Jewish americans

by Jim Kamp


Jews represent a group of people rather than a distinct race or ethnicity. Although Jews originally came from the Middle East, many races and peoples have mixed together in Jewish communities over the centuries, especially after the Jews were forced out of Palestine in the second century C.E. What binds the group together is a common Jewish heritage as passed down from generation to generation. For many Jews, the binding force is Judaism, a term usually referring to the Jewish religion but sometimes used to refer to all Jews. There are, however, Jewish atheists and agnostics, and one does not have to be religious to be Jewish. In general, one is Jewish if born of a Jewish mother or if he or she converts to Judaism.

Most Jews consider the State of Israel the Jewish homeland. Located in the Middle East with a land mass of 7,992 square miles, Israel is only slighter larger than New Jersey. It is bounded by Lebanon in the north, by Syria and Jordan in the east, by Egypt in the southwest, and by the Mediterranean Sea in the west. With a population of approximately 4.2 million Jews, Israel is home to about one-third of the world Jewry, estimated at 12.9 million at the end of 1992. However, not all Jews consider Israel home. Some feel the United States, with 5.8 million Jews, is the de facto home of Jews, evidenced in part by the fact that Israel is sometimes called "Little America" because of its similarities to the United States. Accounting for more than three-fourths of the world Jewry, Israel and the United States represent the two major Jewish population regions.

Although Jews comprise less than three percent of the American population, Jews have generally had a disproportionately larger representation in American government, business, academia, and entertainment. American Jews have suffered their share of setbacks and have had to combat anti-Semitism during the early twentieth century. On the whole, however, Jews have enjoyed greater acceptance in America than in any other country and have figured prominently in American culture and politics.


Jewish history dates back 4,000 years to the time of Abraham, the biblical figure credited for introducing the belief in a single God. Abraham's monotheism not only marked the beginning of Judaism, but of Christianity and Islam as well. Following God's instructions, Abraham led his family out of Mesopotamia to Canaan, later renamed Palestine, then Israel. Abraham and his descendants were called Hebrews. ("Hebrew" is derived from "Eber," which means "from the other side." This is a reference to the fact that Abraham came from the "other side" of the Euphrates River.) According to the Bible, God made a covenant with Abraham promising that if the Hebrews followed God's commandments, they would become a great nation in the land of Canaan. Subsequently, Hebrews referred to themselves as "God's chosen people."

After Abraham, the Hebrews were led by Abraham's son Isaac, then by Isaac's son Jacob. Jacob, also known as "Israel" ("Champion of God"), was the father of 12 sons, who became leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel. For hundreds of years these tribes lived in Canaan and comprised all of Hebrew civilization. By about 1700 B.C.E. , food shortages compelled the Hebrews to leave Canaan for Egypt, where they were social outcasts and were eventually forced into slavery by pharaoh Ramses II around 1280 B.C.E. From these bleak conditions emerged perhaps the greatest leader of the Jews, Moses. In about 1225 B.C.E. , Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt (the Exodus) into the Sinai Desert, where Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai. For 40 years the Israelites lived in the desert, obeying God's commandments.

After Moses, Joshua led the Israelites back into Canaan, now called Palestine, representing the "Promised Land." There the people were ruled by benevolent Judges and later by Kings until social tensions after the death of King Solomon caused the Israelites to break apart. Ten tribes organized into the northern kingdom of Israel, while the other two tribes formed the southern kingdom of Judah. The people of Israel, however, lost much of their Hebrew identity after the Assyrians invaded the northern kingdom in 721 B.C.E. By contrast, when the people of Judah, or Jews, were captured by Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. , these Jews remained faithful to their traditions and to the Ten Commandments. Fifty years later Jews returned to Palestine after the Persians defeated the Babylonians.

For centuries Jewish culture thrived in Palestine until the Roman occupation beginning in 63 B.C.E. For more than 100 years Jews endured life with the oppressive, violent Romans. By 70 C.E. , when the Romans destroyed the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, Jews had begun migrating to the outer regions of the Roman Empire, including the Near East, North Africa, and southwestern, central, and eastern Europe. In 135 C.E. the Romans officially banned Judaism, which marked the beginning of the diaspora, or the dispersal of Jews. Forced out of Palestine, Jews in exile concentrated less on establishing a unified homeland and more on maintaining Judaism through biblical scholarship and community life.


European Jews are divided mainly between the Jews of Spain and Portugal, the Sephardim, and the Jews from German-speaking countries in central and eastern Europe, the Ashkenazim. The distinction between the Sephardim and Ashkenazim—Hebrew terms for Spanish and German Jews—continues to be the major classification of Jews, with 75 percent of today's world Jewry being Ashkenazic. In medieval Europe, Sephardic Jews enjoyed the most freedom and cultural acceptance. Between the ninth and fifteenth centuries Sephardic Jews made significant cultural and literary contributions to Spain while it was under Islamic rule. By contrast, Ashkenazic Jews in the north lived uneasily among Christians, who saw Jews as "Christ killers" and who resented Jews for thinking of themselves as a chosen people. Christians subjected Jews to violence and destroyed Jewish communities beginning with the First Crusade in 1096. Jewish populations were driven from England and France in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. By the beginning of the Spanish Inquisition in 1492, Jews from Spain faced similar oppression, violence, and expulsion from Spanish Christians. As a result, Sephardic Jews spread out to Mediterranean countries, while the majority of Ashkenazic Jews moved east to Poland, which became the center of European Jewry.

In Poland, Jews were permitted to create a series of councils and courts that together represented a minority self-government within the country. In individual Jewish communities, the kehillah was the governing structure comprised of elected leaders who oversaw volunteer organizations involved in all aspects of social and religious life in the community. The disintegration of the Polish state in the eighteenth century, however, disrupted community life and caused many to emigrate. By the nineteenth century, Jews in eastern Europe were primarily split between Prussia, Austria, and Russia. The governments in these countries, however, oppressed Jews through military conscription, taxation, and expulsion. Though relatively impoverished, the four million Jews in the Pale of Settlement (a region encompassing eastern Poland and western Russia) maintained their Jewish traditions through close community life.

By contrast, Jews in Western Europe fared much better economically and socially as they gained acceptance in England, France, and Austria-Hungary after the Protestant Reformation. Northern European cities with large Protestant populations such as London, Hamburg, and Amsterdam increasingly opened their doors to Jews. In order to fully assimilate and become citizens, these Jews sometimes had to renounce Jewish laws, self-government, and the quest for nationhood. Still, many Jews were eager to comply, some even becoming Christians. As a result, many western European Jews attained significant wealth and status, generally through banking and trade. In addition to material prosperity, German Jews also enjoyed a period of heightened cultural activity during the Jewish Enlightenment of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a period marked by free inquiry and increased political activism. Political turmoil by the mid-nineteenth century, however, brought upheaval to Jewish communities, prompting many to emigrate.


The first Jewish immigrants to settle in the United States were 23 Sephardic Jews who arrived in New Amsterdam (later known as New York) in 1654. Although this group of men, women, and children from Dutch Brazil initially faced resistance from Governor Peter Stuyvesant, they were allowed to settle after Jews in Amsterdam applied pressure on the Dutch West India Company, Stuyvesant's employer. In addition to Spain, Sephardic Jews came from various Mediterranean countries as well as from England, Holland, and the Balkans. The number of Jews in Colonial America grew slowly but steadily so that by 1776 there were approximately 2,500 Jews in America.

The wave of German Jewish immigrants during the mid-nineteenth century represented the first major Jewish population explosion in America. While there were just 6,000 Jews in the United States in 1826, the number of American Jews climbed above 50,000 by 1850 and rose to 150,000 only a decade later. The German Jews actually came from Germany and various other central European countries, including Bavaria, Bohemia, Moravia, and western Poland. Challenges to the monarchies of central Europe in the 1840s caused considerable social unrest, particularly in rural villages. While wealthy Jews could afford to escape the turbulence by moving to cities such as Vienna or Berlin, poorer Jews could not. Consequently, many chose to immigrate to America.

