American Jewish Life, 1980-2000

Political and Social Integration

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Other marginalized groups also asserted their rights to equality in Jewish life. The World Congress of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Jews was officially founded in 1980 under the name Keshet Ga'avah (Rainbow of Pride) to represent the interests of LGBT Jews and supports their organizations. Today, some 50 organizations are part of the World Congress, among them LGBT synagogues across the United States.

A Changing Community

The American Jewish community underwent significant change in structure during this period, opting in 1999 to combine the United Jewish Appeal, the Council of Jewish Federations, and the United Israel Appeal under one roof. The result of the merger of these three organizations, United Jewish Communities, is the umbrella body that represents more than 150 Jewish federations and 400 independent Jewish communities across North America.

The world of American Jewish politics also grew more diverse between 1980 and 2000, becoming inextricably tied to developments in Israel. Jews and Arabs continued to struggle to work out a lasting peace in the Middle East, but there were repeated terrorist attacks against Israelis. Accompanying security measures taken by the Israeli government were both defended and criticized by Americans. Meanwhile, the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993 offered great hope for finally establishing peace in the Middle East.

American Jews also evinced greater consciousness of the past. The Holocaust rose to the surface of American Jewish memory and culture. In the 1980s and 1990s, virtually every American city built a Holocaust memorial; the opening of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1993 was a widely touted event. As Holocaust survivors diminished in number, Jewish communities perceived an urgent need to preserve the memories of those who perished. Anti-Semitism in contemporary American life was not forgotten on account of a few, but major incidents--in particular the Crown Heights riots of 1991.

A handful of events and political battles no doubt darkened this period, and anticipated challenges to be faced in the coming decades. On balance, however, American Jewry fared remarkably well on the eve of the 350th anniversary of their arrival in this country.

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Valerie S. Thaler

Valerie S. Thaler is a Ph.D. student in the Judaic Studies Program at Yale, where she concentrates on 20th-century American Jewish history. She is beginning dissertation research on American Jewish identity in the 1950s. An alumna of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, Valerie received her M.A. in Judaic Studies and Jewish Education from Brandeis, and has her B.A. in American Studies from Yale.