1950s: Affluence and Its Discontents—Jews, Class, and History Series

October 6, 2020

In the 1950s, the majority of Jews of the United States enjoyed extensive access to public life, and, for the most part, lived in economic comfort. In this roundtable, we will delve deeper into the process of upward mobility and communal responses to it. How has the conversation about upward mobility and wealth changed from the mid-century to today? How do wealthy people respond to wealth inequality today?

HERE IS A STORY you might find familiar:

The early 20th century was a golden age of Jewish working-class radical activism. But after World War II, upward-mobility, suburbanization, and assimilation into whiteness caused many Jews to lose their moorings and embrace increasingly conservative ideas. The new organized “Jewish Establishment” exponentially grew its wealth and influence and began to undemocratically shape Jewish communal life.

How much of this narrative is true? And what does it mean for communities struggling for justice today?

These and other pressing questions will be discussed by our participants, who range from historians of American Jews, to scholars of labor, gender, wealth, and philanthropy, to journalists, politicians, teachers, and political organizers. Join us for this intellectual and historical event.

Hosted with support from the Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History.

Margaret Chin is Professor of Sociology at Hunter College and the Graduate Center. She is the author of Stuck: Why Don’t Asian Americans Reach the top of the Corporate Ladder and Sewing Women. Her specialties include immigrants and their children, work, education, race, ethnicity and Asian Americans.

Nadav David is the New England Regional Organizer at Resource Generation. With Kavod in Boston, he co-leads a Jews of Color, Indigenous Jews, Sephardim & Mizrahim (JOCISM) caucus along with solidarity economy and alternatives to policing projects. He previously worked as a financial coach supporting families living in subsidized housing programs.

Rachel Kranson is an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pittsburgh. She is the author of Ambivalent Embrace: Jewish Upward Mobility in Postwar America (2017), and co-editor of A Jewish Feminine Mystique?: Jewish Women in Postwar America (2010).

Rachel Sherman is Professor and Chair of Sociology at the New School. She is the author of Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence (Princeton, 2017) and Class Acts: Service and Inequality in Luxury Hotels (California, 2007).

Moderated by Michelle Chen, contributing writer for The Nation. She is also a contributing editor at Dissent magazine and a contributing writer at In These Times. She is a co-producer of “Asia Pacific Forum” podcast and Dissent’s “Belabored” podcast, and also teaches history at the State University of New York-Van Arsdale.