The largest wave of Jewish immigrants were eastern European Jews who came to America between 1881 and 1924. During these years one third of the Jewish population in eastern Europe emigrated because of changing political and economic conditions. The assassination of Russian Tsar Alexander II in 1881 ushered in a new era of violence and anti-Jewish sentiment. Pogroms, or massacres, by the Slavs against the Jews had occurred since the mid-seventeenth century, but the pogroms of 1881 and 1882 were particularly numerous and intense, wiping out entire villages and killing hundreds of Jews. Also, industrialization made it difficult for Jewish peddlers, merchants, and artisans to sustain themselves economically. As a result, a mass exodus of Jews from eastern Europe occurred, with approximately 90 percent bound for America. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of Jews arrived in America annually. The immigration of some 2.4 million eastern European Jews boosted the American Jewish population from roughly a quarter million in 1881 to 4.5 million by 1924.

The Immigration Restriction Act of 1924 decreased the annual Jewish immigration from more than 100,000 to about 10,000. Subsequently, U.S. immigration policy remained strict, even during World War II when the need to emigrate was a matter of life and death for German Jews. The 150,000 Jews who managed to immigrate to America between 1935 and 1941 were primarily middle-class, middle-aged professionals and businessmen. These refugees from Nazi Germany represented a different type of immigrant from the young, working-class Jews who emigrated from eastern Europe at the turn of the century. After a period of increased immigration during and immediately following World War II (within the quotas set by Congress), Jewish immigration leveled off for several decades. The most recent immigration wave occurred during the 1980s, when political and economic changes in the Soviet Union prompted hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews to come to Israel and America. The American quotas by this time had risen to 40,000 Jews per year. This immigration wave of Soviet Jews has been the largest since the immigration of Russian Jews at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Jewish population in relation to the general U.S. population peaked in 1937 at 3.7 percent. Limits on immigration and a Jewish birthrate of less than two children per family—lower than the national average—have lowered the Jewish proportion of the American population to under three percent. This proportion has remained relatively stable, even as the American Jewish population approached six million in the 1990s.


The Sephardic Jews who settled in the American colonies established themselves in cities along the eastern seaboard. From the mid-seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth centuries, the largest Jewish population centers were in New York, Newport, Savannah, Philadelphia, and Charleston, the only cities with synagogues during the period. Jewish businessmen from these cities were supported by influential businessmen from Sephardic communities in London and Amsterdam.

The influx of German Jews in the nineteenth century contributed to the westward expansion of the Jewish population in the United States. By the mid-nineteenth century, there were approximately 160 Jewish communities from New York to California, with Jewish population centers in the major hubs along the trade routes from east to west. Cities such as Cleveland, Chicago, Cincinnati, and St. Louis all became centers of Jewish business, cultural, and religious life. Jewish peddlers and retailers also followed the economic growth of the cotton industry in the South and the discovery of gold in the West. Most of the Jewish immigrants from this period were young, single Germans hoping to escape unfavorable economic conditions and repressive legislation that restricted marriage. Individuals from the same community would typically immigrate together and continue their congregation in the New World.

The wave of eastern European Jews at the turn of the century gravitated toward big cities in the East and Midwest. The result was that by 1920 Jews had their greatest population centers in New York, Newark, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit. Within these cities, eastern European Jews established their own communities and maintained their cultural heritage and identity much more so than nineteenth-century German Jews, who were eager to assimilate into American culture.

Jewish settlement trends in the twentieth century have shown population decreases in the midwest and increases in cities such as Los Angeles and Miami. During the 1930s and 1940s, refugees from Nazi Germany predominantly settled in Manhattan's West Side and Washington Heights as well as in Chicago and San Francisco. After World War II the population of American Jews decreased in midwestern cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland and increased in Los Angeles, Miami, and Washington, D.C. For each major city with a significant Jewish population, there has been a steady postwar trend of outward movement toward the suburbs. The young and middle-aged professionals have led this movement, while working-class, Orthodox, and older Jews continue to inhabit the old neighborhoods closer to the city.

By the end of 1992, the largest Jewish population centers were in New York City (1.45 million), Los Angeles (490,000), Chicago (261,000), Philadelphia (250,000), Boston (228,000), San Francisco Bay Area (210,000), Miami (189,000), and Washington, D.C. (165,000).

Acculturation and Assimilation

Until the late nineteenth century, Jewish settlers desired and found it relatively easy to assimilate into American society. Jews had left Europe because of poor social and economic conditions and were eager to establish themselves in an open, expanding society. Occasionally, Jews would have to combat anti-Semitism and negative stereotypes of "dirty Jews," but for the most part Americans appreciated the goods and services provided by Jewish merchants. The religious freedom guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution coupled with the increasing prosperity of nineteenth-century German Jews enabled Jews to enjoy considerable acceptance in American society.

The basic division between Jews during the nineteenth century was between Polish and German congregations. However, in large population centers such as New York, subgroups emerged to accommodate the local traditions of various Dutch,

U. S. Senator Alfonse D'Amato (left center), comedian Jackie Mason (center), and others celebrate the annual Salute to Israel Parade in New York City.
U. S. Senator Alfonse D'Amato (left center), comedian Jackie Mason (center), and others celebrate the annual Salute to Israel Parade in New York City.
Bavarian, English, or Bohemian Jews. The desire to assimilate to American culture was felt in the larger synagogues, where decorations were added and sermons were changed from German to English or abandoned altogether.

Beginning in 1881, the immigration of eastern European Jews marked the first significant resistance to acculturation. These immigrants tended to be poor, and they settled in tight-knit communities where they retained the traditions and customs from the old world. They consciously avoided assimilation into American culture and continued to speak Yiddish, a mixture of Hebrew and medieval German that further separated them from other Americans. Some American institutions applied pressure to assimilate into mainstream culture by banning the use of Yiddish in public programs. But the ban was removed by the beginning of the twentieth century as efforts to limit Americanization became more popular. Increasingly, rapid assimilation into American culture was viewed as unnecessary and harmful to Jewish identity. Still, a conflict remained between younger and older generation Jews over how much Americanization was desirable.


The arrival of eastern European immigrants prompted the first significant tide of anti-Semitism in America. During the 1880s, clubs and resorts that once welcomed Jews began to exclude them. European anti-Semitism influenced a growing number of Americans to adopt various negative stereotypes of Jews as clannish, greedy, parasitic, vulgar, and physically inferior. To mitigate these sentiments, Americanized Jews developed aid societies to provide jobs and relief funds to help eastern European Jews fit into American society. In addition, American-born German Jews fought against restrictive legislation and formed philanthropic societies that funded schools, hospitals, and libraries for eastern European Jews. The hope was that if the hundreds of thousands of newly arriving Russian Jews had access to homes, jobs, and health care, the decreased burden on American public institutions would ease ethnic tensions.

Despite efforts by Americanized Jews to reduce ethnic hatred and stereotyping, discrimination against Jews continued into the twentieth century. Housing restrictions and covenants against Jews became more common just prior to World War I. During the 1920s and 1930s, Jews faced significant difficulty obtaining employment in large corporations or in fields such as journalism. Jews were also increasingly subjected to restrictive quotas in higher education. In particular, Jewish enrollment dropped by as much as 50 percent at Ivy League schools such as Harvard and Yale during the 1920s. By the 1930s most private institutions had Jewish quota policies in place. In politics, one of the motivating forces behind the Immigration Restriction Act of 1924 was the negative image that some held of immigrant Russian Jews, who were thought to live a lowly, animal-like existence. This "dirty Jew" stereotype was based on a perception of ghetto Jews, who were forced to endure squalid living conditions out of economic necessity. Another stereotype was of the Jew as Communist sympathizer and revolutionary, a characterization stemming from the belief that Jews were responsible for the Russian Revolution. All of these negative stereotypes were reinforced in American literature of the 1920s and 1930s. Authors such as Thomas Wolf, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway all depicted Jewish caricatures in their novels, while poets such as T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound freely expressed their anti-Semitism.

