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The Jews of the United States, 1654 to 2000

The Jews of the United States, 1654 to 2000

Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 447
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  • Book Info
    The Jews of the United States, 1654 to 2000
    Book Description:

    Since Peter Stuyvesant greeted with enmity the first group of Jews to arrive on the docks of New Amsterdam in 1654, Jews have entwined their fate and fortunes with that of the United States—a project marked by great struggle and great promise. What this interconnected destiny has meant for American Jews and how it has defined their experience among the world's Jews is fully chronicled in this work, a comprehensive and finely nuanced history of Jews in the United States from 1654 through the end of the past century. Hasia R. Diner traces Jewish participation in American history—from the communities that sent formal letters of greeting to George Washington; to the three thousand Jewish men who fought for the Confederacy and the ten thousand who fought in the Union army; to the Jewish activists who devoted themselves to the labor movement and the civil rights movement. Diner portrays this history as a constant process of negotiation, undertaken by ordinary Jews who wanted at one and the same time to be Jews and full Americans. Accordingly, Diner draws on both American and Jewish sources to explain the chronology of American Jewish history, the structure of its communal institutions, and the inner dynamism that propelled it. Her work documents the major developments of American Judaism—he economic, social, cultural, and political activities of the Jews who immigrated to and settled in America, as well as their descendants—and shows how these grew out of both a Jewish and an American context. She also demonstrates how the equally compelling urges to maintain Jewishness and to assimilate gave American Jewry the particular character that it retains to this day in all its subtlety and complexity.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93992-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-10)

    The major developments of American Jewish history grew out of both a Jewish and an American context. The chronology of American Jewish life, the structure of its communal network, and the inner dynamism that propelled it demand explanations from both American and Jewish sources and cannot be divorced from either of these histories. Yet by itself neither one can explain how American Jews lived and what the patterns of their lives meant to them.

    A constant process of negotiation shaped the history of Jews in America. Many—probably most—ordinary Jews wanted both to be good Jews and to be...


    • 1 AMERICAN JEWISH ORIGINS: 1654–1776
      (pp. 13-40)

      In September 1654, twenty-three Jewish refugees from Brazil stepped ashore in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam. They had not journeyed there intentionally. They simply knew they had to get out of Brazil, which had recently been snatched by the Portuguese from the Dutch, who allowed Jews religious and economic freedom. Memories of past Iberian inquisitions and massacres compelled these Jews to flee, and the captain of theSainte Catherine, which happened to be heading for the Dutch colony at the mouth of the Hudson River, agreed to take them.

      Two other Jews, Solomon Pieterson and Jacob Barsimon, actually had...

    • 2 BECOMING AMERICAN: 1776–1820
      (pp. 41-68)

      In January 1784, a trio of members of New York’s Shearith Israel presented a letter to the state’s first governor, George Clinton. They wanted to acquaint him with the “ancient congregation of Israelites” that had planted itself within the borders of the state he governed. They hoped that by introducing themselves and making him aware that “though the society [they] belong[ed] to is but small when compared with the other religious societies … none has manifested a more zealous attachment to the sacred cause of America in the late war with Great Britain” than it. These self-appointed leaders noted that...


    • 3 A CENTURY OF MIGRATION: 1820–1924
      (pp. 71-111)

      In 1853 Sigmund Aron Heilner left the small town of Urspringen in Bavaria. His parents had been fretting over the declining opportunities faced by their son and by other young Jews. The Jews found themselves burdened by several special taxes levied just on them. The government restricted the number of Jews legally allowed to marry. The Heilners had few resources to expend on their son, not only because of their limited circumstances, but also because they needed to save up for a dowry for Sigmund’s younger sister, Regina. To get her established in her own home, they knew they needed...

      (pp. 112-154)

      The huge migrations taking place between 1820 and 1924 profoundly shaped Jewish life in America. Yet great differences marked the beginning of this century and the end, which bore witness to the emergence of modern America and modern Judaism. At the beginning of this hundred-year period, most American Jews lived in a string of older East Coast cities, with a few small outposts of Jewish life starting to crop up beyond the Appalachian Mountains. By the 1920s, although one city—New York—served as the home to the largest Jewish community, housing about 45 percent of all American Jews, Jews...

      (pp. 155-202)

      “With politics,” Isaac Leeser declared in 1855 in his journal,Occident and American Jewish Advocate, “Jews have little concern, except to vote for those whom they individually may deem most fitting to administer the offices created for the public good.”¹ Politically, during this formative century, Jews functioned as voters, officeholders, or as petitioners to government officials, and many, like Leeser, claimed that they did so as Americans—or Ohioans, Georgians, Californians, and New Yorkers—in the interest of the community as a whole. Yet the simplicity of Leeser’s statement, articulated repeatedly by American Jews, belied a more complicated world of...


    • Photographs
      (pp. None)
    • 6 AT HOME AND BEYOND: 1924–1948
      (pp. 205-258)

      The quarter century between 1924 and 1948 proved to be one of the most momentous periods in Jewish history. It raised wrenching questions about the future of the Jews and severely tested the proposition that real emancipation would be possible and that modernity would mean true integration for the Jews. In this relatively short period European Jews experienced an unprecedented escalation of anti-Semitism in the countries that had been cut out of the patchwork quilt of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, including Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. They endured the rise of National Socialism in Germany in 1933 and later the devastating loss...

    • 7 A GOLDEN AGE? 1948–1967
      (pp. 259-304)

      If any era in the history of American Jewry could be considered a “golden age,” it would be the twenty years following World War II. In this relatively brief era American Jews pushed the troubled memories of the recent past—the uncertainties of the Depression, the anti-Semitism of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, and the horrors of the Nazi era—to the margins of their concerns. Instead of feeling anxious about their status, they crafted a series of new communal practices that reflected the dominant themes of the postwar age: prosperity and affluence, suburbanization and acceptance, the triumph of political...

    • 8 IN SEARCH OF CONTINUITY: 1967–2000
      (pp. 305-358)

      The last three decades of the twentieth century constituted an era of bold contrasts in the lives of American Jews. In the thirty years ushered in by the Six-Day War in Israel and shaped by the upheavals in American culture that rocked the late 1960s, many Jews committed themselves more intensely to the Jewish component of their lives than they had in the past, while others maintained fewer involvements with things Jewish than ever before. This age of contradictions in the way American Jews lived—as Jews—and how they thought about their Jewishness caused many to worry about the...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 359-394)
    (pp. 395-408)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 409-437)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 438-439)