I n 2000 there were 6,150,000 Jews in the United States, accounting for about 2 percent of the population. The Jews came to the United States from a variety of nations. They have a very long and unique history among the peoples of the world. Judaism is the oldest monotheistic religion (religion whose supporters believe in one god) in the history of modern human life. Throughout history the Jews were persecuted (abused and oppressed) and sent into exile (sent away from one's homeland). In all their worldwide migrations, they maintained their identity as Jews. In the words of historian Paul Johnson: "The Jews created a separate and specific identity earlier than almost any other people, an identity that still survives. They have maintained it, amid appalling adversities, right up to the present."
The biblical account of Jewish history starts in Canaan, which comprises present-day Israel and parts of Jordan. The Jews settled there thousands of years ago in two kingdoms, the kingdom of Israel in the north and the kingdom of Judah in the south. In 722 b.c.e. most of the northern tribes of Israel were expelled, but the tribes in Judah remained. The land, though, was dominated by other states and empires. Jews began to move to other cities, where they could study and carry on in their own traditions. By the sixth centuryc.e., Jews had become a minority in Israel. They migrated to places such as Egypt and Babylon, which became a great Jewish center. A large population of Jews immigrated to Europe, most notably to Spain, where they prospered for hundreds of years.
Starting around the eleventh century, however, outbreaks of anti-Semitism and violence against the Jews became more and more frequent throughout Europe. Anti-Semitism within the Christian Church had been significant from its foundation, but there were long periods when Christians and Jews interacted peacefully, if not always equally, in certain parts of Europe. Historians disagree to the exact causes, but beginning in the late eleventh to the late twelfth century, hostility among Christians toward Jews increased considerably. In England, wild rumors began about a Jewish ritual, "blood libel," in which a Christian child was killed. In 1189, the Third Crusade, in which the Roman Catholic pope called upon European nations to reconquer the Holy Land in Palestine, aroused Christian zealotry.
By the twelfth century, Jews were persecuted throughout Europe. They could not own land and were restricted to just a few occupations, such as moneylending and trading. In many European cities, Jewish ghettos were established, isolating Jews from the rest of the population. (A ghetto is an area within a city where members of a minority group live, often not by choice but because they have been isolated from the community, owing to discrimination or ethnic prejudice.) In 1209 the Jews were expelled from England, and about one hundred years later they were expelled from France. In 1492 they were expelled from Spain, when the country was united under a Catholic king and queen. Many Jews fled to Poland, where, although they were persecuted, they were able to create a thriving culture.
Coming to the New World
The earliest Jews to come to the Americas came, directly or indirectly, from Spain. Spain had been ruled by North African Muslims called Moors since the eighth century. Under the Moors, the Jews had prospered. But the Spanish Jews suddenly faced persecution beginning around 1469. At that time the two largest Christian kingdoms of Spain united when Isabella of Castile (1451–1504) and Ferdinand of Aragon (1452–1516) married and took the Spanish throne. The Spanish Inquisition began, an effort to root out all religious beliefs that were not Roman Catholic; the effort was directed especially at the Moors and the Jews. The inquisition courts used torture and burning at the stake to achieve its ends. In 1492 all Jews in Spain were given the choice of expulsion (leaving their home) or conversion (changing their religious beliefs) to Christianity. Hundreds of thousands left, many going to Portugal or to parts of North Africa and others going to Poland.
Jewish Immigration: Fact Focus
- At the time of the American Revolution, there were about fifteen hundred Jews living in America. Many were Sephardic, or Spanish Jews.
- German Jews began to immigrate to the United States in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Between 1836 and 1850 the Jewish community grew from fewer than fifteen thousand to about fifty thousand. Two hundred new synagogues were constructed across the nation during the 1840s and 1850s.
- Between 1881 and 1914, two million Eastern European Jews arrived in the United States. They usually arrived in family groups.
- In 1939, over nine hundred Jews fleeing from Nazi Germany became stranded on their ship, the St. Louis, in Cuba's harbors. They tried desperately to contact President Franklin Roosevelt (1882–1945), but the United States would not let them land on its shores and they were forced to sail back to an uncertain fate in Europe.
- Between the 1960s and the late 1990s, approximately a half million Soviet Jews have immigrated to the United States.
The Jews who became Christians were called conversos. Many conversos were among the Spanish and Portuguese explorers and settlers who went to Mexico and South America in the 1500s. There were Jews on Christopher Columbus's
Jewish Immigration: Words to Know
- The belief that governments are unnecessary and should be eliminated, and that the social world should be organized through the cooperative efforts of the people within it. Some anarchists have encouraged violence to overthrow the government.
- Hostility to, or discrimination against, all Jews as a group.
- European Jews who lived in France or Germany before migrating to Eastern Europe.
- The way that someone who comes from a foreign land or culture becomes absorbed into a culture and learns to blend into the ways of its predominant, or main, society.
- Someone who lives in and participates in a political community or country, who has fulfilled the requirements for citizenship as set out by the government. Citizens can expect certain rights and privileges from their government, such as voting or military defense, and at the same time the government has a right to expect its citizens to obey its laws.
- A group of people living as a political community in a land away from their home country but ruled by the home country.
- An economic theory that does not include the concept of private property. Instead, the public (usually represented by the government) owns the goods and the means to produce them in common.
- Unfair treatment based on racism or other prejudices.
- Leaving one's country to go to another country with the intention of living there. "Emigrant" is used to describe departing from one's country—for example, "she emigrated from Ireland."
- A distinct cultural or nationality unit within a foreign territory.
- Being sent away from one's homeland.
- An area within a city where members of a minority group live, often not by choice but because they have been isolated from the community due to discrimination or ethnic prejudice.
- To travel to a country of which one is not a native with the intention of settling there as a permanent resident. "Immigrant" is used to describe coming to a new country—for example, "she immigrated to the United States."
- Labor unions:
- Organizations that bring workers together to advance their interests in terms of getting better wages and working conditions.
- To move from one place to another, not necessarily across national borders.
- In the United States, a set of beliefs that centers around favoring the interests of people who are native-born to the country (though generally not concerning Native Americans) as opposed to its immigrants.
- The process of becoming a citizen.
- New World:
- The Western Hemisphere, including North and South America.
- Orthodox Jews:
- Those who strictly adhere to the Jewish traditions and rituals.
- Abusive and oppressive treatment.
