The first great modern migration of Jewish people from the Old World to America has been often and expertly chronicled, but until now the second great wave of Jewish migration has been overlooked. After World War II, spurred by a postwar economic boom, American Jews sought new beginnings in the nation’s South and West. Thousands abandoned their previous homes in the urban, industrial centers of the North and moved to Miami and Los Angeles seeking warmth, opportunity, and ultimately a new Jewish community—one unlike any they had every known. This move turned out to be as significant as their ancestors’ departure from their traditional worlds.
Earlier Jewish immigrants to the New World had sought to fit into the well-established communities they found in the North, but Miami and LA were frontier towns with few rules for newcomers. Jews could establish new economic niches in the hotel and real estate industries, and build new schools, political organizations, and community centers to reshape the cities’ ethnic landscapes. Drawing upon rich and extensive research, historian Deborah Dash Moore traces the evolution of a new consensus on the boundaries of Jewish life and what it means to be Jewish.
Most American Jews have families or friends who have chosen to live in these urban paradises. Many others have visited or vacationed under their palm trees. Now the vibrant Jewish culture of these cities comes to life through Moore’s skillful weaving of individual voices, dreams, and accomplishments. To the Golden Cities is an epic saga of an essential moment in American Jewish history, the shaping of a new postwar Judaism for the second half of the twentieth century.
Joining the great postwar migrations from the Northeast and the Midwest to Los Angeles and Miami were large numbers of Jews from Chicago and New York. Cut loose from their ties to the old European religious cultures of their families, these ``permanent tourists,'' as Moore calls them, created a new and distinctly American Jewish identity, colored by the comparably free-wheeling, easy life around them in their new Edens. Regular attendance at religious services and observation of ritual customs met with strong competition from sun and sea; some rabbis felt obliged to hold a congregation together by promoting the Sabbath services as ``entertainment.'' Moore, director of Vassar College's Program in American Culture, details Jewish life minutely in Miami and Los Angeles; the loss of a traditional Jewish sense of identity, and its ultimate reconstitution in the establishment of Israel; and the constant presence of anti-Semitism, which could, paradoxically, serve to reunify. Although often overwhelmed by documentation of such trivia as the name of the manager of the gift shop of a Miami synagogue, Moore's study is nevertheless a notable depiction of the social, political and religious experiences of the two migratory streams.