The Times: Smart White Ethnic New Yorkers Talk About a Clever New Book

To promote a new book by Joshua Zeitz, three smart white ethnic New Yorkers got together on a panel. The book apparently has some interesting theses such as the notion that NY's Jews, "placed disputativeness and radicalism and liberalism at the heart of their identity." I very much disagree with that but he is entitled to his opinion.

Mr. Chan's vivid account of the panel will help you mid-westerners (Yochanan!) understand the NY experience....
October 25, 2007, 2:24 pm
White Ethnic Politics: Irish and Italian Catholics and Jews, Oh, My!

By Sewell Chan

An Irishman, an Italian and a Jew walked into the grand auditorium of the New York Academy of Medicine on Wednesday evening – not to tell jokes (or be part of one), but to engage an audience of some 400 people in a discussion about white ethnic groups and their evolving roles in the politics and culture of New York City.

The panelists — Edward I. Koch, mayor from 1978 to 1989; Pete Hamill, the journalist and author; and Frank J. Macchiarola, schools chancellor from 1978 to 1983 — had been invited by the Museum of the City of New York to reflect on a new book, “White Ethnic New York: Jews, Catholics and the Shaping of Postwar Politics,” by the historian Joshua M. Zeitz.

Dr. Zeitz gave a brief overview of his book’s thesis by telling two stories about how a Jew and a Catholic growing up in postwar New York recalled learning very different lessons from the same Biblical story about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Jew learned from a rabbi the value of dissent and resistance from Abraham’s questioning of God about the decision to obliterate the two cities. The Catholic learned from a schoolteacher about the fate of those, like Lot’s wife, who defy God’s instructions.

“Irish and Italian Catholics and Jews shared the same city streets, they shared the same institutions, to lots of people they looked the same,” Dr. Zeitz said. “But they came at culture and politics from fundamentally different viewpoints.”

At their height in the mid-century decades, the three groups numbered, it is estimated, about four million — accounting for two-thirds of the city’s white population and perhaps half of the total population.

And yet these groups often spent their lives apart. Two-thirds of Catholic children in New York City from the 1940s through the ’60s attended parish schools, while about 95 percent of Jewish children attended public ones. Separate youth organizations, professional clubs and even veterans groups highlighted the uniqueness of each group.

Dr. Zeitz summarized his book’s thesis:

Many second- and third-generation Jews, throughout the 20th century, as they fought for political power, placed disputativeness and radicalism and liberalism at the heart of their identity. In coming to politics from this viewpoint, they tended to clash with Italian and Irish Catholics who emphasized order, social hierarchy and an allegiance to an organic sense of community.

The political and social struggles of the era were, about “not just power, passion and privilege,” Dr. Zeitz argued, but ideology. For instance, when Mayor John V. Lindsay, a white Protestant and a Republican, faced a re-election challenge in 1969 from Mario J. Procaccino, an Italian Catholic, Mr. Lindsay tried to court voters by highlighting the theme of his own dissent on the Vietnam War — and “the right and obligation of people to protest against an unjust war.” .... more

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