- State-sponsored massacres of innocent and helpless people.
- An assigned proportion.
- The Refugee Act of 1980 defines a refugee as a person who has left the country in which he or she last lived and is unable to return to that country "because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." Once a person is determined to be a refugee in the United States, he or she is entitled to federal assistance in settling into a home and finding a job and in getting English-language training, temporary cash loans, and necessary medical services.
- A formal act that is performed in a ceremony or other religious observation and is usually done the same way each time.
- The day of rest and worship; the Jewish Sabbath starts on Friday evening and ends Saturday evening.
- Jews who came from Spain or Portugal.
- Small towns and villages with a predominantly Jewish population.
- The first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; to an Orthodox Jew Torah means the entire body of Jewish law.
- The international movement seeking the return of the Jewish people to their ancient homelands in Palestine and the creation of a Jewish state there.
(1451–1506) first expedition to the New World in 1492, as well as with Hernán Cortés (1485–1547) as he explored and conquered central Mexico. In the seventeenth century, hundreds of Spanish Jews sailed across the Atlantic to settle in the new Dutch colony of Recife in Brazil, the first colony of the New World to welcome Jews.
Two major immigrant streams of Jews came to early America: the Ashkenazim, or European Jews, and the Sephardim, or Spanish Jews. The Ashkenazim spoke a variety of languages, but Yiddish, a German dialect with Hebrew elements and written in Hebrew characters, was the common language among them. Sephardic Jews spoke a language called Ladino that came from medieval Spanish. The Hebrew language was used for prayer by the more Orthodox Jews (those who strictly adhered to the Jewish traditions and rituals).
The first recorded Jewish immigrants in North America came to the Dutch West India Company's settlement of New Netherland in 1654. In the summer, two Dutch Jewish traders arrived in New Amsterdam (later the New York City area). That same year twenty-three Sephardic Jews fled to New Amsterdam from Recife after the Portuguese defeated the Dutch there and prohibited non-Catholics from remaining. The Jewish families were not warmly welcomed in New Amsterdam, but they were allowed to stay. The next year, Jewish merchants from Amsterdam arrived in New Amsterdam. In 1656 they asked local authorities for permission "to purchase a burying place," and this was granted. Buying cemetery space was generally the first step for establishing a Jewish community in the New World. All told, before the English conquest of 1664 there might have been as many as fifty Jews in New Netherland, although not all at the same time.
By the time the English took over New Netherland in 1664 there was no Jewish community left there. Many returned to Europe and the few remaining had scattered in the colonies. Small numbers of Jewish immigrants began arriving in the new British colony of New York. Between 1690 and 1710 Jews of Anglo-German extraction immigrated to New York. By 1692 they worshiped as the congregation Shearith Israel at a house on Beaver Street. In 1730 they built the first synagogue (the house of worship in which a Jewish congregation meets) in North America. At the time of the American Revolution (1775–83) about four hundred Jews lived in New York City. Single families also settled in various other New York towns, but the city remained the heart of the Jewish community. Jewish communities also existed in Rhode Island; Charleston, South Carolina; and Georgia.
After the revolution: Jews in the United States
There were few Jews in the early United States, no more than fifteen hundred in 1790, growing slowly to perhaps twenty-seven hundred in 1820. They were concentrated in a few communities: Newport, Rhode Island; New York City; Philadelphia and Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Richmond, Virginia; Charleston, North Carolina; and Savannah, Georgia.
Maintaining a synagogue was vital to a Jewish community. Philadelphia built its first permanent synagogue in 1782. Charleston's synagogue, though organized earlier, finally got built in 1794. New York City replaced its old building in 1818. These buildings were visible symbols of optimistic communities. They were also centers of a plentiful ritual life, centering on the scrolls on which the Torah, the Jewish law, is written. When the Philadelphia synagogue opened, the entire Jewish community marched the Torah scrolls to the new building in a solemn parade and then carried them around the reading platform and into the ark on the building's wall, where they were to be kept, all in accordance with tradition. The synagogue was the place where the community gathered together for weekly services, including readings from the Torah. The synagogues were each led by a cantor, the hazan, an official who sings and leads the prayers, for there were no trained rabbis in the United States before the 1840s. (Rabbis are people trained in Jewish law, ritual, and tradition, and ordained for leadership of a Jewish congregation.)
Most Jews in the days of the newly formed United States lived within walking distance of their synagogue, which was the center of their community. The synagogues built in this period looked like America's Protestant churches; Charleston's even had a spire. The hazan likewise resembled a Protestant minister, wearing simple black robes rather than more traditional garb, joining the Protestant clergy in planning citywide thanksgiving days, and preaching sermons (which even rabbis did not do before the nineteenth century).
Four synagogues congratulated President George Washington (1732–1799) on his 1789 inauguration (his official induction into the office of president) in a joint "Address to the President of the United States." Both this address and a similar one issued by the Newport synagogue took up the question of religious freedom, suggesting how central this right was to the communal identity of Jews as religious Americans. Washington responded to the Jews' messages by repeating their own words, assuring them that the United States "gives bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance." Despite this speech, Jews in the first years of the new nation also experienced the limits of religious freedom. For example, most states excluded all non-Christians from public office.
Early American Jews were faced with discrimination from outside but also struggled with internal problems. One was their small numbers, which made their communities hard to sustain. Besides the low rate of immigration, there were some major differences within the Jewish community. Most immigrants before 1800 were Sephardic Jews, whose rituals differed from those of Ashkenazic Jews, who immigrated in greater numbers in later years. (This was to be an ongoing problem in the United States. The Sephardic Jews acted as the elite when the German Jews came to the country. Later, when the Eastern European Jews arrived, the German Jews set themselves up as the superiors of the Eastern European Jews.) In the early Republic, it soon became clear that the newcomers did not necessarily like the Sephardic rites that most American synagogues at the time followed. In 1802 a group from the Philadelphia synagogue separated and formed the first Ashkenazic synagogue.
The Haskala, or Jewish Enlightenment, in Europe
Meanwhile, some profound changes were taking place within Jewish communities of Europe that would
have lasting significance for future immigrants to the United States. The philosophical movement known as the Enlightenment had begun to spread throughout Europe in the eighteenth century, bringing with it a belief in science, reason, and the ability of human beings to create a rational order in their world. The new movement created a significant change in the status of the Jews. The idea of separation between church and state enabled Jews to integrate into the general society more than had been possible with the religious barriers of the more Christian-oriented philosophies in the past.
