What could Prohibition have to do with anti-Semitism? It’s easy to forget, now that the nationwide booze ban is popularly remembered mainly as a failed experiment that enabled lively speakeasies and empowered fearsome gangsters. But at the time, the issue was a classic cultural wedge, combining two unpleasant aspects of politics that remain with us today: baiting urban cosmopolitans and non-WASP immigrants. Who do you think represented the intersection point of those groups? According to historian Marni Davis, author of Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition, the battle over Prohibition reflected a larger conflict over what it meant to be American, especially for those whose religion didn’t feature the anti-alcohol strictures of prohibition’s evangelical supporters. Of course, it also had more tangible implications: According to family legend, the only nice word my grandfather—an FDR-hating, Republican, Jewish small businessman whose shop manufactured lighting fixtures—ever said about the 32nd president was after he OKed prohibition’s repeal, creating a whole new market for indoor lights.
Davis discusses her book at 7:30 p.m. at the D.C. Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St. NW. $10. dcjcc.org. (202) 518-9400.