Sandy Koufax, Lenny Bruce, Bob Dylan, and Barbra Streisand first came to public attention in the early 1960s, a period Kaufman identifies as historically ripe for American Jews to reexamine their (Jewish) identities. All four achieved extraordinary success in their respective fields and became celebrities within an American context, while at the same time they were clearly identifiable as Jews—although they were perceived to be Jewish in very different ways. Kaufman investigates these celebrities’ rise to fame, the specific brand of Jewishness each one represented, and how their fans and the public at large perceived their ethnic identity as Jews. Situating Koufax, Bruce, Dylan, and Streisand within the larger history of American Jewish celebrity, Kaufman argues that the four early 1960s figures represent a turning point between celebrity Jews of the past—such as Hank Greenberg, Groucho Marx, Irving Berlin, and Fanny Brice—and those of the present, such as Jon Stewart, Matisyahu, and Natalie Portman. Providing an entry into Jewish celebrity studies, this lively narrative explores the intersection between popular celebrity and Jewish identity and thereby examines the cultural construction of Jewishness in the latter half of the twentieth century.
DAVID E. KAUFMAN is an associate professor of religion and the Florence and Robert Kaufman Chair in Jewish Studies at Hofstra University.
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