Philosophical perceptions among Jews, particularly young, middle-class Jews in major cities, were influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment. The "Haskala" (Hebrew for "enlightenment"), a philosophical concept initiated by German-Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786), influenced the Jewish society. The Haskala movement advocated assimilation, making Jews, though of a different religion, full members of the general European society. (Assimilation is the way that someone who comes from a foreign land or culture becomes absorbed into the surrounding culture and learns to blend into the ways of its predominant, or main, society.) The perception was that Jews could become citizens of the state and integrate themselves into the political and economic sphere. These modern ideas were not readily accepted by many European Jews. Orthodox Jews followed rigorous religious observance. They were conservative in their political views, rejecting the secular (nonreligious) world and refusing to assimilate into mainstream Western culture.
Scholarship (knowledge resulting from extensive research) was one of the central foundations of Judaism. (For this reason, Jews have had a very high rate of literacy throughout the ages.) It was the religious duty and honor of Jewish men to study the Torah as often and as deeply as they could. (Torah usually refers to the first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—but to an Orthodox Jew it means the entire body of Jewish law.) To read and learn the Jewish law was considered to be the pathway to God. Jewish schools of higher learning called yeshivas were dedicated to this teaching. The devotion to education and reading shaped the culture of Jews, emphasizing intellect, values, and tradition over physical activity and worldly goods. The study of ancient texts did not, however, advance people in an understanding of modern politics, arts, or philosophy, and by the nineteenth century the world was rapidly changing.
A very different form of Judaism, called the Hasidic movement, was also gaining momentum. Hasidism began among working-class Jews in eighteenth-century Poland. Hasidism was a mystical form of Judaism that brought new joy and emotional fervor to religious devotion, in sharp contrast to the sober, dry, and often elitist focus on scholarly study that dominated the religious life of Eastern European Jews of the time. Each Hasidic community was led by its own rabbi, or tzaddik (holy man), a revered figure whose blessings and advice were sought for virtually all undertakings by members of the community. The spiritual leadership of each community was handed down from generation to generation, creating successions of rabbis and forming numerous Hasidic sects over the years.
Jewish immigration from the German states, 1838–1880
In the nineteenth century Jews began immigrating to North America in large numbers. The first immigrants came mainly from the German states and areas surrounding them. Jews had lived in Germany since the fourth century, many having settled in the Rhineland area. They had long been assimilated into German cultures. Then suddenly, from the 1830s into the 1880s, several German states began to pass anti-Semitic laws (laws hostile to Jews). In southern Germany, these laws prohibited young Jews from marrying or starting a family in their communities. Some decided to immigrate to the United States. The first Jews from Bohemia, Bavaria, Baden, Württemberg, and Alsace-Lorraine came to America in the 1820s. A large-scale immigration occurred in 1836, when extended families and even entire communities left Bavaria. Bavaria had been experiencing an economic depression and had subjected Jews to extra taxes and restrictions that limited their chances for financial success. Between 1836 and 1850 the Jewish community in the United States grew from fewer than fifteen thousand to about fifty thousand. By 1860 the population had reached 160,000.
In the early years of immigration the newcomers were generally poor people with limited education who were relatively orthodox in observance and belief. Most Jews could read and write and this gave them an edge on many other poor immigrants. Most lived in the cities and worked as peddlers (people who sell their wares on the street or door-to-door) and small-scale merchants. Many of the Jewish immigrants settled in New York City; Baltimore, Maryland; and Philadelphia, but other cities, including San Francisco, California; Chicago, Illinois; and New Orleans, Louisiana, had growing Jewish communities as well. Most of the arriving Jews spoke both Yiddish and German but not English. They tended to associate with non-Jewish German immigrants at first, since they shared a language and background. Some Jews followed the Germans westward to points such as Chicago and Cincinnati, Ohio.
After 1848 there was a second, and quite different, influx of immigrants from Germany. That year, rebels had instigated a series of uprisings throughout Germany, attempting to initiate a revolution that would unify the German states under a democratic, constitutional government. The revolution failed. Afterwards, thousands of the German rebels fled to the United States, and there were many Jews among them. The rebels were an elite group; many had been educated at the finest European universities and had high-status careers ahead of them.
Many of the German Jewish immigrants, whether involved in the 1848 rebellion or not, had been active in politics in Germany. In Europe, in the mid 1800s, there was a growing socialist movement (people advocating new economic and political systems in which there is no private property and the people, or the state, control the jobs and distribution of goods). Other radical political associations also drew educated Germans in search of more equality and justice. Many Jewish intellectuals joined these groups.
The United States was growing rapidly when the German Jews arrived. It needed the products and services that its steady stream of new immigrants supplied. Poverty always existed in the Jewish community, but nonetheless each generation experienced a significant rise in wealth and social status. Many built large businesses from peddling or other minor trades. Like other immigrant groups, the German Jews joined together for mutual support and social activities, many of which were centered around their synagogues. Two hundred new synagogues were constructed across the nation during the 1840s and 1850s. There were too few of them to attract the kind of prejudice and hostility faced by Catholic immigrants, so the German Jews generally adapted to American life with some ease.
When the German Jews arrived, most were interested in learning English quickly, becoming more American, and raising themselves up from the lower-class status they were usually placed in when they arrived in the new country. Many were young males who had come to the country by themselves. Seeking company, they tried to join American social organizations, only to find a wall created by anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant feelings. In 1843 several young Jewish men, finding themselves excluded from the Odd Fellows Lodge, organized their own social organization, the Independent Order of B'nai B'rith. The organization had secret passwords and other elements of existing men's social organizations. It was dedicated to bringing Jews together to help each other and to serve humanity. It rapidly gained hundreds of members and spread throughout the country. Beyond helping widows and orphans and providing a form of welfare for Jewish immigrants, B'nai B'rith served as a kind of extended family for the newcomers to the country. Other Jewish associations developed rapidly as well.
Three Judaic Movements in the United States
- Orthodox Judaism: The description of a Jew as "orthodox" is used mainly in the United States. Being Orthodox may be viewed as continuing the practices of Judaism as they existed before the other reform movements took place. Orthodox Jews believe in the Torah as the absolute word of God. They follow strict rules about dress, diet, work, and the Sabbath, and they avoid assimilation into the secular world around them. There are many different movements defined as Orthodox Judaism, including the Hasidic movement.
