Comments About the Golden Age’ – Dr. Les Adler

The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement” and our subsequent blog look to engage, entertain and inform on the dynamics and indeed the dynamic people behind the remarkable performance of the Jewish people.

From time to time we receive wonderful feedback from our readers, which we have included on our blog in a series we call ‘Comments About the Golden Age‘.

Our first came in the form of a letter from Mr. Les Adler. Les Adler has been a faculty member in the Hutchins School since 1970, serving also as Provost from 1977-1979 and from 1987-1997. Additionally, he spent a half-year teaching in England in 1983 for the American Institute for Foreign Study, and a year in Southeast Asia as Fulbright Professor of American history and foreign policy as the National University of Singapore in 1991-1992. He earned his BA degree in Russian and European history from the University of New Mexico in 1963 and his MA (1965) and Ph.D. (1970) degrees in American history from the University of California at Berkeley.

Les writes – “This is a much belated response to your excellent book on Jewish achievement. I greatly apologize for having taken so long to reply, but this spring break has actually been the first chance I’ve had to give it a thorough read and the type of thought it so clearly merits.

If I were reviewing it for a publication, I’d begin by describing it as a remarkable and even encyclopedic compendium of the history of individual achievement in the fields most central to Western development over the past two hundred years”with the focus on examining and explaining the disproportionate contribution of Jews.

But it is clearly even more than that. I find it fascinating as a sociological and historical document exploring the intersection between the cultural values of one particular group of people and the opportunistic requirements of a specific period of time. It is the opposite of deterministic history; rather, it makes the case for a type of historical readiness which may or may not find an appropriate outlet, given the surrounding temporal and social circumstances. How many mathematical, scientific, musical or artistic geniuses lived and died (or currently live and die) in circumstances where their gifts can neither be appreciated nor realized? And likewise, how many brilliantly gifted individuals were lost in the awful carnage of two World Wars, the holocaust and similar genocides? What you have written is a wonderful case study of culture in action, and I think you do a fine job of explaining away more deterministic (and dangerous) hypotheses involving various aspects of superiority, whether genetic or in some sense selected- or elected-for. Your own background is most apparent in the attention you give to leaders and innovators in business and finance, and the care you take not to allow that discussion or those examples to provide fuel for the conspiratorial-minded. I also like the balance you bring to the project, including both the positiveËœtzedaka” philanthropical side of the equation and the scandalous, negative side. I really hope that the book gets debated on its merits, not on quibbles over who got mentioned or left out, or exactly what categories were used.

This brings me to your concluding sections where, though I share your concerns about the loss of the vergeness of Jewish life in the modern world, and the consequent assimilationist threat to the sense of Jewish uniqueness, I’m also of the opinion that Jewish values have, in some sense, gone mainstream and may play an even larger, positive role in shaping the future. That is, if reactionary trends, fears of change, the search for absolutes and enemies destruction, denial and darkness.


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