Inventing Great Neck: Jewish Identity and the American Dream

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Rutgers University Press, 2006 - History - 205 pages
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Great Neck, New York, is one of America's most fascinating suburbs. Since the mid-nineteenth century, generations have been attracted to this once quiet enclave for its easy access to New York City and its tranquil setting by the Long Island Sound. It became an illustrious suburb, home to numerous film and theatrical luminaries, among them Groucho Marx, Eddie Cantor, Oscar Hammerstein II, and Alan King. Famous writers who lived there include Ring Lardner and, of course, F. Scott Fitzgerald, who used Great Neck as the inspiration for his classic novel The Great Gatsby.

Although frequently recognized as home to well-known personalities, Great Neck is also notable for the conspicuous way it transformed itself from a Gentile community, to a mixed one, and, finally, in the 1960s, to one in which Jews were the majority. In Inventing Great Neck, Judith Goldstein recounts these histories in which Great Neck emerges as a leader in the reconfiguration of the American suburb. The book spans four decades of rapid change, beginning with the 1920s. First, the community served as a playground for New York's socialites and celebrities. In the forties, it developed one of the country's most outstanding school systems and served as the temporary home to the United Nations. In the sixties it provided strong support to the civil rights movement.

Inventing Great Neck is about the allure of suburbia, including the institutions that bind it together, and the social, economic, cultural, and religious tensions that may threaten its vibrancy. Anyone who has lived in a suburban town, particularly one in the greater metropolitan area, will be intrigued by this rich narrative, which illustrates not only Jewish identity in America but the struggle of the American dream itself through the heart of the twentieth century.

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About the author (2006)

Judith S. Goldstein, a Great Neck native, is the founder and executive director of Humanity in Action, a foundation that sponsors educational programs for university students in Europe and the United States. She lives in New York City.

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