- Conservative Judaism: Conservative Jews share many beliefs with Orthodox Jews but have adapted their religious beliefs to modern life and the secular world while conserving the basic tenets of Judaism. Although the Conservative Jews believe in the Torah as the divine text, they also believe that humans were involved in its creation.
- Reform Judaism: Reform Judaism originated with Americans who wished to eliminate the rituals of Judaism that they believed were outdated: some of the dietary laws and clothing and the separation of men and women at services. Reform Jews were open to assimilating into American society but still maintained either their religious faith or a strong sense of cultural or national identity as Jews.
When German Jewish immigrants began to form new synagogues across the country, it triggered a new movement among Jews in the United States, later called Reform Judaism. At its heart was an emphasis on rationality and the moral aspects of religion; it took the emphasis away from the supernatural and inherited ritual. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise (1819–1900) was the movement's main organizer. He wanted to reform the dietary restrictions and ritual practices that visibly set Jews apart from their neighbors. He argued that Judaism should be trimmed of layers of outdated law and ritual, leaving only practices that were "beneficial to all men." His prayer book, Minhag America (translated as "American Ritual"), published initially in 1857, abbreviated many of the prayers for the daily and Sabbath (the day of rest and worship; Sabbath starts on Friday evening and ends Saturday evening) services and eliminated others entirely.
Advocates of Reform Judaism believed that the traditional, orthodox forms of worship, dress, and behavior put Jews at a social and cultural disadvantage. They made several "modernizing" alterations to their religious services. To the dismay of traditionalists, some of the ceremonies and observances of Orthodox Judaism were set aside. The traditional garb of hats and prayer shawls was abandoned, as were certain practices such as ritual chanting. Organs, traditionally used in Christian services, were installed in the synagogues; the number of Hebrew prayers was reduced; and men and women were no longer seated separately.
These changes in the Jewish traditions altered the character of Jewish life in America. With the religious ritual de-emphasized, Jews blended easily into the society around them. But this did not mean that religious life became unimportant or that Jews wanted to lose their distinctive identity. On the contrary, they lived, worked, and socialized together, forming close-knit groups bound together not only by synagogues but also by schools, clubs, charitable societies, and other community organizations. They continued to practice their faith and promote their culture in ways that made sense for them not only as Jews but as Americans as well.
Immigration from Eastern Europe, 1881–1924
At the turn of the twentieth century Jews from Eastern Europe began to arrive in large numbers. In fact, between 1881 and 1914, two million Eastern European Jews arrived in the United States. They came from lands that were considered part of Russia, but had once been part of Poland.
Since the thirteenth century Jews had lived fairly stable, sometimes prosperous, lives as merchants and middlemen in Poland. This stability ended in the eighteenth century, when Poland was conquered and divided by Prussia, Austria, and Russia. Most of its Jews fell under the rule of Russia, while a smaller segment of the population fell under
Austrian and Prussian rule. The Russian government feared Jews and resented their success in commercial enterprises. The government therefore sent them to live in an agricultural region in a vast area known as the Pale of Settlement (pale, meaning an area or region having boundaries or limits). This included Byelorussia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and a part of Russia. There, most Jews lived in poverty, trying to make a living as middlemen who bought and sold the local peasants' extra crops and provided the goods and services the peasants needed. Many Jews lived in large cities, such as Warsaw, Lodz, and Odessa, while other Jews in the Pale lived in its hundreds of shtetl, small towns of about a thousand people that were usually centered around a synagogue and a market-place. Shtetl were scattered throughout the Pale. By the end of the nineteenth century, there were 4.5 million Jews, 94 percent of Russia's Jewish population, living in the Pale.
In 1882 Jews were restricted to only the urban areas of the Pale, which were badly overcrowded. There was little work available. Other new restrictions limited almost every aspect of life, leading to terrible poverty. From 1881 to 1906, there was a series of pogroms, outbreaks of state-sponsored violence against Jews, in which mobs entered the shtetl and began looting and burning the homes and businesses and beating, raping, and murdering the residents. Hundreds of Jews were viciously murdered.
Most historians agree that the Russian pogroms were only one of the many reasons two million Eastern European Jews immigrated to the United States. In fact, about one-tenth of that number were coming from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where there had been no pogroms. On the whole, the Jews were driven by the same push and pull factors that led most immigrants to the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth century: to escape from poverty and improve their circumstances. (Immigration to the United States to escape from political or religious oppression, wars and violence, major natural disasters; for personal reasons; or because of an inability to make a living or feed their families in their home country—all of these elements are called "push" factors, because they tend to push people out of their home countries. Available lands for farming, an abundance of jobs, higher salaries, a good market for starting businesses, and top-notch hospitals, laboratories, and universities for professionals—these are some of the "pull" factors of immigration, because they have drawn, or pulled, people to the United States.) Some younger Jews were looking for more freedom in the United States. Life in the shtetl had long been based on strict religious discipline and the following of rituals in almost every daily activity. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, news of the Haskala—the Enlightenment—reached the young Jewish intellectuals in the Pale. Many were ready for change.
The new arrivals, 1880
Most of the Eastern European Jewish immigrants who began to arrive in the United States after 1880 were very poor. (Middle-class Russian Jews usually found places to live in Europe.) This huge new population was very different from the existing population of German Jews. For one thing, they arrived in family groups, while the Germans had immigrated singly. According to Irving Howe in World of Our Fathers: The Journey of the East European Jews to America and the Life They Found and Made, in the period between 1899 and 1910, 1,074,442 Jews immigrated to the United States. Of that total, 607,822 ,or 56.6 percent, were males and 466,620, or 43.4 percent, were females. Approximately one-quarter of those immigrants were children under the age of fourteen. Many of the Russians were Hasidic Jews and strove to follow a strict, orthodox way of life. The conservatism, Yiddish language, and visible ritual life of these newcomers were foreign to many of the earlier immigrants, who were Reform Jews.
For many of the Orthodox immigrants the lack of Jewish traditions and rituals among the American Jews was shocking. Since they had come to the United States to practice their religion in traditional ways without fear of reprisal or persecution, they could not understand the value placed by the Reform Jews on assimilation. According to Arthur Hertzberg in The Jews in America: Four Centuries of an Uneasy Encounter, the Eastern Europeans clung to their Jewish identity, probably because it "was the heritage of siege mentality, of centuries of being an embattled bastion [fortress] in a hostile 'exile.'" The Eastern European Jews, although many did not wish to assimilate, had one of the lowest rates of return to the old country of any group of immigrants to the United States.