Fueled by a Worldwide Depression and the rise of German Nazism, Jewish discrimination and anti-Semitism reached a peak during the 1930s. One of the more influential American voices of anti-Semitism was Roman Catholic priest Charles E. Coughlin, who argued that the Nazi attack on Jews was justified because of the communist tendencies of Jews. Coughlin blamed New York Jews for the hard economic times, a message intended to appeal to Coughlin's Detroit audience of industrial workers hurt by the Depression.

At the end of World War II, when the atrocities of the Nazi Holocaust became widely known, anti-Semitism in America diminished considerably. Though some Jews in academia lost appointments as a result of Communist fears instigated by Senator Joseph McCarthy, Jews generally enjoyed improved social conditions after 1945. Returning war veterans on the G.I. Bill created a demand for college professors that Jews helped fulfill, and entrance quotas restricting admission of Jewish students at universities were gradually abandoned. As discrimination waned, Jews enjoyed substantial representation in academia, business, entertainment, and such professions as finance, law, and medicine. In short, Jews during the postwar years resumed their positions as contributing and often leading members of American society.


Immigrant Jews passed on Jewish traditions in the home, but subsequent generations have relied on religious schools to teach the traditions. These schools have helped Jewish parents accommodate their goal of having their children become familiar with Jewish tradition without interfering with their children's integration into American culture. Today, many Jewish children attend congregation school a few days a week for three to five years. During this time, they learn Hebrew and discover the essential traditions and customs of Jewish culture.

Jewish traditions and customs primarily derive from the practice of Judaism. The most important Jewish traditions stem from the mitzvot, which are the 613 holy obligations found in the Torah and Talmud. Consisting of 248 positive commandments (Thou shall's) and 365 negative commandments (Thou shall not's), these commandments fall into three categories: Edot, or "testimonies," are rules that help Jews bear witness to their faith (e.g., rules on what garments to wear); Mishpatim (judgments) are rules of behavior found in most religions (e.g., the rule against stealing); and Hukim (statutes) are divine rules that humans cannot fully understand (e.g., dietary rules). No one person can possibly fulfill all 613 mitzvot since they include laws for different people in different situations. Even the most Orthodox Jew in modern times is expected to observe less than half of the obligations.

The basic beliefs common to all Jews, except atheists and agnostics, were articulated by Moses Maimonides (1135-1204). Known as the Thirteen Principles of the Faith, they are: (1) God alone is the creator; (2) God is One; (3) God is without physical form; (4) God is eternal; (5) humans pray only to God; (6) the words of the prophets are true; (7) the greatest prophet was Moses; (8) today's Torah is the one God gave to Moses; (9) the Torah will not be replaced; (10) God knows people's thoughts; (11) the good are rewarded and the evil are punished; (12) the Messiah will come; and, (13) the dead will be revived. Although most of the Jewish faithful share these broad beliefs, there is no specific requirement to commit all 13 to memory.


There is no specific Jewish cuisine, only lists of permissible and impermissible foods for Orthodox Jews and others who observe kashrut. Delineated in the Book of Leviticus and dating back to 1200 B.C.E. , kashrut is a system of food laws for eating kosher foods and avoiding trefa foods. Kosher foods are simply ones that are, by law, fit for Jews; they include

Orthodox Jews burn hametz in preparation for Passover in the Williamsburg section of New York. Hametz, or leavened foods, are not permitted to be eaten during Passover.
Orthodox Jews burn hametz in preparation for Passover in the Williamsburg section of New York. Hametz, or leavened foods, are not permitted to be eaten during Passover.
fruits, vegetables, grains, meat from cud-chewing mammals with split hooves (e.g., sheep, cows, goats), fish with scales and fins (e.g., salmon, herring, perch), domesticated birds (e.g., chicken, turkey, duck), and milk and eggs from kosher mammals and birds. Trefa foods are forbidden by Jewish law, simply because of biblical decree, not because such foods are unfit for human consumption; they include meat from unkosher mammals (e.g., pork, rabbit, horse), birds of prey (e.g., owls, eagles), and water animals that do not have both scales and fins (e.g., lobster, crab, squid). Kashrut also prescribes that the slaughter of animals shall be painless. Thus, a Jewish butcher ( shohet ) studies the anatomy of animals to learn the precise spot where killing may occur instantaneously. After the animal is killed, the blood must be completely drained and any diseased portions removed. Finally, kashrut involves keeping meat and milk separate. Because of the biblical commandment not to "stew a kid in its mother's milk," Jewish law has interpreted this to mean that meat and dairy products cannot be prepared or consumed together.


Because there is a separate Jewish calendar based on the lunar cycle, Jewish holidays occur on different secular days every year. The first holiday of the Jewish year is the celebration of the new year, Rosh Hashanah, which occurs sometime in September or October. It is a ten-day period in which Jews reflect on their lives during the previous year. Three basic themes are associated with this holiday: the anniversary of the creation of the world; the day of judgment; and the renewal of the covenant between God and Israel. On the night before the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, one popular custom is to eat honey-dipped apples so that the new year will be a sweet one. Yom Kippur, the "Day of Atonement," occurs at the end of Rosh Hashanah. For 25 hours observant Jews fast while seeking forgiveness from God and from those against whom they have sinned. There are five services at the synagogue throughout the day, most centering on the themes of forgiveness and renewal.

In the winter, usually in December, Jews celebrate the festival of Hanukkah. This is a joyous eight-day period that marks the time when in 164 B.C.E. the Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, successfully reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem from the Syrians. When the Maccabbees prepared to light the perpetual flame in the Temple, they only found one jar of oil, enough for only one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted eight days until a new supply of oil arrived. Thus, the celebration of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, involves lighting a candle for each night of the festival, one on the first night, two on the second, and so forth. Over time, Hanukkah has become a time of family celebration with games and presents for children.

Other holidays and festivals round out the Jewish year. In late winter Jews celebrate Purim, a period of great drinking and eating to commemorate the biblical time when God helped Esther save the Jews from the evil, tyrannical Haman, who wanted to destroy the Jews. In late March or early April, Jews participate in the week-long festival of Passover, which marks the Jewish Exodus from Egypt. The Passover Supper, or Seder, is the central feature of this celebration and is a gathering of family and friends (with room for the "unexpected guest") who eat a traditional meal of unleavened bread, parsley, apples, nuts, cinnamon, raisins, and wine. Seven weeks after Passover, Shavout is celebrated, marking the giving of the Torah by God and the season of wheat harvest. In autumn Jews celebrate Sukkot, an eight-day festival honoring the time when the Israelites spent 40 years in the desert after the Exodus and before returning to Palestine. Because the Israelites spent 40 years living in the wilderness, this holiday season is celebrated by living for eight days in a temporary home called a sukkah. Though a sukkah is small and typically does not protect well against the increasingly harsh fall weather, Jews are expected to be joyous and grateful for all that God has provided.


Before coming to America, Jews living in small communities in Europe occasionally suffered from amaurotic idiocy, an inherited pathology attributed to inbreeding. During the early twentieth century, when the largest waves of Jewish immigrants arrived in America, Russian Jewish immigrants were afflicted with nervous disorders, suicides, and tuberculosis more often than other immigrants. Despite these afflictions, Jews had a lower death rate than other immigrants at the time. Recently, the National Foundation for Jewish Genetic Diseases published a list of the seven most common genetic diseases suffered by Jews:

Bloom Syndrome: a disease causing shortness in height (usually less than five feet), redness of skin, and susceptibility to respiratory tract and ear infections. Affected men often experience infertility and both sexes have an increased risk of cancer. Just over 100 cases have been reported since the disease was discovered in 1954, but one in 120 Jews are carriers and children from two carriers have a 25 percent chance of contracting the disease.

Familial Dysautonomia: a congenital disease of the nervous system resulting in stunted growth, increased tolerance of pain, and lack of tears. One in 50 Ashkenazi Jews in America carries the gene, and the risk of recurrence in affected families is 25 percent.

