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Starstruck in the Promised Land

How the Arts Shaped American Passions about Israel

By Shalom Goldman

256 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 9 halftones, 1 map, notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-5241-2
    Published: October 2019
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-5242-9
    Published: August 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 issues, such as cultural boycotts, in planning their itineraries.

About the Author

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.

For more information about Shalom Goldman, visit the Author Page.


"Effectively highlights the left-right division that is splitting much of the world."--Kirkus Reviews

"This detailed history will provide any reader interested in U.S.-Israel relations an accessible overview of a complex social and political relationship."--Publishers Weekly

“The author effectively explores the complicated relationship between Israel and American culture heroes in a time when sympathy is generally offered to the perceived underdog. This exceptionally engaging and well-researched book is highly recommended.”--CHOICE

“An exploration of the role that art and artists have played in mediating and manifesting the ‘special relationship’ between the United States and Israel. . . . Engaging and illuminating. . . . For those seeking to enjoy a collection of intriguing episodes about that relationship, curated and explained by an accomplished scholar who has himself been tangled in it.”--Reading Religion

“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