The Eastern European Jews arrived in the United States in the middle of the largest mass migrations from Europe. About thirty-five million people, mainly from southern and eastern Europe, arrived on U.S. shores between 1880 and 1924. Although there was definitely anti-Semitism in the United States at that time, it was probably somewhat lost in the general animosity toward all the "new immigrants"; Italians were probably targeted more than Jews. Arriving at Ellis Island, the immigration station in the New York harbor, at the turn of the century, about 1.1 million Eastern European Jews struggled to find their way to a new life in a very foreign and sometimes hostile land.
Abraham Cahan (1860–1951) was born in Lithuania, part of Russia, in the mid-nineteenth century. His family was very tied to its community in the city of Vilnius. Poor or wealthy, the families in Vilnius banded together. Cahan learned as a child to sacrifice and share with people less fortunate than himself. His experiences in the close-knit community were at the foundation of his later belief in socialism. While in teaching school, Cahan joined the underground (secret) socialist movement, becoming involved with people who were plotting to assassinate Russia's czar (ruler). Cahan's first teaching job brought him to the countryside, where a government-supported pogrom—the mass killing, beating, and torturing of Jews—began in the region. Thousands were forced to flee the country for safety, Cahan among them.
Cahan made his way to New York, moving to the Lower East Side. Though an educated man, Cahan learned upon arrival that immigrants could get employment only as factory workers or peddlers, and he found a job at a cigar factory for three to four dollars a week. As Cahan described in his novels Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto (1896) and The Rise of David Levinsky (1917), the Lower East Side of the 1880s was a Jewish ghetto, one of the most crowded areas in the world. The area was for the most part a garment-manufacturing district, but it also swarmed with street peddlers and Yiddish-speaking immigrants like Cahan. Most of the residents worked and lived in sweatshops, which were set up in crowded tenement buildings that lined the streets.
Cahan began attending meetings of Jewish Social Democrats. He quickly made a name for himself among the city's socialist Jews. Seeing a need for action, Cahan taught himself English and learned about the growing labor movement and the U.S. system of government. He then taught English to his coworkers at the cigar factory and founded the first Jewish Labor Lyceum, a discussion society for Jewish workers on the concepts of organized labor and government procedure. Cahan later helped organize the first Jewish Garment Workers Union.
In 1902 Cahan became editor-in-chief of the socialist Jewish Daily Forward, and under his guidance the paper's circulation rose from six thousand to two hundred thousand readers. Written in Yiddish for a specifically Russian Jewish audience, the Forward had a major impact on the community. Cahan also invented the "Bintel Brief" column in the Forward, which consisted of letters from Lower East Side residents. The column gave voice to a silent population and exposed the plight of the immigrant worker to many Americans. In addition to editing the Forward, Cahan wrote several novels, short stories, and a five-volume autobiography. He most often wrote about the immigrant experience. Well before his death, Cahan turned away from socialism, believing democracy to be the key to human rights.
Usually, when new Jewish immigrants arrived in New York, a representative of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) appeared at Ellis Island to help them. Founded in New York City in 1881, HIAS is the oldest international migration and refugee resettlement agency in the United States. HIAS agents helped the immigrants through the formidable paperwork at Ellis Island and provided them with a bulletin packed with advice on how to get help. The HIAS provided shelter, help finding employment, and education to the incoming immigrants. The organization eventually worked in the U.S. political arena to fight against anti-Semitism and unfair immigration laws. The HIAS also had a staff of attorneys who could help immigrants in need.
About two-thirds of the new immigrants settled in New York, Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia. Because of poverty, they often lived in overcrowded apartment buildings in cities. About 350,000 Russian Jews were crowded into about one single square mile in New York's Lower East Side in the early twentieth century. In order to avoid shop work, many became peddlers in the city streets, putting on a backpack full of inexpensive wares and going door to door to sell them. Others were forced to take low-paying jobs in factories. Many went to work in the garment industry, well known for its long hours and low wages. For many, life on the Lower East Side was difficult, with a fast pace, too much noise, too many smells, too little privacy, and not enough focus on tradition. Many Jews began to remember the shtetl in Russia with growing nostalgia.
In order to improve their lot in life, many Jewish workers became active in trade unions and political associations supporting socialism, social democracy, or anarchy (the belief that governments are unnecessary and should be eliminated, and that the social world should be organized through the cooperative efforts of the people within it). From the cities in Eastern Europe to the streets of New York City, there was a rising political movement seeking to make the world a fairer place for its working classes. The Jews, particularly in New York and the Northeast, but elsewhere as well, would play a large part in the movement.
Many Jews were working within the U.S. political system as well, some very successfully. By the turn of the century there were many Jews in important positions throughout the nation. When legislation was introduced in Congress that in any way limited the rights of Jews or Jewish immigrants, long-standing committees or powerful lobbyists could respond. The American Jewish Committee had been formed in 1906 by German Jews. Rabbi Wise had founded the American Jewish Congress. B'nai B'rith founded the Anti-Defamation League in 1913 to fight against anti-Semitism. The German Jews, who were initially anxious to separate themselves from the Russian Jews, quickly joined with them when there was any threat to Jews as a whole.
Anti-Semitism and anti-immigrant sentiment, 1920s and 1930s
With the large influx of immigrants came a rise in anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States. American reactions to the new wave of Jewish immigrants were remarkably diverse. The official policy in the United States was one of religious tolerance. Jews were able to become naturalized citizens fairly easily and then enjoyed all the rights of citizens. Anti-Semitism on a social basis had always been a factor in the country, but it rose much higher after World War I (1914–18) with the wave of anti-immigrant hostility. Although there were Jews in high positions in government, politics, and business, many corporations had policies to keep them out altogether or to keep them out of choice positions. Social clubs, universities, and even neighborhoods made a point of excluding Jews as well. In the early 1920s, for example, Columbia University cut the number of Jewish students to be admitted from 40 percent to 22 percent. Americans were not of one voice in their prejudices. Many accepted Jews readily, while others did not. A couple of examples of outof-control anti-Semitism of the years between World War I and World War II (1939–45) appear in the words of two wellknown men, Henry Ford (1863–1947) and Father Charles Coughlin (1891–1979).
