Starstruck in the Promised Land
How the Arts Shaped American Passions about Israel
by Shalom Goldman
Pub Date 07 Oct 2019
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From the days of steamship travel to Palestine to today's evangelical Christian tours of Jesus’s birthplace, the relationship between the United States and the Holy Land has become one of the world’s most consequential international alliances. While the political side of U.S.-Israeli relations has long played out on the world stage, the relationship, as Shalom Goldman shows in this illuminating cultural history, has also played out on actual stages. Telling the stories of the American superstars of pop and high culture who journeyed to Israel to perform, lecture, and rivet fans, Goldman chronicles how the creative class has both expressed and influenced the American relationship with Israel.
The galaxy of stars who have made headlines for their trips includes Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Leonard Bernstein, James Baldwin, Barbra Streisand, Whitney Houston, Madonna, and Scarlett Johansson. While diverse socially and politically, they all served as prisms for the evolution of U.S.-Israeli relations, as Israel, the darling of the political and cultural Left in the 1950s and early 1960s, turned into the darling of the political Right from the late 1970s. Today, as relations between the two nations have only intensified, stars must consider highly fraught isssues, such as cultural boycotts, in planning their itineraries.
Shalom Goldman, a popular opinion writer on U.S.-Israeli affairs and librettist of Philip Glass's opera Akhnaten, is professor of religion at Middlebury College. Among his books are Zeal for Zion and God’s Sacred Tongue.
“A riveting tale, neatly told, with wit and passion to spare. To say I gobbled up this book would not be an overstatement: Starstruck in the Promised Land is a superbly readable and knowledgeable work of cultural history. Goldman tackles one of the most puzzling and profoundly important subjects at hand--the American obsession with Israel, going back centuries now. And he reads this unlikely story through the lens of celebrity artists and intellectuals, from Mark Twain to such unlikely figures as Leonard Bernstein, Saul Bellow, Johnny Cash, Dylan, Streisand, Madonna, and so many others. Israel has formed this gigantic psychological screen onto which Americans seem compelled to project, even locate, their destinies."--Jay Parini, author of Promised Land: Thirteen Books that Changed America and The Damascus Road: A Novel of Saint Paul
“This ambitious and far-ranging book colorfully contributes what no other book does to our understanding of the “special relationship” that the United States has developed with Israel. This volume is a terrific accomplishment.”--Stephen J. Whitfield, author of In Search of American Jewish Culture
“A brave book, with new insights into the workings of cultural diplomacy and soft power between the United States and Israel, Starstruck in the Promised Land reveals a powerful perspective on the role that celebrity pop culture has played in U.S.-Israeli relations. The book sheds new light on how and why the two nations have developed a uniquely close, almost codependent relationship, currently as vexed as ever. The author’s own experiences on the ground in Israel are especially compelling.”--David W. Stowe, author of Song of Exile and No Sympathy for the Devil