…out of the trauma and tragedy of the earlier decades of the 20th century, Jews redefined their image and reconstructed their roles in the post-World War II period. This represented a point in time when Jews became identified as risk takers and core actors in the public arena, just as they would be seen as builders and leaders of institutions representing all segments of society. If Jews were previously identified as marginal to the public square, then in this new construct, they have emerged to become the “producers” of great ideas impacting and shaping public discourse, civic action and institutional practice. The phenomenon of a minority people arising out of the ashes of Auschwitz to reframe not only their world but to also profoundly impact the broader culture may best summarize this century of Jewish influence.
Internally, the quality and depth of Jewish life have flourished during this time. The emergence of Jewish studies as a distinctive academic discipline would be one of the key markers of this era, as would the flourishing of Jewish literature, music and the arts. The creative expansion of liturgy and theology has redefined American Judaism. The vitality and growth of communal life represent additional indicators of this unique moment in Jewish history.
Indeed, Jews would seed two principle contributions, each reflective of different aspects of their historic pathways. The voice of the prophetic tradition, with its call for a socially just world, would be their universal message, while their struggle to achieve Zion, their historic dream of a national Jewish homeland, would serve as their particularistic contribution. The emergence of these two ideas would remain in creative tension with each other, their universalistic mandate in contention with their politics of self-interest.
Steven Windmueller, “A Look Back at the Jewish Century: 1918-2018”, Jewish Journal (30 March – 5 April 2018), 15.