In 1919 Henry Ford, the man who put America into cars with his Model T, purchased the Dearborn Independent, a weekly publication. In 1920 the paper began a series of articles that reflected many of the more outrageous anti-Semitic assumptions of nineteenth-century American rural culture. The articles charged that Jewish financiers (people who handle money) had gained control of the American money supply and manipulated it to advance their interests. They also claimed that the Jewish bankers had drawn the world into World War I. Finally, the articles charged Jews with attempting to overthrow Christian society.
In 1920 the Dearborn Independent began publishing a translation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The Protocols were alleged to be a recounting of the centennial meeting of "learned elders" of the Jewish nation at which the Jewish elders detailed how they had tormented Christian society in the past hundred years and discussed plans to destroy Christian civilization in the next century. Of course, the document had been forged. In 1905 the secret police of Russia had distributed these false documents in an attempt to divert the public's attention from the government's corruption and incompetence.
The Jewish community was divided as to how to respond to this flood of anti-Semitism. The American Jewish Committee, the largest and most influential Jewish voice, preferred to avoid contention with anti-Semites in order to minimize the old Christian hostility toward Jews. But periodicals such as The American Hebrew called on Jews to band together to protest and boycott (refuse to buy) Ford products. Non-Jews also sought to end the offensive lies coming out of Dearborn. More than a hundred people, including former presidents William Howard Taft (1857–1930) and Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924), and prominent political and religious leaders, such as the influential politician and attorney William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925) and the archbishop of Boston, William O'Connell (1859–1944), signed a letter asking Ford to stop publishing his "vicious propaganda."
The articles ran between May 1920 and December 1921, and then they suddenly stopped without explanation. However, various parts of the original attacks were collected and published as The International Jew. The book circulated widely in the United States, Europe, and South America. German Nazi leader Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) was one of its readers. (Hitler was the leader of Germany who started World War II. He called for the extermination of all Jews and invaded several surrounding countries, killing millions of Jews.) In 1924 the Dearborn Independent returned to its anti-Semitic campaign, this time attacking a Jewish lawyer active in organizing farm cooperatives. The series linked Jewish bankers to an alleged effort to undermine American institutions.
After that, Ford sold the newspaper. He would later apologize for the anti-Semitic articles that had appeared in it. He lost his credibility, however, when he accepted a medal from Hitler in 1938, the year of Kristallnacht, one of the worst pogroms of the century to that time.
In the mid-1930s, Father Charles E. Coughlin (1891–1979), a Catholic priest in Royal Oak, Michigan, was well known for his weekly radio sermons, heard nationwide by thousands each week. Coughlin's radio shows began on a strong populist political note and eventually branched out into anti-communist, and finally anti-Semitic, tirades. He alleged that Jewish bankers in Russia had financed the Russian Revolution and that Jews were behind the organization of the Communist Party in the United States. His anti-Semitism increased over the course of the decade. While others were more aggressive in their charges against Jews, none had his audience. Father Coughlin championed Hitler when war began in Europe in 1939.
Well before Father Coughlin's radio shows, Congress had decided to take measures to insure that fewer "undesirable" immigrants arrived on U.S. shores. After many attempts to close American borders to the "new immigrants"—the Italians, Poles, Slavs, and Jews, among others—in 1924 Congress was able to pass the National Origins Act, also known as the Johnson-Reed Act, which restricted the number of immigrants to 2 percent of the U.S. Census of 1890. The act tilted the permitted immigration in favor of Western Europeans. The United Kingdom, Germany, and Ireland were allotted more than twothirds of the annual maximum quota (the assigned proportion of the total number to be admitted). This legislation ended the era of mass migrations to the United States. President Calvin Coolidge (1872–1933; served 1923–29) explained that "America must be kept American." In the late 1930s, the quota system put in place by this act would have terrible repercussions for Jews in Europe who were trying to flee from the Nazis.
Nazi Germany and Jewish immigration
On January 30, 1933, National Socialist (Nazi) Party leader Adolf Hitler became the chancellor of the German Republic. Having advocated anti-Jewish policies for years, Hitler and the Nazis had gained the opportunity to put those policies into practice. Government-sponsored anti-Jewish rioting and boycotts soon occurred all over Germany, and Jews were dismissed from government positions. Law after law was passed, denying Jews from citizenship, excluding them from all government positions and many professions, and greatly limiting their rights. Violent attacks and arrests of Jews in Germany and Poland became common. On November 9, 1938, the Germans organized a massive national uprising against Jews, known as Kristallnacht, "the night of broken glass." Two hundred synagogues were destroyed, along with almost one thousand Jewish businesses. About seventy-five hundred Jewish shops were looted, and many Jews were beaten or killed. In the months after Kristallnacht, it became clear that Germany intended to kill all of the Jewish people. Millions of lives were at stake. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882–1945; served 1933–45) learned of the violence, he strongly condemned Hitler's actions, but he did not alter the immigration laws to provide a way for the Jews to get visas and come to the United States.
On May 13, 1939, over nine hundred people boarded the steamship St. Louis in Hamburg, Germany. Most of them were Jewish and many had paid every penny they could beg or
borrow to buy a place on the ship and to secure a landing permit for Cuba. Most were fleeing the Nazis and hoped to stay in Cuba only long enough to obtain placement in the U.S. immigrant quota system. Many were eligible for admission and had filed the paperwork. Although the Cuban government had agreed to have the St. Louis land there, the government changed its policy by the time the ship arrived. The ship sat in the harbor at Havana for seven days; only about twenty of the passengers were allowed to disembark. The American Embassy tried to persuade the Cubans to let the passengers land, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee offered to pay for the upkeep of the Germans while in Cuba. But Cuba kept demanding hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes, and finally told the St. Louis to leave, threatening to take naval action if it had not sailed in three days.
The St. Louis then sailed toward Florida, desperately trying to contact President Roosevelt to see if the passengers could land there. They feared sailing back to Germany, where they would surely be placed in concentration camps. But the U.S. government had already decided there was nothing it could do for these nine hundred passengers. They were told by the State Department that they would have to "await their turns on the waiting list and then qualify for and obtain immigration visas before they may be admissible into the United States." That year, the number of immigrants admitted to the United States from Germany and Austria, as set by the 1924 National Origins Act, was 27,370. Not only had the quota for 1939 already been filled, but the quotas for several years ahead had been filled too. The United States had erected what has since been called a "paper wall," putting paperwork between the fleeing Jews and the safety of the United States.
