Jews, booze and the Prohibition

Prohibition was among the defining issues in American politics and civil life in the early 20th century. One thing made clear by “Prohibition,” a captivating three-part series directed by Ken Burns and televised October 2–4 by the Public Broadcasting Service, is that the division between “wets” and “drys” was determined by race, class and geography as much as by drinking habits; drys — largely rural, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant — used the alcohol issue to advance very different ideologies.

According to Daniel Okrent, author of “Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition” and featured in the series, one of the movement’s primary motivations was fear of losing the country to immigrants. Like other immigrants, Jews were caught in the crosshairs, having to renegotiate a relationship to alcohol at the same time as they negotiated an American identity.


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