Gaucher Disease: a disease that in its mildest form—the form common to Jews—is characterized by easy bruising, orthopedic problems, anemia, and a variety of other symptoms. The more advanced forms of the disease are fatal but rare and not concentrated in any one ethnic group. One out of 25 Ashkenazi Jews carries the recessive gene, and one in 2,500 Jewish babies is afflicted.

Mucolipidosis IV: a recently discovered disease (1974) involving the deterioration of the central nervous system in babies who later develop mild or more severe retardation. Thus far only handful of cases have been reported, all by Ashkenazi Jews. The disease only occurs when both parents are carriers, with 25 percent of babies from such parents being affected.

Niemann-Pick Disease: a usually fatal disease characterized by a buildup of fatty materials causing enlargement of the spleen, emaciation, and degradation of the central nervous system. Afflicted babies typically die before the age of three, but survival into young adulthood is possible in milder cases. The disease affects about 25 Ashkenazi Jews each year in the United States.

Tay-Sachs Disease: a biochemical disorder causing retardation in babies as early as the fourth month and leading to a deterioration of the central nervous system that ends in death, usually between the ages of five and eight. Approximately one in 25 Jews is a carrier, with the risk that 25 percent of babies from two carriers will have Tay-Sachs. Screening techniques have enabled carriers to bring only normal babies to term.

Torsion Dystonia: a disease involving an increasing loss of motor control coupled with normal to superior intelligence affecting children between the ages of four and 16. One in 70 Ashkenazi Jews in America is a carrier, with one out of every 20,000 Jewish babies developing the disease.


One of the strongest unifying links between Jews throughout the world is the Hebrew language. From the time of Abraham in 2000 B.C.E. until the Babylonians captured Judah in 586 B.C.E. , Hebrew was the everyday language of Jews. Since then, Jews have generally adopted the vernacular of the societies in which they have resided, including Arabic, German, Russian, and English. Hebrew continued to be spoken and read, but primarily in sacred contexts. Most of the Torah is written in Hebrew, and religious services are mostly in Hebrew, though Progressive synagogues will make greater use of the language of the community. The use of Hebrew in religious worship enables Jews from all parts of the world to enjoy a common bond. In the twentieth century, Hebrew regained its status as an everyday language in Israel, where it is the official language.

During the diaspora, as Jews left Palestine to settle in various parts of Europe, two distinctly Jewish languages emerged. The Sephardic Jews of Spain and Portugal developed Ladino, a mixture of Spanish and Hebrew, while Ashkenazic Jews in central and eastern Europe spoke Yiddish, a combination of medieval German and Hebrew. These two languages were spoken by immigrants when they came to America, but were not typically passed on to the next generation. The exception to this occurred during the turn of the century when Russian Jews helped Yiddish gain a strong foothold in America through Yiddish newspapers and theater. At its high point in 1920, Yiddish was spoken by half of the Jewish population in America. By 1940, however, the proportion of American Jews who spoke Yiddish had dropped to one-third, and its presence as a world language was severely threatened by the Holocaust, which killed most of the Yiddish-speaking Jews. Today, a small but growing minority of Jews are attempting to revitalize Yiddish as a language uniquely capable of transmitting Jewish cultural heritage.


Commonly heard expressions are: Shalom —Peace (a general greeting); Shalom lekha —Hello/Goodbye (an everyday greeting); Barukh ha-ha —Blessed be the one who comes (a general welcome to guests often used at weddings or circumcisions); Mazel tov — Good luck (a wish for luck commonly used at births, bar mitzvahs, and weddings); Le-hayyim —To life/Cheers (a traditional toast wishing someone good health); Ad me'ah ve-esrim shana —May you live until 120 (an expression meaning good wishes for a long life); Tizkeh le-shanim —Long life to you (an expression wishing someone happy birthday or happy anniversary); Hag same'ah —A happy holiday (a general holiday greeting used for all Jewish festivals); L'shana tova —Good year (a shortened version of "may you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year," which is wished during Rosh Hashanah).

Family and Community Dynamics

As Jews have spread to Europe and America after being forced out of Palestine, their cultural heritage has depended on strong family and community relations. One of the chief ways in which Jews, particularly Orthodox Jews, have maintained family and community values has been through the keeping of Shabat, the Sabbath. Observing Shabat, or "the day of delight," is one of the Ten Commandments and is essentially a matter of taking a break from work to devote one day of the week to rest, contemplation, and family and community togetherness. Just prior to Sabbath, which lasts from sunset on Friday to late Saturday night, the family must complete all the preparations for the day because no work should be done once the Sabbath begins. Traditionally, the mother starts the Sabbath by lighting candles and saying a special prayer. Afterward, the family attends a short service in the synagogue, then returns home for a meal and lighthearted conversation, perhaps even singing. The following morning the community gathers in the synagogue for the most important religious service of the week. On Saturday afternoon observant Jews will continue to refrain from work and either make social visits or spend time in quiet reflection. A ceremony called havdalah (distinction) takes place Saturday night, marking the end of Sabbath and the beginning of the new week.

The relative importance of Shabat and the synagogue for American Jews has declined over the years. In fact, the history of Jews in America reflects an ongoing secularization of Jewish values. Beginning in the nineteenth century, the Jewish community center developed as an important nonsectarian counterpart to the synagogue. Modeled after the Young Men's Hebrew Association, Jewish community centers became dominated by the 1920s by professionals who wanted to establish a central place for younger Jews to acquire such American values as humanism and self-development. While such community centers continue to play a role in Jewish population areas, many of today's American Jews no longer associate with a synagogue or community center, but may live in a Jewish neighborhood as the only outward sign of their Jewish identity.


According to Judaism, marriage is the fulfillment of one of God's purposes for human beings. Consequently, all Jews are intended to experience both the joy and hardship of matrimony, including rabbis. To facilitate the finding of a mate, the matchmaker plays a role in Jewish society of bringing together suitable but perhaps reluctant individuals. The matchmaker only helps the process along; the final choice must be made freely by both partners according to Jewish law.

Traditionally, intermarriage between Jews and Gentiles has been forbidden. A Jew who married a Christian faced ostracism from family and community. Jews who immigrated to America during the Colonial period and after, however, intermarried with non-Jews with relative impunity. This tolerance of religious freedom lasted until the 1880s when the arrival of Russian Jews ushered in a conservative era with a more traditional view of marriage. For the first half of the twentieth century, intermarriage among Jews remained low, with only about five percent choosing to marry non-Jews. By the 1960s and 1970s, however, intermarriage became more common, with as many as 20 to 30 percent of Jews choosing non-Jewish mates, and by 1999 had risen to 52 percent. Increased assimilation and intermarriage has sparked concern over the continued existence of American Jewry. A recent survey of American rabbis found opinion divided on performance of mixed marriages by rabbis, with disagreement on whether performing such marriage ceremonies encourages those marrying non-Jews to maintain their connection with Judaism and perhaps encourages the non-Jewish partners to convert.

The question of "who's a Jew" in Israel also has American Jews concerned. Recent legislation makes conversions to Judaism legal only when performed by Orthodox rabbis. This has political implications, given the close relationship of religious affiliation and political power in Israel; for example, 150 religious councils distribute more than $70 million in government funds annually. More important for American Jews is that along with the authority over conversions comes the authority to determine eligibility for automatic Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. Eighty-five percent of American Jews are Reform, Conservative, or unaffiliated and thus feel that such legislation is shutting them out, in effect telling them that they are not really Jews. In 1997 many withheld charitable contributions or redirected them to more secular organizations in response.


