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A Jewish Family’s Twentieth Century Story

With Hanukkah upon us, the story of a Jewish family made and broken in the 20th century in David Laskin’s “The Family.”

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, and Rabbi Abraham Shemtov participate in the annual National Menorah Lighting on the Ellipse near the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013. For the first time since the late 1800s – and for the last time until some 70,000 years from now – the first day of hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving. (AP)

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, and Rabbi Abraham Shemtov participate in the annual National Menorah Lighting on the Ellipse near the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013. For the first time since the late 1800s – and for the last time until some 70,000 years from now – the first day of hanukkah falls on Thanksgiving. (AP)

“The pulse of history beats in every family,” writes David Laskin.  His own Jewish family, he writes in a new history, was made and broken by the 20th century.  Three strands out of Eastern Europe.  One to America and a fortune making Maidenform bras.  One to Israel, and sweat of the brow toil and settlement.  One to misery and mass graves in the Holocaust.  “Open the book of you family, and you will be amazed” at what you find, Laskin writes.  For his Jewish family and many others, the 20th century was epically dramatic. This hour On Point:  One family, three paths in a century of change.

– Tom Ashbrook

Guest

David Laskin, journalist, historian and author. Author of “The Family: Three Journeys Into the Heart of the Twentieth Century.” Also author of “The Children’s Blizzard,” “The Long Way Home: An American Journey from Ellis Island to the Great War,” “Braving the Elements: The Stormy History of American Weather” and “Partisans: Marriage, Politics, and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals.” (@DavidLaskin)

From Tom’s Reading List

USA Today: ‘Cultural’ Jew label grates on me –”If she has children, I’m sure my daughter will pass on as much of her knowledge and reverence as the children are willing to absorb. The Pew study’s ‘Jews by religion’ will say none of that counts because my daughter isn’t Jewish and thus her children won’t be Jewish either. I say these are narrow categories that leave no room for imagination, for curiosity, for inspiration, for true holiness.”

The Washington Post: ‘The Family: Three Journeys into the Heart of the Twentieth Century’ by David Laskin (Review) — “The story is no easier to read when told in Laskin’s understated prose than it is in the countless other documents we have about the Holocaust. But no matter how many times the tale is told, it demands to be read. Told as it is in the history of this one family, it becomes a metaphor of sorts for the 20th century, one in which incredible good fortune was granted to some and incomprehensible agony to others.”

Pew Research Center: A Portrait of Jewish Americans – “This shift in Jewish self-identification reflects broader changes in the U.S. public. Americans as a whole – not just Jews – increasingly eschew any religious affiliation. Indeed, the share of U.S. Jews who say they have no religion (22%) is similar to the share of religious ‘nones’ in the general public (20%), and religious disaffiliation is as common among all U.S. adults ages 18-29 as among Jewish Millennials (32% of each).”

Read An Excerpt From “The Family: Three Journeys Into The Heart Of the Twentieth Century” by David Laskin

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