle class.
As these Jews embraced universalist social justice efforts in the 1960s, many of them continued to feel deep personal connections to Jewishness. With notable exceptions, however – such as Abbie Hoffman and his Jewishly-inflected political theatre – they tended to express these sentiments privately. The outlines of a collective identity become more clear when we look at patterns in Jewish New Leftists’ lives.
This research looks at memoirs, oral histories and press accounts of white Jews on the New Left to unpack the factors that muted radical Jewish public identity, to ask what the consequences of this might have been, and to reconsider these white activists’ choices as a collective Jewish phenomenon.