Jewish babies usually receive two names, an everyday name and a Hebrew name used in the synagogue and on religious documents. The naming of the baby occurs after birth at a baby-naming service or, for many male babies, when they are circumcised. Since the emergence of Judaism some 4,000 years ago, Jews have observed the tradition of brit milah (covenant of circumcision). Although the practice of cutting the foreskin of male babies probably served a hygienic purpose originally, circumcision has come to represent the beginning of life in the Jewish community. To be sure, many non-Jews are circumcised, and being born of a Jewish mother is sufficient to make a baby Jewish. Nonetheless, circumcision is traditionally associated with the keeping of the covenant between Abraham and God as well as with physical and ethical purity. The brit milah must occur eight days after birth, unless the baby is sick. The ceremony takes place in the home and is usually performed by a mohel, an observant Jew who may be a rabbi, doctor, or simply one skilled in the technique. After the circumcision, which occurs very quickly and without much pain, a celebration of food, prayers, and blessings follows.

Bar mitzvah, which varies according to local traditions (Ashkenazic, Sephardic, or Oriental) is the ceremony that initiates the young Jewish male into the religious community. By reading in the synagogue, he becomes an adult. According to Talmudic tradition, this ususally occurs at the age of 13. Following the reading in the synagogue, there is a celebration ( seudat mitzavah ). In the twentieth century, the bas or bat mitzvah has been introduced for young girls; however, this occurs more frequently in the Reform and Conservative groups than the Orthodox ones.

Jewish weddings are marked by several distinct traditions. The ceremony occurs under a huppah, a canopy open on all four sides, symbolizing the openness of the bride and groom's new home. The huppah can be placed in a home or outdoors but is most often used in a synagogue. Under the huppah, the bride circles the groom a set number of times, the couple is blessed, and they both drink from the same cup of wine, a sharing which demonstrates that from this point forward they will share a life together. The heart of the ceremony, the only part required to make the marriage legally binding, occurs next. The groom places a ring on the right-hand index finger of the bride, proclaiming, "Behold you are consecrated to me by this ring according to the law of Moses and Israel." If at least two witnesses observe her accept the ring, the marriage is complete. The ceremony is rounded out by the signing of the marriage contract (the ketubah ), the singing of seven blessings (the Sheva brahot ), and the traditional smashing of the glass by the husband. Breaking a glass symbolizes the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the fact that the couple will have to face hard times together. When the glass is broken, guests exclaim, " Mazel tov " (good luck), and a wedding feast ensues.

Jewish funerals and mourning are characterized by a sense of frankness toward the reality of death. Funerals occur soon after a person dies, usually within a day or two unless family travel plans or the observance of Sabbath delays the service for an extra day. Arrangements for the deceased are handled by the hevra kadisha (holy society), which is a volunteer organization within the synagogue responsible for preparing the body. Such preparation does not involve make-up or embalming but instead consists of dressing the person in white, perhaps wrapping the deceased with his or her prayer cloth, or tallit. In modern times, the hevra kadisha are sometimes assisted by professionals, but not for profit. The ceremony is usually short and is followed by burial at the cemetery, where family members will recite the Kaddish, a traditional prayer celebrating God and life.

For Orthodox survivors, four stages of mourning have evolved over the years which encourage expression of grief so that the healing process may occur without delay. From the time a person dies until the funeral, mourners cease working, gather together, and do not generally receive visitors, primarily because any comfort at this point is premature and only causes unnecessary strain. The second stage occurs during the first week after the funeral, when the family observes shiva. At this time, mourners do not generally work but open their homes to visitors who offer their sympathy. The next stage is shaloshim, which lasts for three weeks after shiva and is marked by a resumption of work and other obligations, but entertainment is avoided. Finally, there is a last phase of light mourning for spouses or immediate family members that ends 11 months after the funeral. By the anniversary of a person's death, mourning is complete.


Jewish culture over the years has been male-dominated. Women's roles were limited to household activity, including raising children and performing minor religious functions, such as lighting the Sabbath candles. Although women are subject to the same negative biblical commandments as men, they are not expected to observe the same positive commandments. For example, men are expected to pray three times a day at fixed times, while women only pray once at a time of their choosing. This difference has been variously attributed to the demanding nature of women's household duties and to men's higher proclivity to sin. For centuries, women could not study the Torah and could not receive a formal education. While Orthodox Jews have eased their stance against education for women, they have nevertheless maintained that women should serve a secondary role to their husbands. Other Jews have taken a more liberal view, holding that women are equals who can fully participate in religious ceremonies. In Reform and Conservative Judaism, women are permitted to become rabbis. Many Jewish women rabbis played a role in the American feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The movement liberated women from having to serve traditional roles, and Jewish women such as Congresswoman Bella Abzug and authors Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan paved the way for women to enter a variety of fields once dominated by men.


For years Jews have placed strong emphasis on the importance of education. In the nineteenth century, the ability to read gave German Jewish immigrants a competitive edge over other German immigrants. Later, American-born Jews pursued education as a means of entering such professions as law and medicine. Although Jews currently represent less than three percent of the American population, the proportion of Jews in academia has been significantly higher since World War II, with Jews comprising ten percent of the teaching faculty at American universities. By 1973, nearly 60 percent of all Jewish graduate students were enrolled in the nation's top ten institutions of higher learning. Approximately 20 to 30 percent of the leading scholars who taught at such universities were Jewish.

Religious education was once taught in a heder, an eastern European elementary school for boys. While girls generally did not have access to formal education, boys would attend the heder all day long, studying the Hebrew prayerbook and the Torah. In America, the heder played a secondary role to public schools. As priorities changed with acculturation, the heder diminished in significance. However, the Talmud Torah school, a charitable school first established in Europe, began to usurp the role of the heder as a place for Judaic instruction. Today, a number of Jewish children attend some type of religious school a few hours each week for three to five years in order to learn Jewish history, traditions, and customs as well as the Hebrew language.


The Jewish philanthropic tradition reaches back to biblical times when Israeli Jews practiced tzedakah, or charity, as one of their primary duties in life. One common form of tzedakah was to allocate a portion of the harvest for the poor, who were free to take crops from certain parts of a farm. During the Middle Ages, Jewish self-governing communities called kehillahs would ensure that the community's poor would have the basic necessities of life. The spirit of the kehillah survived into the twentieth century in the form of landsmanshaft, separate societies existing within congregations in cities such as New York. The landsmanshaft were comprised of townspeople from congregations who pooled resources to provide such benefits as insurance, cemetery rights, free loans, and sick pay.

While the tradition of lending assistance began in the synagogue, over the years philanthropic organizations became increasingly independent. Organizations such as the Order of B'nai B'rith and the Young Men's Hebrew Association became major sponsors of charitable projects. These and other benevolent societies were responsible for the establishment of Jewish orphanages, hospitals, and retirement homes in major cities across the United States throughout the nineteenth century.

Jewish philanthropy increased tremendously during the twentieth century. Scientific philanthropy—a method of providing aid through modern methods and without assistance from religious institutions— gained favor at the beginning of the twentieth century in response to the problem of helping settle the large waves of Russian immigrant Jews. One out-growth of this movement was the establishment of the National Conference of Jewish Charities, which formed national agencies to deal with immigrant issues. During World War I, Jewish philanthropic efforts were consolidated through the establishment of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, an organization formed to provide relief to eastern European Jews suffering from famine and pogroms. By raising more than $66 million by 1922, the Committee was able to expand its relief efforts to include health care and economic reconstruction programs that reached some 700,000 Jews in need of assistance. Several organizations supplied economic relief to European Jews during and after World War II. One such organization, the United Jewish Appeal, was initially established to help Holocaust survivors and to promote Israel as a homeland for Jews. During the postwar decades, however, it has blossomed into the largest private charity in America, providing financial aid to Israel and Jews worldwide. In recent decades, the Jewish philanthropic tradition has extended beyond the Jewish community. Mazon, for example, was founded in the 1980s as a national hunger relief organization that is funded by Jews who voluntarily donate three percent of the costs of such celebrations as weddings and bar mitzvahs.


