Israel on the Hudson
City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York
edited by Deborah Dash Moore; Volume I by Howard B. Rock, Volume II by Annie Pollard and Daniel Soyer, Volume III by Jeffrey S. Gurock; visual essays by Diana L. Linden
New York University Press, 1,108 pages (three-volume boxed set), $125
The great big city's a wondrous toy, / just made for a girl and boy. / We'll turn Manhattan into an isle of joy," cheered Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in their bright and bubbly 1925 salute, "Manhattan." Chock-a-block with geographical references to the Lower East Side and Greenwich Village, Coney Island and Flatbush, "the Bronx and Staten Island too," the song could very well serve as the anthem of New York's Jews.
Their allegiance to the five boroughs fuels City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York, an ambitious, three-volume work that attempts to capture and make sense of the entangled relationship between the New World's greatest, most populous, city and its vast number of Jewish inhabitants. As virtually everyone knows, that relationship gave rise to some of the most emblematic of modern Jewish neighborhoods, institutions, and outsized personalities—from the Lower East Side, America's very first "great ghetto"; to Russ & Daughters, purveyors of smoked fish, bagels, and other delicacies commonly associated with the Big Apple; to Stephen S. Wise, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and Ed Koch, who was recently eulogized as "tough and loud, brash and irreverent, full of humor and chutzpah . . . [New York City's] quintessential mayor." Moving chronologically from the community's 17th-century origins through the first decade of the 21st century, City of Promises explores, in vivid and generous detail, how and why the Jews came to regard New York, New York as "their special place."
A synthesis of the latest historical scholarship, whose combined bibliography and footnotes run to more than 150 pages, this project engaged the talents of several generations of American Jewish historians, from Howard B. Rock, professor emeritus at Florida International University and Jeffrey S. Gurock of Yeshiva University, to Annie Polland of the Lower East Side's Tenement Museum and Daniel Soyer of Fordham University. Its guiding hand and presiding spirit, though, is that of Deborah Dash Moore, who teaches at the University of Michigan and directs its Frankel Center for Judaic Studies. Her 1981 book, At Home in America: Second Generation New York Jews, reaffirmed the centrality of New York to the American Jewish experience. Grounded as much in the new urban history of the time as it was in modern Jewish history, Moore's account not only transformed ethnicity from a sociological category into an historical one, it also demonstrated the extent to which modern expressions of Jewishness were inextricably bound up with that cluster of behaviors and sensibilities known as urbanism; the two, we've now come to understand, go hand in hand.