Tapestries: Interwoven voices of local and global identities


This essay details the vastly different public expressions of American Jewish identity in the twentieth century through the areas of entertainment and social activism. Critical to this study is a notion I call the Jewish Radical Tradition of Solidaric Jewishness - our culture’s historical legacy of aligning Jewish values with the fight to liberate all oppressed groups, supporting mutual emancipation from systems of social, political, and economic domination that elevate a few individuals at the expense of the collective. I argue that the twentieth century represented the ultimate battle within the American Jewish community to decide what form of Jewishness would triumph in the public eye. This battle was fought between Jews who remained loyal to the radical, leftist politics of the Lower East Side versus those who departed from that phenomenon, either physically or ideologically joining the bourgeois class on Park Avenue through assimilation, depoliticization, and corporatization in order to protect their newly gained whiteness privileges after the Second World War. I explore the continuation of the Jewish Radical Tradition through the six Jewish members of the Hollywood Ten, the trial and lives of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and the transgressive stand-up comedy of Lenny Bruce. I then illuminate the betrayal of the Tradition and the corporatization of American Jewish identity through the hugely successful sitcom Seinfeld. To conclude, I will delineate my vision for how I believe the American Jewish community can continue our Tradition of Solidaric Jewishness in the current political moment.

Author Biography

Louie Siegel (he/him), is a graduating senior from Skokie, Illinois majoring in American Studies and minoring in Political Science at Macalester College. After graduation, he will do whatever needs to be done to better the planet in the short time we have here. In the short term, he plans to be involved in union organizing work and in the long term, he hopes to become a college professor.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License