The basic message of Judaism is that there is one all-powerful God. Originally established as a response to polytheism and idol worship, Judaism has been quite successful in perpetuating its belief in monotheism in that it is the parent religion of both Christianity and Islam. The basic difference between these three religions centers on the Messiah, or savior of the world. While Christians believe the Messiah was Jesus Christ and Muslims believe in several divinely inspired prophets, the greatest being Mohammed, Jews believe the Messiah has not yet appeared.

"E verybody had something to give me for help. It wasn't a question of money, it was a question of being a human being to a human being. And in those days people were apparently that way. There were so many nice people that were trying to help us when we came to this country."

Clara Larsen in 1908, cited in Ellis Island: An Illustrated History of the Immigrant Experience, edited by Ivan Chermayeff et al. (New York: Macmillan, 1991).

The centerpiece of Judaism is the Torah. Strictly speaking, the Torah refers to the first five books of the Bible (Five Books of Moses), but it can also mean the entire Bible or all of Jewish law, including the Talmud and the Midrash. The Talmud is oral law handed down through the generations that interprets the written law, or Torah. The Talmud consists of the Mishnah, which is the text version of the oral law as compiled by Rabbi Judah the Patriarch in 200 C.E. , and the Gemara, which is the collected commentary on the Mishnah. The Midrash refers to the collection of stories or sermons, or midrashim, which interpret biblical passages. Taken as a whole, Jewish law is known as halahah, which guides all aspects of Jewish life.

Two other vital components of Judaism are the rabbi and the synagogue. Since the Middle Ages, rabbis served as spiritual leaders of communities. Though equal with the rest of humanity in the eyes of God, the rabbi was chosen by the community as an authority on Jewish law. Rabbis were paid to teach,

This boy reads from the Torah during his Bar Mitzvah.
This boy reads from the Torah during his Bar Mitzvah.
preach, and judge religious and civic matters. While the role of the rabbi was well established in Europe, American synagogues were reluctant to preserve the social and economic position of rabbis. Congregation members no longer felt the need for such an authoritative figure. Consequently, some congregations hired ministers rather than rabbis in order to restrict the influence of their religious leaders. Today, many congregations continue to be led by rabbis who perform traditional duties as well as a variety of other functions, including visiting the sick and attending to wedding and funeral services. The synagogue is the place for Jewish worship, study, and social meetings. Although synagogues have generally played a secondary role to Jewish secular organizations in America, the postwar years saw a revival in the importance of the synagogue in Jewish life. The synagogue expanded to become the center of community life and the organization through which Jewish children developed a Jewish identity. Membership in synagogues rose dramatically, though attendance at services did not increase proportionately.

Though not known as such, Jews were all basically Orthodox until the French Revolution. Orthodoxy as a separate branch of Judaism developed in eastern and central Europe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when the Jewish Enlightenment and Emancipation ushered in a new era of freedom of thought and living. Rejecting such changes, Orthodox Jews sought to maintain Jewish traditions through strict observance of Jewish law as expressed in the Torah. While most Jewish immigrants were Orthodox when they arrived in the United States, economic pressure and differences in social climate between Europe and America caused many to abandon Orthodoxy. As a result, Orthodox Judaism has only been practiced by a small minority of American Jews. (Roughly ten percent of American Jews are Orthodox, 30 percent are Reform, and 40 percent are Conservative.) The survival of Orthodox Judaism is due in part to its tolerance of American ways and modern educational practices, which have appealed to middle-class Jews. Other factors include the founding of Yeshiva College in 1928 and the development of an Orthodox parochial school system, which grew from just 17 schools in the 1930s to more than 400 schools by the 1970s.

For many years, the dominant branch of American Judaism has been Reform. Though some Jews maintain that Judaism has always been Reform, Reform Judaism as a distinct segment of Judaism can be traced to eighteenth-century German Jewish Enlightenment. Some Reform synagogues began to appear in Germany in the early nineteenth century, but Reform Judaism gained its largest following among German Jews who immigrated to America during the mid-nineteenth century. Unlike Orthodox Jews, members of Reform Judaism view Jewish laws as adaptable to the changing needs of cultures over time. As a result, Reform Jews look to the Bible for basic moral principles. They do not believe in a literal reading of the Bible and have felt free to ignore outdated passages, such as those that make reference to animal sacrifice. In general, Reform Judaism represents the most liberal strain of Judaism: Reform was the first to let women become rabbis (1972); it is accepting of intermarriage and converts; and it does not stress such traditional teachings as the coming of the Messiah or the need for separate nationhood (Israel). These liberal views reflect Reform's emphasis on reason over tradition, a shift that represents a transformation of the traditional Jewish identity into a Jewish American identity.

As assimilation has proceeded and intermarriage greatly increased, many Reform Jews seeking to reinforce their Jewish identity have rediscovered traditional practices such as keeping kosher households and the wearing of yarmulkes as well as the study of Hebrew, the use of which has increased in religious services. In May of 1999 the Central Conference of American Rabbis, meeting in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, adopted a new platform, known as the Pittsburgh Principles. The document, while not requiring such observances, strongly recommended the study and practice of mitzvot, many of which are obligatory in more conservative Jewish sects.

With a theological perspective that falls somewhere between Orthodoxy and Reform, Conservative Judaism has become the largest branch of American Judaism. Conservative Judaism first developed in nineteenth-century Germany and later gained an American following by the early 1900s. The American roots of this branch of Judaism can be traced to the 1887 founding in New York City of the Jewish Theological Seminary, which has since become the center of Conservative Judaism and home to the world's largest repository of books on Judaism and Jewish life. With its blend of tradition and openness to change within the confines of Jewish law, Conservative Judaism steadily attracted new members until World War II, when membership sharply increased and ultimately attained its current status as the largest branch of Judaism in America. Theologically, Conservatives look to the Talmud and its interpretations of the Torah as an example of their own views on the evolving nature of Jewish law. As long as change does not violate the basic tenets outlined in the Torah, change is welcomed by Conservatives. Thus, religious ceremonies do not have to be in Hebrew, and women can serve as rabbis. Because Conservatives have not formally articulated their ideology, individual congregations are able to style themselves around the needs of the community.

Another segment of American Judaism is Reconstructionist Judaism, which is sometimes lumped together with Reform and Conservative Judaism as Progressive Judaism. Developed in the 1920s and 1930s by Mordecai M. Kaplan and influenced by the thinking of American pragmatist philosopher John Dewey, Reconstructionism emphasizes Democratic culture and humanistic values. Reconstructionists value Jewish traditions not merely for their religious significance, but because such traditions reflect Jewish culture. Thus, Judaism is more a way of life than a religion. Reconstructionists may learn Hebrew, observe Jewish holidays, and eat kosher foods, but not out of a sense of obligation but as a way of preserving Jewish culture. Of the four major branches of Judaism, Reconstructionism has the smallest following.

Although most American-born Jews do not practice traditional Judaism or attend religious services, nearly three-fourths of American Jews align themselves with either Reform or Conservative Judaism.

Employment and Economic Traditions

Over the years, Jews have attained a high level of economic prosperity through keen business sense and dedication to hard work. Such prosperity has been achieved over the course of several generations, dating back to medieval Europe when Jews first became associated with the world of finance and trade. Because they were not allowed to hire Gentiles and were excluded from craft guilds, Jews took on the jobs that Christians found repugnant, such as money-lending and tax-collecting. In time Jews became involved in trade and the clothing business as well. By the time the Sephardic Jews began settling in America in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, most earned their livings as independent retailers; they were bakers, tailors, merchants, and small business owners.

Jews in the mid-nineteenth century were predominantly tailors or peddlers. Many of those who worked in the city were tailors or were otherwise affiliated with the garment business. Those who sought their fortune outside of the city were usually peddlers, who played a key role in bringing merchandise from the city to the country. The successful peddler could eventually earn enough to set up his own retail store on the outskirts of town or in rural areas. Credit was at the heart of the emerging network of these retail businesses. German Jews were the chief creditors at the time, and they would minimize their credit risks by dealing with relatives whenever possible. The close connection between creditor and businessman led to the emergence of a Jewish business elite between 1860 and 1880 that had established profitable ventures in such fields as investment banking, the garment industry, shoe manufacturing, and meat processing. By the end of the century, American Jews were no longer primarily tailors or peddlers (those trades represented just three percent and one percent, respectively, of American Jews in the 1890 census). Instead, Jews had attained a substantial measure of wealth by becoming retailers, bankers, brokers, wholesalers, accountants, bookkeepers, and clerks; together, these occupations represented 67 percent of all American Jews in the 1890 census.

