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By Alicia Nemiccolo MacLeay '97
While Jews number less than three percent of the American population, their involvement in U.S. politics is disproportionately higher - Jews account for six percent of the House, 10 percent of the Senate and even higher for Federal judges, says L. Sandy Maisel, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Government.
Despite this significant political participation, comprehensive recognition was scant. When Bella Abzug, a member of Congress in the '70s, died in 1998, newspapers cited her as the first Jewish woman elected to the House. Forgotten was Florence Prag Kahn, who served from 1925 to 1937.
"To no one source could a scholar or journalist turn to find both analytical and factual information covering the range of American Jewish political experience," wrote Maisel in the preface to Jews in American Politics. In Jews in American Politics Maisel created that source. His co-editor is Ira Forman, research director of the Solomon Project, whose mission is to educate American Jews about the history of Jewish civic involvement.
With an introduction by Senator Joseph Lieberman, the book is divided into three sections. "Themes, Trends, and American Political Institutions" features 14 analytical essays that examine various aspects of Jewish participation in American political life and American government over the last 200 years. Written by political scientists, historians, practitioners and journalists, chapters include "Israel and Beyond: American Jews and U.S. Foreign Policy" and "At the Summit: Presidents, Presidential Appointments, and Jews."
As a reference source, Jews in American Politics includes more than 400 brief biographic sketches of Jews who have played prominent roles in American political life as well as numerous rosters of Jewish leadership and voting patterns. The sketches, written by 25 individuals including Theresa Wagner '01, include Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 19th-century labor leader Samuel Gompers and Ambassador Robert Gelbard '64.
Maisel says that before starting the project he was unaware of many of the early Jewish figures in American politics. He also was surprised by the significant jump in political participation in recent decades.
"By 2000, Jews had become as prominent in the political realm as they have been in the other aspects of American life," wrote Maisel. "If analysts are worried that the best and brightest of the nation's leaders are turning away from politics generally, the same cannot be said of the Jewish community."
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