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That Pride of Race and Character

That Pride of Race and Character: The Roots of Jewish Benevolence in the Jim Crow South

Caroline E. Light
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    That Pride of Race and Character
    Book Description:

    "It has ever been the boast of the Jewish people, that they support their own poor," declared Kentucky attorney Benjamin Franklin Jonas in 1856. "Their reasons are partly founded in religious necessity, and partly in that pride of race and character which has supported them through so many ages of trial and vicissitude." InThat Pride of Race and Character, Caroline E. Light examines the American Jewish tradition of benevolence and charity and explores its southern roots.

    Light provides a critical analysis of benevolence as it was inflected by regional ideals of race and gender, showing how a southern Jewish benevolent empire emerged in response to the combined pressures of post-Civil War devastation and the simultaneous influx of eastern European immigration. In an effort to combat the voices of anti-Semitism and nativism, established Jewish leaders developed a sophisticated and cutting-edge network of charities in the South to ensure that Jews took care of those considered "their own" while also proving themselves to be exemplary white citizens. Drawing from confidential case files and institutional records from various southern Jewish charities, the book relates how southern Jewish leaders and their immigrant clients negotiated the complexities of "fitting in" in a place and time of significant socio-political turbulence. Ultimately, the southern Jewish call to benevolence bore the particular imprint of the region's racial mores and left behind a rich legacy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-5954-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: Loving Kindness and Cultural Citizenship in the Jewish South
    (pp. 1-23)

    Ralph A. Sonn, Bavarian-born superintendent of the Hebrew Orphans Home of Atlanta, addressed the Board of Trustees on New Year’s Eve, 1917, on the subject of aiding poor Jews within the institution’s five-state region. Opened in 1889 in the up-and-coming “Gate City” of the New South, the home was designed for needy Jewish children whose parents were either deceased or unable to care for them. Most of its 111 young charges were sons and daughters of the immigrants who had made the South their home in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, many having fled the pogroms of Russia...

  5. 1 “To the Hebrews the World Is Indebted”: The Southern Roots of American Jewish Benevolence
    (pp. 24-54)

    The young nation’s first Hebrew Benevolent Society was established in Charleston, South Carolina, on the heels of the Revolutionary War, and the first Jewish orphan society followed shortly thereafter.¹ The benevolent organizations that eventually provided institutional homes for all of the South’s Jewish orphans emerged in 1856 and 1889 in New Orleans and Atlanta, respectively. From the establishment of the first benevolent society in Charleston to the opening of the Atlanta home, the cultural composition and size of the southern Jewish population changed significantly. In 1820, nearly half of the nation’s Jewish population lived in the South, but by 1900...

  6. 2 “For the Honor of the Jewish People”: Gender, Race, and Immigration
    (pp. 55-80)

    When Simon Wolf, the Bavarian-born founder and president of Atlanta’s Hebrew Orphans Asylum, publishedThe American Jew as Patriot, Soldier and Citizenin 1895, the six-year-old institution was home to sixty-three children, the majority of them daughters and sons of immigrants.¹ Trained as an attorney and devoting much of his career to public service in the interest of immigration, Wolf wrote his book in response to recent denunciations of Jews as unpatriotic and opportunistic, and he broadcast to the wider world the long and storied history of American Jewish military service, from the Revolution to the Civil War.² In addition...

  7. 3 “Virtue, Rectitude and Loyalty to Our Faith”: Jewish Orphans and the Politics of Southern Cultural Capital
    (pp. 81-122)

    In an interview conducted in 1991, Jacob Blaustein described how inmates of “the Home” were rotated through specific jobs, in addition to their daily chores. Jacob’s job was “taking care of the pantry” in which food staples were kept, organized, and dispensed. At meal times he “would dish out the food to the cook,” Fannie Young, whom he described as “an old ex–Civil War slave.”¹ Born in 1854 in Georgia, “Aunt Fanny,” as children and administrators called her, oversaw the preparation of meals for all of the home’s young residents.² Jacob described how “she used to always tell me...

  8. 4 “A Very Delicate Problem”: The Plight of the Southern Agunah
    (pp. 123-149)

    In 1914, several Jewish members of the Macon, Georgia, community appealed to the Atlanta Hebrew Orphans Home to accept custody of four children whose father had absconded to North Carolina.¹ The letters they wrote to Superintendent Ralph Sonn reveal their concern that the children’s mother, Margaret Goldfarb, was ill equipped to raise her children in a manner the community considered appropriate. Following prevailing expectations for genteel understatement and discretion when it came to sensitive issues, three members of the community wrote to the home’s Board of Directors. “Frankly speaking,” wrote one, “these children are growing up wild and totally without...

  9. 5 “None of My Own People”: Subsidizing Jewish Motherhood in the Depression-Era South
    (pp. 150-182)

    In the summer of 1935, almost six years after receiving her first subsidy check from the Hebrew Orphans Home of Atlanta to help support her two young daughters, the newly wed Rebecca Weiss Blakeney sat down to pen the last of the letters that would be included in her case file. Addressing Viola Wyle, the home’s director of subsidy cases, a woman with whom she had maintained a mutually affectionate correspondence since her case opened in 1929, the once-grateful client turned defensive and resentful, excoriating what she perceived as the institution’s intrusion into her personal affairs. Weiss described occasions when...

  10. 6 Sex, Race, and Consumption: Southern Sephardim and the Politics of Benevolence
    (pp. 183-211)

    In the summer of 1929 the struggle of an immigrantagunahcaught the attention of Atlanta’s benevolent leaders. It appeared that the woman’s husband had fled to Los Angeles one month prior, leaving her alone with five children, and their situation was becoming dire. But upon closer investigation, it became clear that the husband, Victor Ferrera, had left temporarily to pursue a business lead and, falling ill, had been hospitalized in California. Despite Rachel Ferrera’s claims that her family was starving in the absence of a steady means of support, the social worker found her and her children immaculate and...

  11. Conclusion: Loving Kindness and Its Legacies
    (pp. 212-216)

    A few years ago, theJournal for the Scientific Study of Religionreleased a study, conducted by economist Mark Ottoni-Wilhelm, comparing the charitable giving of U.S. families representing various religious communities. Ottoni-Wilhelm concluded that Jewish families demonstrated exceptional generosity, and he explained the difference in part as a result of the traditional association of Jewishness with charity.¹ So goes the circular logic: more Jews give generously to charity because they understand charity as an essential part of being Jewish. Certainly this logic has merit, and the legacy of this impulse runs deep. As this book has shown, Jewish benevolence nationwide...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 217-256)
    (pp. 257-272)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 273-277)
    (pp. 278-278)