The immigration of Russian Jews in the early twentieth century brought vast numbers of workers into the clothing industry in large cities. Newly arriving immigrants would work in the factories for long hours, often 70 or more hours a week, honing their skills and developing their own specialties. As with the German Jews before them, the Russian Jews worked their way into more affluent positions over the years, becoming business owners and professionals. While German Jews comprised the majority of the 1,000 clothing manufacturers in the late nineteenth century, by the eve of the World War I Russian Jews owned more than 16,000 garment factories and employed more than 200,000 Russian Jews. The slowing of immigration during and immediately after World War I coupled with increasing wages in the garment industry enabled Russian Jews to raise their standard of living and attain the same socio-economic status as German Jews by the 1920s.

The educated professional has long been a highly valued member of Jewish culture. The entrepreneurial success of first-generation Jews enabled subsequent generations to move into the professional ranks of society. In large eastern and midwestern cities such as New York and Cleveland, the disproportionate share of Jewish doctors, lawyers, and dentists represented two to three times the proportion of the Jewish population in those cities. For example, Jews in the 1930s comprised 25 percent of the population of New York City, yet accounted for 65 percent of all lawyers and judges in the city.

As with the general population, Jews enjoyed considerable economic prosperity during the Postwar years. After World War II, the institutional discrimination against Jews that had developed during the first part of the twentieth century disappeared. With unprecedented access to education and advancement in American society, younger Jews entered colleges and embarked upon successful professional careers at about twice the rate of the preceding generation. Rather than gravitating toward the clothing industry, as many of their parents and grandparents had done, postwar Jews turned to a range of fields, including management, communications, real estate, entertainment, and academia.

Politics and Government

Since the first Jews arrived in Colonial America, Jews have enjoyed a high degree of political freedom and have taken an active role in politics and government. Although early Jewish settlers in America faced some political and social discrimination, laws restricting Jewish religious and business activities were generally not enforced. By 1740, Parliament granted Jewish aliens the right to citizenship without having to take a Christian oath. After America gained its independence, the Mikveh Israel Congregation urged the Constitutional Convention to make a provision guaranteeing the freedom of religious expression, which became a reality with the passage of the First Amendment in 1789. Since then, Jews have been involved in all levels of American civic and political life, with the presidency being the only office a Jew has not held. By 1992, Jews held 33 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and a full ten percent of the Senate. The Republican congressional victories in 1994 reduced the number of Jews in the House to 24, while the retirement of Democrat Howard Metzenbaum brought the number of Jewish senators to nine.

Over the years Jews have developed a rich political tradition of fighting for social justice as liberals and radicals primarily affiliated with the Democratic party. Jews have been staunch supporters of Democratic political leaders. When in 1944 President Roosevelt's New Deal policies caused the president to lose popularity, 90 percent of Jews continued to support him. The tendency to side with an unpopular liberal candidate continued through 1972, when Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern won only 38 percent of the popular vote, but garnered more than 60 percent of the Jewish vote. The majority of Jews have continued their allegiance to the Democratic party, even during the 1980s when Republicans Ronald Reagan and George Bush won the presidency in landslide victories. Beginning in the 1970s, however, a growing number of Jews abandoned liberal politics in favor of pragmatism and conservatism. Leading this movement were Nathan Glazer, Irving Kristol, Sidney Hook, and Milton Friedman.


The more radical Jewish political activists have been involved in unions and socialism. During the first part of the twentieth century, Jewish union leaders had strong ties to the Socialist party and the Jewish Socialist Federation. This support reflected a socialist leaning on the part of several Russian Jews who had participated in the failed Russian Revolution of 1905. The Socialist party enjoyed its greatest success in New York City between 1914 and 1917 when Socialist Meyer London was elected to represent the Lower East Side in the U.S. Congress and more than a dozen Socialists won seats in city government.

Influenced by eastern European socialist thought and American free enterprise, Jews found themselves on both sides of the labor disputes of the early twentieth century. The clothing industry provided the battleground. For a time Russian Jewish manufacturers refused to recognize unions, many of which contained a significant proportion of Jewish members. Tensions came to a head during two major strikes: The "uprising of twenty thousand," which involved Jewish and Italian young women striking against shirtwaist manufacturers in 1909, and "the great revolt," a massive strike in 1911 involving thousands of cloak makers. Both strikes pitted thugs and police against union workers. The workers received community support from various Jewish benefactors, ranging from wealthy women who posted bail for the arrested workers to lawyers and community leaders who helped mediate settlements. As a result of the strikes, the work week was lowered to 50 hours and permanent mediation procedures were established. Two key unions at the time were the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and the Amalgamated Clothing Workers Union, both of which included a significant proportion of Jewish members. Another union with significant Jewish membership was Arbeter Ring, or Workmen's Circle. With approximately 80,000 Jewish families on board by the mid-1920s, this union provided health care and cemetery services and involved itself in Yiddish culture by sponsoring Yiddish newspapers, schools, and theaters.


Throughout American history, Jews have served with distinction in the U.S. military. Of the approximately 2,500 Jews in America during the Revolutionary War, hundreds fought against the British while others supported the struggle for independence by refusing to recognize British authority. Just as the Civil War divided North against South, so too did it divide the American Jews. While most Jewish soldiers served in the Union army, many Jews in the South remained loyal to the Confederate cause. Several prominent Jews supported the South, notably Judah P. Benjamin, the Confederate Secretary of War and Secretary of State. Jews also figured prominently in the two world wars, with 250,000 Jews participating in World War I and 550,000 in World War II.

The participation of Jews in America's major wars demonstrates that while they are generally known as a peaceful people, Jews are prepared to fight for just causes. For some Jewish Americans, this principle extends beyond national concerns. The Jewish Defense League (JDL), for example, is a militant organization established in New York in 1968 by radical Rabbi Meir Kahane. The JDL's guiding principle is "Never Again," a reference to the Nazi Holocaust. The group's method of combatting worldwide anti-Semitism with violence has made the JDL controversial among Jews and non-Jews alike.


For centuries Jews have sustained a commitment to establishing a homeland for Jews at some point. The longing to return to Zion, the hill on which Jerusalem was built, remained a vague dream until 1896, when Theodor Herzl wrote The Jewish State, which called for modern Palestine to be the home for Hebrew culture. The following year the first Zionist Congress convened in Basle, which along with Herzl's book marked the beginning of Zionism as an official movement. By 1914, some 12,000 American Jews had become Zionists. The movement was bolstered by the 1934 publication of Conservative Mordecai M. Kaplan's influential Judaism as a Civilization, which argued that Judaism as a religion reflected the totality of the Jewish people's consciousness. As such, Kaplan asserted that Jewish culture deserved its own central location, Palestine. After World War II, the effort to establish a Jewish state was helped considerably when the British gave the United Nations control of Palestine. In November of 1947 the United Nations approved a resolution to partition Palestine into Arab and Jewish regions. When Israel declared itself a nation on May 14, 1948, President Harry Truman decided to officially recognize Israel, despite a longstanding warning from the U.S. State Department that such recognition could anger oil-producing Arab countries.

Since the late 1930s American Jews have contributed billions of dollars in aid to help Israel deal with its immigration burdens and tenuous relations with Arab neighbors. While the periods of military strife in 1948, 1967, and 1973 brought forth the greatest contributions from the American Jewish community, financial support for various philanthropic projects has been steady over the years.

Individual and Group Contributions

Countless Jews have made significant contributions to American culture over the years. Only a partial listing of notable names is possible.


