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From Left to Right

Lucy S. Dawidowicz, the New York Intellectuals, and the Politics of Jewish History

Nancy Sinkoff

Biography, Jewish Studies

Printed Paper Cased
Published: March 2020
ISBN: 9780814345108
Pages: 538 Size: 6x9
Illustrations: 37 black-and-white images
Published: March 2020
ISBN: 9780814345115

From Left to Right: Lucy S. Dawidowicz, the New York Intellectuals, and the Politics of Jewish History is the first comprehensive biography of Dawidowicz (1915–1990), a pioneer historian in the field that is now called Holocaust studies. Dawidowicz was a household name in the postwar years, not only because of her scholarship but also due to her political views. Dawidowicz, like many other New York intellectuals, was a youthful communist, became an FDR democrat midcentury, and later championed neoconservatism. Nancy Sinkoff argues that Dawidowicz’s rightward shift emerged out of living in prewar Poland, watching the Holocaust unfold from New York City, and working with displaced persons in postwar Germany. Based on over forty-five archival collections, From Left to Right chronicles Dawidowicz’s life as a window into the major events and issues of twentieth-century Jewish life.

From Left to Right is structured in four parts. Part 1 tells the story of Dawidowicz’s childhood, adolescence, and college years when she was an immigrant daughter living in New York City. Part 2 narrates Dawidowicz’s formative European years in Poland, New York City (when she was enclosed in the European-like world of the New York YIVO), and Germany. Part 3 tells how Dawidowicz became an American while Polish Jewish civilization was still inscribed in her heart and also explores when and how Dawidowicz became the voice of East European Jewry for the American Jewish public. Part 4 exposes the fissure between Dawidowicz’s European-inflected diaspora nationalist modern Jewish identity and the shifting definition of American liberalism from the late 1960s forward, which also saw the emergence of neoconservatism. The book includes an interpretation of her memoir From that Place and Time, as well as an appendix of thirty-one previously unpublished letters that illustrate the broad reach of her work and person.

Dawidowicz’s right-wing politics, sex, and unabashed commitment to Jewish particularism in an East European Jewish key have resulted in scholarly neglect. Therefore, this book is strongly recommended for scholars and general readers interested in Jewish and women’s studies.

Nancy Sinkoff is the academic director of the Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life and professor of Jewish studies and history at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. She is author of Out of the Shtetl: Making Jews Modern in the Polish Borderlands, of "Yidishkayt and the Making of Lucy S. Dawidowicz" the introductory essay to Dawidowicz’s reissued From that Place and Time, A Memoir, 1938–1947, and co-editor with Rebecca Cypess of Sara Levy’s World: Gender, Judaism, and the Bach Tradition in Enlightenment Berlin, winner of the 2019 book prize from the Jewish Studies and Music Study Group of the American Musicological Society.

Lucy Dawidowicz comes alive again with her wisdom and insight, her prescience and unflinching honesty (and her sometimes orneriness). This prodigiously researched book takes readers deep inside the world that shaped Dawidowicz and that she documented with passion and courage.

– Francine Klagsbrun, author of Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel

With this book, Lucy Dawidowicz has found her biographer. But even beyond that important contribution, Nancy Sinkoff offers profound insight into the American Jewish psyche, chronicling its diverse cultural proclivities and political sensibilities. With literary elegance and masterful command of her sources, Sinkoff uses Dawidowicz to tell a larger story: the rise of Jewish political conservatism as a powerful force in American life from its roots in Yiddish progressive circles in New York. An outstanding achievement by a first-rate historian.

– David N. Myers, UCLA

In this masterful biography of a pioneering scholar-intellectual, Sinkoff reveals precisely how American Jewish politics came to be bound by the golden chains of memory and trauma to the vanished world of pre-Holocaust Eastern Europe. In the process, she sets a new standard for American Jewish political history.

– James Loeffler, Berkowitz Professor of Jewish History, University of Virginia

Lucy Dawidowicz’s life and career encapsulates much of the Jewish experience since the time of World War II. She was in Poland immediately before the war, in Germany right after the war, and at the heart of the political debate that would roil and continues to roil the American Jewish community over the past seventy years. Often ignored by historians because she was a woman, Dawidowicz regains her rightful place in the annals of American Jewish history thanks to this compelling and meticulously researched biography by Nancy Sinkoff.

– Deborah E. Lipstadt, author of Antisemitism Here and Now

I never quite knew how to approach Dawidowicz’s legacy. She was a bold female voice who rejected the "special pleading" of second-wave feminism. She dedicated herself to Yiddish but rejected it as a basis for Jewish life. She was a frustrating, consternating figure for me, a political thinker who, along with her better known male peers, had journeyed from far left in the 1930s to neoconservative in the 1980s. As I saw it, we had so much, and so little in common. From Left to Right affirms my impression of a woman of fierce intellect and principle, a woman of her many times and places.

– Rokhl Kafrissen, Tablet Magazine

It is customary in a book review, especially a positive book review, to ferret out something that one does not like and expand on it. Normally I would obey this code, but it isn’t easy because I honestly liked everything about Nancy Sinkoff ’s biography. It is well written and informative about an important person and her growth and development and place in Jewish letters. It brings attention to a neglected and fascinating New York intellectual who went from left to right and stayed there, never seeing the need to apologize for her move. It has interesting new archival material and photographs. It has interesting letter exchanges with notable figures, among them Albert Einstein, Simon Wiesenthal, and Noam Chomsky. What’s not to like?

– Robert D. King, Commentary Magazine

Alert to her driving obligations to both the European past and American present, Lucy Dawidowicz once said she felt "somehow pulled between two poles, never quite at home in either, and above all not wishing to be." Thirty years after her death in 1990, Ms. Sinkoff’s rewarding reappraisal, a model of biographical clarity, at last brings a formidable practitioner of the historian’s craft home and gives her the attention commensurate with her irrefutable influence.

– Benjamin Balint, Wall Street Journal

Sinkoff's biography of Lucy Schildkret Dawidowicz succeeds on every level. It is informative as well as engaging reading and her treatment of its subjects is even-handed.

– Kevin Alan Brook, author of The Jews of Khazaria

Sinkoff’s engaging and revelatory biography is a reminder of Lucy Dawidowicz’s important place among 20th-century American intellectuals. She may have been forgotten by intellectual historians, but her works should, and hopefully will, continue to find their place on the shelves of those who care for the truths of the Jewish past and who want to strengthen the prospects of the Jewish future.

– Harvey Klehr, Mosaic Magazine