As a result of World War I and the rise of global communism, the United States became consumed with a fear of those who threatened “traditional American values.” The “Tribal Twenties,” as they were dubbed by historian John Higham, were plagued by isolationism, nativism, racism, and anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic sentiments. It was with these prevailing sentiments that the Ku Klux Klan again rose to great power, after it had been quashed by the US government in the 1870s.
Hatred of Jews spread in print when Henry Ford purchased the Dearborn Independent, in which he espoused a world Jewish conspiracy in a series of articles known as “The International Jew: The World’s Problem.” Similar to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which Ford also disseminated, his sponsored writings in the 1920s alleged that Jews controlled the world’s finances, championed radical revolution, and orchestrated the recent World War.
National Original Immigration Act
The National Original Immigration (John-Reed) Act of 1924 contributed to the growing isolationism, by severely reducing the number of immigrants able to come to America and setting limits for each nation of origin. Before and during World War II, this act was the reason that scores of Jews seeking asylum from Nazi-occupied Europe were turned away by the United States.
Jews were also shut out of many areas of social and educational life in America. Quotas at most of the country’s top universities, restrictions in exclusive neighborhoods, and bans at country clubs and resorts forced Jews to create their own opportunities and organizations. With this “self-segregation,” cultural separatism persisted.
The Interfaith Movement
Yet amidst all of this, the interfaith movement emerged as religious leaders came together in a spirit of goodwill. This was driven by those leaders who viewed the pervasive intolerance as un-Christian. The cause was also helped by soldiers and chaplains who had served with people of various backgrounds, living together in close quarters and defending each other’s lives.
The National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) became the largest and most active organizational arm of the interfaith movement in 1927. It was known for its educational programs, the most famous of which were the “tolerance trios”–groups comprised of Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish clergy who traveled together around the country to advocate for understanding among faith groups.