"Sixty-six years after the creation of the State of Israel, jews in the Disapora still struggle to define its significance for our lives. Does the success of Zionism logically mean the ultimate demise of all communities of Jews outside of Israel? On the other hand, can Diaspora Judiasm simply continue as if the State of Israel did not exist? The Downfall of Abba Hillel Silver and the Foundation of Israel, a new book by Ofer Shiff of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, traces the early history of these debates through the depiction of Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver (1893-1963), one of the first and most prominent Reform rabbis to work toward the establishment of the State of Israel."—The Canadian Jewish News
"Shiff’s book on Silver is well worth reading if one is interested in that early Zionist moment when Israel was aborning, and the implicit contrast the author paints between Silver’s idealism and how things have turned out in real life gives readers much to think about."—St. Louis Jewish Light
In early February 1949, American Jewry’s most popular and powerful leader, Abba Hillel Silver (1893–1963), had summarily resigned from all his official positions within the Zionist movement and had left New York for Cleveland, returning to his post as a Reform rabbi. During the second half of the 1940s, Silver was the most outspoken proponent of the founding of a sovereign Jewish state. He was the most instrumental American Jewish leader in the political struggle that led to the foundation of the State of Israel. Paradoxically, this historic victory also heralded Silver’s personal defeat.
Soon after Israel’s declaration of independence, Silver and many of his American Zionist colleagues were relegated to the sidelines of the Zionist movement. Almost overnight, the influential leader—one who had been admired and feared by supporters and opponents—was stripped of his power within both the Zionist and the American Jewish arenas.
Shiff’s book discerns the various aspects of the striking turnabout in Silver’s political fate, describing the personal tragic story of a leader who was defeated by his own victory and the much broader intra-Zionist battle that erupted in full force immediately after the founding of Israel. Drawing extensively on Silver’s own archival material, Shiff presents an enlightening portrait of a critical episode in Jewish history. This book is highly relevant for anyone who attempts to understand the complex homeland–diaspora relations between Israel and American Jewry.
Ofer Shiff is professor of Jewish history at Ben-Gurion University, where he served as director of the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Studies of Israel and Zionism from 2001 to 2004. He is the author of Survival through Integration: American Reform Jewish Universalism and the Holocaust and is the editor of the Hebrew periodical Iyunim Bitkumat Israel (Studies in Israeli and Modern Jewish Society), Thematic Series.