Cover image for Jacob H. Schiff : a study in American Jewish leadership
Jacob H. Schiff : a study in American Jewish leadership
Cohen, Naomi W. (Naomi Wiener), 1927-
Publication Information:
Hanover, NH : University Press of New England [for] Brandeis University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiv, 320 pages : portrait ; 24 cm.
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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E184.37.S37 C64 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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The life of Jacob Schiff (1847 - 1920), banker, financier, and leader of the American Jewish community from 1880 to 1920, is in many ways the quintessential story of an immigrant's success in America. Born in Frankfurt in 1847, Schiff worked in several financial firms in Germany and the US before accepting a position at the New York banking firm of Kuhn, Loeb & Company in 1875 and settling for good in America. Part of a wealthy and powerful German Jewish circle that included the Warburgs and Rothschilds, Schiff played a central role in shaping American and European Jewish history. From his base on Wall Street, he was the foremost Jewish leader in what became known as the "Schiff era," grappling with all major issues and problems of the day, including the plight of Russian Jews under the czar, American and international anti-Semitism, care of needy Jewish immigrants, and the rise of Zionism. Based on a broad range of primary sources, Naomi W. Cohen's study emphasizes the role Schiff played as the preeminent leader of American Jewry at the turn of the century.

Author Notes

Winner of several American Jewish book awards, Naomi W. Cohen lives in Jerusalem.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Schiff was a prominent figure in his day, head of the investment banking firm of Kuehn, Loeb & Co. and an activist for Jewish causes. Cohen's aim is to rescue Schiff from "undeserved oblivion" and also to explore the business and industrial culture of the time, the insularity of Jewish-owned businesses, and the consciousness of their owners, typified by Schiff. He was part of the second wave of German Jewish immigrants to the U.S. in the late 1800s and aggressively promoted the interests of eastern European Jews, urging assimilation and supporting aid societies, hospitals, schools, and charitable organizations. His ardent support for Zionism and belief in an elite leadership provoked criticism from Jews and non-Jews alike. Schiff advocated assimilation of Jewish immigrants but supported the maintenance of the distinct Jewish religious and cultural heritage. Hypersensitive about the image of Jews, Schiff used his business acumen and ability to interpret long-term economic and social trends to foresee changes that would impact Jews in the U.S. Very interesting and informative. --Vanessa Bush

Choice Review

Cohen has written an illuminating narrative of the public life of Jacob H. Schiff (1847-1920), arguably the most distinguished and effective leader of his generation. Mining extensively the letters of the Schiff Archives, Cohen in one chapter limns Schiff's extraordinary professional life--his rise to fabulous wealth as head of Kuhn, Loeb, the Wall Street investment banking firm, and the prestige and power that he therefore enjoyed--to more comprehensively demonstrate how Schiff used all these assets to serve as the preeminent Jewish communal diplomat, lobbyist, and philanthropist. A benevolent though kindhearted despot who used philanthropy for social control, an ethnic broker who mediated Jewish interests in the US by insinuating his visions of American-Jewish synthesis and the need for Jewish unity into communal affairs, Schiff, as Cohen so ably shows, exerted potent and unparalleled leadership in the spheres of Jewish welfare, education, and immigrant resettlement, as well as in the general civic area. Ever defending Jewish rights and honor, he locked horns publicly with American presidents and foreign governments (notably Czarist Russia) on behalf of American and world Jewry. Impressively written and documented, this book about an incredible communal steward of a bygone era is valuable and informative for scholars, community leaders, and general readers alike. B. Kraut; CUNY Queens College

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
1. The Making of a Leaderp. 1
2. Leadership and Philanthropyp. 41
3. The New Immigrantsp. 82
4. Captivity and Redemptionp. 124
5. In Search of a Refugep. 153
6. The World at Warp. 189
Questions of Loyaltyp. 189
Questions of Leadershipp. 209
Questions of Zionism and Unityp. 224
7. The End of an Erap. 238
Notesp. 251
Indexp. 301