History, Department of
Review of Michael Berkowitz, Zionist Culture and West European Jewry before the First World War
Date of this Version
In this elegantly written and nicely designed book, Michael Berkowitz offers the reader a fascinating discussion of Zionism as a cultural phenomenon among the assimilated Jews of western and central Europe in the two decades preceding World War I. Berkowitz is particularly interested in how the Zionist movement employed political symbols, myths, and icons in an effort to spawn a new Jewish national consciousness to which assimilated bourgeois Jews in France, Britain, and Germany could safely subscribe without compromising their allegiance to the country of their citizenship. In contrast to the masses of Russian-Polish and Rumanian Jews, for whom migration to Palestine made practical sense as an escape from official anti- Semitism and increasingly frequent pogroms, the Jews of West-Central Europe desired, by and large, to remain where they lived. For them, Zionism was not merely an opportunity to demonstrate solidarity with their less fortunate eastern cousins, but was also an outlet for manifesting a revised notion of Jewishness that contravened many of the dominant stereotypes held by non-Jews and Jews alike. Berkowitz's examination of how the Zionist movement constructed this "Zionist culture" situates Zionism in its fin-de-siecle context by elucidating its connections with prevailing notions of nationalism, cultural authenticity, and masculinity. While the book has obvious import to scholars and students of Jewish history, its historicization of Zionism as a European cultural phenomenon should excite interest among a broad spectrum of historians and cultural studies scholars.
Published in German Studies Review, Vol. 20, No. 2 (May, 1997), pp. 343-344. Copyright 1997 German Studies Association.