Although many Americans were sympathetic to the plight of the Jews in Nazi Germany, polls at the time showed that an overwhelming majority of Americans favored keeping tight restrictions on immigration. The Great Depression of 1929, a major economic downturn that was accompanied by high unemployment, had left many Americans fearful for their jobs and hostile toward immigrants. Anti-Semitism played a hand in these feelings as well. In 1939, the Wagner-Rogers Bill was put before Congress. It was designed to secure the admission of twenty thousand Jewish children who were refugees from Nazi Germany, above and beyond the German quota for the year. The bill did not pass. Roosevelt could have introduced emergency measures to admit refugees but did not attempt it for political reasons.
The passengers aboard the St. Louis sailed back to Hamburg. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee found places for some of them in European nations such as England, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Many of the passengers would later die at the hands of the Nazis.
By December 8, 1942, an estimated two million Jews were dead at the hands of the Nazis in Europe as World War II (1939–45) raged on. Five million more were in concentration camps. The State Department decided not to make this information public. The Jewish leaders of America also knew of the atrocities and kept them from the American public. The American Jewish organizations—the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress, the Jewish Labor Committee, B'nai B'rith, the Synagogue Council of America, and the Union of Orthodox Rabbis—sent a letter to President Roosevelt asking for help for the Jews perishing daily in Nazi camps. Still, nothing was done to help. Roosevelt and his staff felt that the best way to help the Jews was to win the war.
In 1943 four hundred rabbis marched on Washington to protest the world's silence while millions of Jews in Europe were being exterminated. Roosevelt did try to get as many Jewish refugees into the United States as possible under the existing quota system, allowing as many additional immigrants to enter the country under exceptions to the law as possible without actually changing the laws. During the years 1938 and 1941, about 110,000 Jews immigrated to the United States. But until the end of the war, the United States maintained its policy of not becoming involved in the rescue of the European Jews.
When World War II was over, there were fewer than one million surviving Jews in Europe where there had recently been seven and a half million. In the years after the war, the Jewish state of Israel was established in southwest Asia. Although many would never see the new state, Israel was very important to American Jews at that time, revitalizing the sense of community and identity that had been fading before the war.
Immigration from the Soviet Union, 1990s
Jews have continued to immigrate to the United States since World War II, especially from the nations that were once part of the Soviet Union. When the Russian Revolution occurred in 1917, replacing the czar with a provisional (temporary) socialist government, the Eastern European Jews had a short period of relief. The new government had positioned Jews in high places and promised an end to persecution. But almost immediately, the country fell into a bloody four-year civil war. Driven by anti-Semitism and years of pent-up but misdirected anger, the Russian peasants slaughtered Russian Jews in great numbers. Around that time, in the early 1920s, about twenty thousand Russian Jews immigrated to the United States. After the war, the Communist Party took control of Russia and began its efforts to control the states around it, forming the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922 (the USSR, or Soviet Union). The Soviet government prohibited the persecution of Jews, giving them full rights as citizens, but religious freedom was not a possibility. In fact, the Soviets had a "no religion whatsoever" policy. All synagogues, yeshivas, and other Jewish schools were closed. Zionism (the international movement seeking the return of the Jewish people to their ancient homelands in Palestine and the creation of a Jewish state there) was prohibited, and many Zionists fled the country. In the years that followed, some Jews assimilated into the Soviet culture. Periodic waves of anti-Semitism tormented many others. The Jews in Russia suffered greatly during World War II, and about thirty thousand immigrated to the United States right after the war.
Brighton Beach, New York
In the 1920s, a mass migration of about twenty thousand Soviet Jews to the United States took place. Many of the immigrants were coming from towns in the area of the Black Sea, such as Odessa. A large proportion of these refugees settled in a small beachside neighborhood in Brooklyn, a little east of Coney Island. The town was in an economic slump at the time, so real estate was inexpensive and there were many vacancies in both residential buildings and shops. Shops lining the streets displayed Russian goods under Russian signs. The immigrants filled the vacant buildings and built more. The downtown area bustled with activity. At the end of World War II (1939–45), another flood of Soviet immigrants arrived in Brighton Beach. More came in the migrations of the 1960s. Brighton Beach, with the highest concentration of Soviet Jews in New York, is known as one of the very successful immigrant communities of the nation. In fact, playwright and screenwriter Neil Simon (1927–) wrote a semiautobiographical play called Brighton Beach, about a Jewish boy's coming of age there during the Depression. In 1986 a film based on the play was released.
When the Cold War (the struggle for power, authority, and prestige between the communist Soviet Union and the capitalist Western powers of Europe and the United States from 1945 until 1991) began, emigration was once again restricted, since the Soviets did not want its citizens to immigrate to a rival nation. In 1971, the United States improved
its trade agreements with the Soviet Union in return for more relaxed immigration policies for the Jews, and there was another migration to the United States. But by the 1980s, few were getting out of the country.
In 1987 Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (1931–) adopted his glasnost (openness) policy, beginning the process of opening the Soviet Union to interaction with the United States and the Western world. One element of glasnost was allowing a mass migration of the Soviet Jews. In Operation Exodus hundreds of thousands of Jews undertook the migration to Israel—about 850,000 during the 1990s. Jews from around the world gave generously to help fund the migration, which cost billions of dollars. The United States government also gave or loaned great amounts of money for the resettlement of the Soviet Jews in Israel. It also gave the Soviet Jews refugee status so that higher numbers could immigrate to the United States. Between the 1960s and the late 1990s, an estimated five hundred thousand Soviet Jews immigrated to the United States. About three hundred thousand to four hundred thousand settled in New York.
Jewish American culture
A cultural survey conducted in 1999 by Zogby International in cooperation with the New Jersey Jewish News described Jewish Americans today. The poll found that fewer than one-third of Jews today are immigrants or the children of immigrants. On the whole, Jews are very successful, with educational levels higher than all other U.S. ethnic groups with the exception of Asian Americans, and income levels the highest of all groups. Six out of ten Jewish adults have college degrees, and 41 percent of Jewish families report a household income of $75,000 or more. Nearly 60 percent reported having experienced discrimination because of their Jewish heritage. Nearly 90 percent say that their heritage is important to them.
