Arthur Samuelson

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“We were so careful. We argued over every word to make sure that nobody could ever accuse us of being anti-Israeli, and then they did anyway. So, we could have had a lot more fun, because the result would have been the same. We could have been a lot braver too …Our act of trying to show how good we were is what was creating so much opposition to us. On the other hand, had we not been so careful, no one would have paid any attention to us.”

Peace Activism
1975-1977
Breira

Interview Date
July 8, 2015

Interviewed By
Aliza Becker

The Interview

Arthur Samuelson was involved in both civil rights and antiwar protests in the late 1960s. The nationalist turn in black politics led him to ponder questions of his own identity. “Somewhere along the line in that conversation it occurred to me that maybe I'm not actually an American. Maybe being Jewish made me different than what this category of slave-owning whites had been, and that made me sort of interested in thinking about being Jewish in a different way.”  He met a shaliach from a kibbutz and was deeply intrigued, and he went to Kibbutz Ein Gev in the Galilee. “In 1969 there were a lot of ways to drive your parents crazy, and somehow I knew that sex, drugs, rock 'n roll or revolution wouldn't drive my parents crazy, but going to Israel would. So, that was the one I chose. Everybody chose one of those, so that was the one I chose.”

“In 1969 Israel was a very different place than it is today, and it was a great place to be. I sort of fell in love with Hebrew, which I'd hated when I had to do it, but when it was connected to something real and it made a difference in being able to obtain things or to express myself…. It was an adventure. It was really exciting and interesting…Israel was very Zionist then. I would…hitchhike around the country. I'd hitchhike through the West Bank. Something you can't do anymore. It says how much the conflict had changed. The idea that being Jewish was a nationality… that was news to me. Nobody had ever talked about it like that, and I decided I'd better find out about this.”

So he stayed in Israel for the next two years, working at a Habonim summer camp and enrolling at the University of Tel Aviv. “Israel was this intense country where there was a range of opinions expressed on the television or in the Knesset or in the newspaper that was way broader than anything like here in the United States. It wasn't enough to have one Communist Party. You had to have two Communist Parties that hated each other… Everybody had an opinion about everything, and they weren't just interested in hearing your opinion. They were interested in persuading you why theirs was right and yours was wrong about politics.” It was a heady, exhilarating time. “They had experienced the miracle of winning the Six-Day War. It was 1969. Israel had gone from this place of feeling like a powerless, terrified… and now being this conquering hero… They were very, very proud of themselves, and they had this attitude that they were sort of like the center of the world which coming from the United States seemed kind of peculiar to me and out of that atmosphere came Gush Emunim.”

Biography

Arthur Samuelson was born in 1951, and grew up in Irvington-on-Hudson, in Westchester County, north of New York City. He did not have a strong connection to Judaism or Jewish matters when growing up. After high school, he spent several years moving between Israel and the United States, becoming active in Israeli politics as an editor and writer. He graduated from Hampshire College in 1975 with a thesis on “The Development of Israeli Left Attitudes Towards the Palestinian Question," tracing the obliviousness of many in the left of center Israeli parties toward the political existence of the Palestinians. 

In 1975, he became editor of the Breira monthly magazine interChange. After its demise in 1977, he worked as a journalist on Israeli matters for major American publications. Thereafter he had a distinguished career as a publisher, working for Simon and Schuster, Harper Collins as senior editor, and Schocken Books, Random House, and Paragon House as editorial director.  His career has been varied; running an internet startup dedicated to food journalism, working for America’s Second Harvest, a national network of food banks; one year as a second-grade teacher in the South Bronx, a term as Hillel director at NYU, and involvement with Jewish educational philanthropies. He currently is director of programming at the Rowe Center, a retreat center in western Massachusetts.

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