(Brandeis University)

The Advancement of Jews in America

With his election on January 6, Jon Ossoff became the first Jewish senator from Georgia. Soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Chuck Shumer is the first Jew in that position. Jews continue to break barriers in the American political world, despite prejudices against them. Throughout the nation’s history, the presence of successful Jews in politics has served to combat anti-Semitic fervor and allow for the acceptance of Jewish people into the American “melting pot.” When anti-Semitism peaked in the nation, so did the advancements of Jews to battle prejudices. 

The United States was a deeply prejudiced nation from the 1920s to the 1940s as a result of isolationism and conservatism that emerged in reaction to the Jazz Age and Great Depression. In times of drastic change, people tend to blame outsider groups for their problems, thus scapegoating the Jews. The 1920s ushered in drastic changes in city lives, as African American populations grew in northern cities, women explored their political freedoms with their right to vote, and nativists began to resent immigrants who had created distinct ethnic neighborhoods and encroached on low-wage jobs. In reaction to such changes, conservatives wished for the old American way of life, repudiating the existence of Jews in a functioning American society. In the 1930s, when the Great Depression created staggering levels of unemployment, stressed Americans looked for a source to blame, and the burden fell upon the Jews. In fact, America’s eventual entrance into World War II was not focused upon saving European Jews from the horrors of the Holocoaust, but instead helping political, economic, and moral allies in France and Britain. A nationwide sentiment of opposition to the Jews was prevalent. 

But despite these prejudices, Louis Brandeis was a prominent force on the Supreme Court. Appointed to the Supreme Court in 1916 by President Woodrow Wilson, Justice Brandeis became the first Jewish judge to serve in the highest court in the United States. He played an important role in shaping and defining the new Federal Reserve through court rulings. Most importantly, he became a public advocate, seeking to protect individuals from the abuses of big business, a belief that was unpopular during the “roaring twenties” but soon was appreciated in the Great Depression. In Gilbert v. Minnesota (1920) and Whitney v. California (1927), Justice Brandeis strongly defended free speech and the rights of individuals. In Olmstead v. In The United States (1928), he defended individuals’ right to privacy.

Louis Brandeis was an advocate for the individual, and stood up for all Americans to intimidating and powerful businesses. In a time where Jews were seen as literal devils and undeserving of American citizenship, Justice Brandeis proved to the nation the true abilities of Jews by securing all citizens the unalienable rights promised in the Declaration of Independence. He proved the worth of Jews and their essential contributions to American society. 

In the years that followed, Jews became more accepted as prominent members of american society. Since Brandeis, there have been 8 Justices appointed to the supreme court. The atrocities of the Hollocaust and the creation of the Israeli state changed American attitudes towards Jews for the better. Anti-semetic sentiment is less evident today, and even these ideas cannot stop the progress of Jews. 

Sources

https://www.brandeis.edu/about/louis-brandeis.html
https://supremecourthistory.org/timeline_brandeis.html
https://www.archives.gov/nhprc/projects/catalog/louis-brandeis

Carly Brail is a sophomore at the High School of American Studies in New York. She is a Staff Writer for Fresh Ink for Teens.

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