English is the language of the Jews living in the United States today. Yiddish is spoken mainly as a second language by people who emigrated from Eastern Europe many years ago or by their children. Yiddish was the language of the German and Eastern European Jews who immigrated to the United States. The word Yiddish comes from the German word "Judisch," which means Jewish. It is a Germanic language but it is written in Hebrew characters. Yiddish originated sometime around 1100 in the ghettos of central Europe. It began as a combination of German dialects to which Hebrew words were added. In time, when the Jews from central Europe moved eastward, Slavic language influences were added as well. English, too, has made contributions to Yiddish, but it is estimated that about 85 percent of the language in modern times is derived from German and 10 percent from Hebrew.
Yiddish was spoken by almost all the Jews of Eastern Europe by the eighteenth century. There were two dialects, one spoken in the German regions and one spoken in Russia, the Baltic countries, Poland, Romania, and Ukraine. When the Jews immigrated to the United States, many Yiddish words made their way into the English language. The Yiddish verb kvetch means to whine; schlepp is to carry or drag something from one place to another (and probably not easily); schmalz is an adjective for something sappy. The German word schmalz means animal fat, so if you say a piece of music is "schmalzy," it is a little oily, gooey, and sentimental. Klutz is the Yiddish word for a clumsy person, and someone who has chutzpah has a lot of nerve.
Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur: Jewish high holy days and the most important of the Jewish holidays. They are celebrated over ten days beginning with Rosh Hashanah on the first day of Tishri, the seventh month of the Jewish lunar calendar (usually sometime in September or early October on the solar calendar). They end with Yom Kippur on the tenth day of Tishri. Rosh Hashanah means literally, "head of the year," and it is the Jewish New Year. It is celebrated with special meals and sweet foods (often honey). Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement, the most solemn and important holiday. Even Jews who do not observe many Jewish customs often avoid work on Yom Kippur and spend the day fasting and attending synagogue services.
Pesach (Passover): Pesach is the most commonly observed of all Jewish holidays. The word means to pass over or to spare, referring to the biblical account in the Book of Exodus in which God "passed over" the houses of the Jews when he was slaying the firstborn of Egypt, making way for the Jews to escape from bondage. The eight-day holiday is celebrated with an elaborate meal called a Seder, which means order. The meal is presented with specific rituals, foods, and stories presented in a specific order. Matzah, unleavened bread, is eaten during the feast.
Chanukah (also spelled Hanukkah): The Jewish festival of rededication, Chanukah is also known as the festival of lights. It is an eight-day festival that is probably best known because it falls so close to Christmas. Its religious significance is far less than that of the high holy days of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, or Pesach. Each day of the festival is observed by the lighting of a candle in a candelabrum called a menorah. For some, it is traditional to eat potato pancakes called latkes on Chanukah.
When the Yiddish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904–1991) won the Nobel Prize in literature, he lovingly described the language in his acceptance speech: "Yiddish language—a language of exile, without a land, without frontiers, not supported by any government, a language which possesses no words for weapons, ammunition, military exercises, war tactics … there is a quiet humor in Yiddish and a gratitude for every day of life, every crumb of success, each encounter of love." Yiddish was spoken by about eleven million people before World War II. After the extermination of the Jews in Nazi Europe, it is estimated that there are between four and five million people today who speak the language. The number of Yiddish speakers continues to decline, but universities and Jewish community groups have instituted programs to ensure its continued use.
Many Jewish leaders are concerned about the high occurrence of assimilation among Jews in the United States in modern times. Traditionalists fear that some of the Jewish identity will be lost in the coming generations. Jews in the United States have always intermarried with other groups at a high rate. In 2000 about 31 percent of all married Jews are in intermarriages, and as many as half of the Jewish marriages performed today are to non-Jews. While 96 percent of Jewish children who are raised in households in which both parents are Jewish are raised Jewish, only 33 percent of children raised in households with only one Jewish parent are raised Jewish. Nearly half of all U.S. college students who identify themselves as Jews have only one Jewish parent.
The National Jewish Population Survey of 2000 to 2001 showed that Jews in the United States are deeply divided. While a significant number of Jews in the United States are becoming more involved in Jewish organizations, synagogues, schools, and rediscovering their own Jewish identities, another segment has drifted away from its Jewish connections. According to the Council of Jewish Federations, 40 percent of U.S. Jews who belong to a synagogue identify themselves as Conservative; 39 percent as Reform; 8 percent as Orthodox; and 13 percent as "other." However, the 2001 American Jewish Identity Survey reported that 48 percent of American Jews do not belong to a synagogue at all.
In the United States, Orthodox Jews today generally live in large cities, particularly New York. They are readily recognizable by their old-world appearance. The men are full bearded and wear black coats and large hats over their flat, round skullcaps, called yarmulkes (pronounced YAH-mehkehs); women wear long skirts, and their heads are covered by kerchiefs or wigs. The diet of Orthodox Jews is distinguished by the strictness with which they observe biblical injunctions against eating foods considered to be impure. It is common for Modern Orthodox and even Conservative Jews to "keep a kosher home." In general, this means separating meat from dairy products in their diet—which includes keeping separate sets of milchig (milk) and fleischig (meat) dishes and cooking utensils—and eating only meat that has been ritually slaughtered by a qualified Jewish slaughterer. In addition to these measures, however, traditional Orthodox Jews refrain from eating any processed or manufactured food that does not carry a rabbinical certification (approval by a rabbi).
For the traditional or orthodox Jew, the idea that one can be Jewish without studying or obeying Jewish law may be unthinkable. But many people consider themselves Jewish and do not go to synagogue or follow the religion. One writer in the San Francisco area has concluded that participating in Jewish culture is a strong expression of Jewish identity. A Jew is affirming his or her heritage when engaging in Jewish arts, film festivals, klezmer music, the new Yiddish theater revival, and the abundance of Jewish and Yiddish literature, or even when eating Jewish foods and celebrating Jewish holidays.
For More Information
Hertzberg, Arthur. The Jews in America: Four Centuries of an Uneasy Encounter. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989.
Howe, Irving. World of Our Fathers: The Journey of the East European Jews to America and the Life They Found and Made. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1976.
Johnson, Paul. A History of the Jews. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.
Kraut, Alan M. The Huddled Masses: The Immigrant in American Society, 1880–1921. Wheeling, IL: Harlan Davidson, 2001.
"About Jewish Culture." my Jewish Learning.com.http://www.myjewishlearning.com/culture/AboutJewishCulture.htm (accessed on March 3, 2004).