Jews have been particularly influential in academia, with ten percent of faculty at American universities comprised of Jews, the number rising to 30 percent at America's top ten universities. Notable Jewish scholars include historians Daniel J. Boorstin (1914– ), Henry L. Feingold (1931– ), Oscar Handlin (1915– ), Jacob Rader Marcus (1896-1995), Abram Sachar (1899– ), and Barbara Tuchman (1912– ), linguist Noam Chomsky (1928– ), Russian literature and Slavic language experts Maurice Friedman (1929– ) and Roman Jakobson (1896-1982), Zionist scholar and activist Ben Halpern (1912– ), and philosophers Ernest Nagel (1901-1985), a logical positivist influential in the philosophy of science, and Norman Lamm (1927– ), Yeshiva University president and founder of the orthodox periodical Tradition.


Jews have had an enormous influence in Hollywood. By the 1930s Jews dominated the film industry as almost all of the major production companies were owned and operated by eastern European Jews. These companies include Columbia (Jack and Harry Cohn), Goldwyn (Samuel Goldwyn—born Samuel Goldfish, 1882), Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (Louis B. Mayer and Marcus Loew), Paramount (Jesse Lasky, Adolph Zukor, and Barney Balaban), Twentieth Century-Fox (Sol Brill and William Fox), United Artists (Al Lichtman), Universal (Carl Laemmle), and Warner Brothers (Sam, Jack, Albert, and Harry Warner).

Actors/performers: The Marx Brothers— Chico (Leonard; 1887-1961), Harpo (Adolph; 1888-1964), Groucho (Julius; 1890-1977), Gummo (Milton; 1894-1977), and Zeppo (Herbert; 1901-1979); Jack Benny (Benjamin Kubelsky; 1894-1974); George Burns (Nathan Birnbaum; 1896– ); Milton Berle (Milton Berlinger; 1908– ); Danny Kaye (Daniel David Kominski; 1913-1987); Kirk Douglas (Issur Danielovitch; 1918– ); Walter Matthau (1920– ); Shelly Winters (Shirley Schrift; 1923– ); Lauren Bacall (Betty Joan Perske; 1924– ); Sammy Davis, Jr. (1925-1990); Gene Wilder (Jerome Silberman; 1935– ); and Dustin Hoffman (1937– ).

Directors: Carl Reiner (1922– ); Mel Brooks (Melvyn Kaminsky; 1926– ); Stanley Kubrick (1928– ); Woody Allen (Allen Konigsberg; 1935– ); and Steven Spielberg (1947– ).


Mordecai M. Noah (1785-1851) was the most widely known Jewish political figure of the first half of the nineteenth century. A controversial figure, Noah was U.S. consul in Tunis from 1813 to 1815, when he was recalled for apparently mismanaging funds. He went on to serve as an editor, sheriff, and judge. In 1825 he created a refuge for Jews when he purchased Grand Island in Niagara River. The refuge city, of which Noah proclaimed himself governor, was to be a step toward the establishment of a permanent state for Jews.

In 1916 the first Jew joined the U.S. Supreme Court, noted legal scholar Louis Brandeis (1856-1941), whose liberalism and Jewish heritage sparked a heated five-month Congressional battle over his nomination. After his confirmation, Brandeis used his power to help Zionism gain acceptance among Jews and non-Jews alike. Other prominent Jewish Supreme Court jurists include Benjamin Cardozo (1870-1938), a legal realist whose opinions fore-shadowed the liberalism of the Warren court, and Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965), who prior to his Supreme Court appointment had been influential in promoting New Deal policies as a key advisor to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

After the 1994 elections, nine Jews were members of the U.S. Senate: Barbara Boxer (California), Russell Feingold (Wisconsin), Diane Feinstein (California), Herbert Kohl (Wisconsin), Frank Lautenberg (New Jersey), Carl Levin (Michigan), Joseph Lieberman (Connecticut), Arlen Specter (Pennsylvania), and Paul Wellstone (Minnesota). With the exception of Specter, all are Democrats.


During the late nineteenth century Joseph Pulitzer operated a chain of newspapers, many of which often featured stories of public corruption. After his death in 1911, he left funds for the Columbia University School of Journalism and for the coveted annual prizes in his name. Since then, many Jewish journalists have won the Pulitzer Prize, including ABC news commentator Carl Bernstein (1944– ), Washington Post columnist David Broder (1929– ), syndicated columnist and satirist Art Buchwald (1925– ), syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman (1927– ), former New York Times reporter and author David Halberstam (1934– ), journalist Seymour Hersh (1937– ), New York Times columnist Anthony Lewis (1927– ), former New York Times reporter and Harvard journalism professor Anthony J. Lukas (1933– ), New York Times executive editor and author A. M. Rosenthal (1922– ), stylist, humorist, and former presidential speech writer William Safire (1929– ), New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg (1934– ), and journalist and political historian Theodore H. White (1915– ). Other notable Jewish journalists include sportscaster Howard Cosell (William Howard Cohen; 1920-1995), Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff (1925– ), NBC television journalist Marvin Kalb (1930– ), financial columnist Sylvia Porter (Sylvia Feldman; 1913– ), investigative journalist I. F. Stone (Isador Feinstein; 1907– ), "60 Minutes" television journalist Mike Wallace (Myron Leon Wallace; 1918– ), and television journalist Barbara Walters (1931– ).


Novelists: Saul Bellow (Solomon Bellows; 1915– )— The Adventures of Augie March and Mr. Sammler's Planet; E. L. Doctorow (1931– )— Ragtime and Billy Bathgate; Stanley Elkin (1930– ); Joseph Heller (1923– )— Catch 22; Erica Jong (Erica Mann; 1942– ) — Fear of Flying; Jerzy Kosinski (1933-1991)— Being There; Ira Levin (1929– )— Rosemary's Baby and Boys from Brazil; Norman Mailer (1923– )— The Naked and the Dead and Tough Guys Don't Dance; Bernard Malamud (1914-1986)— The Natural and The Fixer; Cynthia Ozick (1928– )— The Pagan Rabbi; Philip Roth (1933– )— Portnoy's Complaint; Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904-1991)— In My Father's House; Leon Uris (1924– )— Exodus; Nathaniel West (Nathan Weinstein; 1903-1940)— Miss Lonelyhearts and The Day of the Locust; and Herman Wouk (1915– )— The Caine Mutiny and War and Remembrance.

Playwrights: Lillian Hellman (1907-1984)— Children's Hour and The Little Foxes; David Mamet (1947– )— American Buffalo and Glengarry Glen Ross; and Arthur Miller (1915– )— Death of a Salesman and The Crucible.

Poets: Allen Ginsberg (1926– )—"Howl" and "Kaddish;" Stanley Kunitz (1905– )—"Green Ways;" and Howard Nemerov (1920-1991).

Essayists/critics: Irving Howe (1920– )— World of Our Fathers and How We Lived; Alfred Kazin (1915– )— New York Jew; Susan Sontag (1933– )— Against Interpretation; and Elie Wiesel (1928– )— Night.


Broadway and popular composers: Irving Berlin (1888-1989)—"Blue Skies," "God Bless America," and "White Christmas;" George Gershwin (1898-1937)— Of Thee I Sing and Porgy and Bess (musicals) and "Rhapsody in Blue;" Richard Rodgers (1902-1979)— Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music (musicals; with Oscar Hammerstein II); Benny Goodman (1909-1986)—"Let's Dance" and "Tiger Rag" (swing band music); pianist, composer, and conductor Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)— West Side Story and Candide (musicals) and On the Waterfront (film score); Burt Bacharach (1929– ); Herb Alpert (1935– ); and Marvin Hamlisch (1944– ).

Classical performers/composers: pianist Arthur Rubinstein (1887-1982); violinist Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987); pianist Vladimir Horowitz (1904-1989); violinist Nathan Milstein (1904-1992); violinist Itzhak Perlman (1945– ); operatic soprano Beverly Sills (Belle Silverman; 1929– ); and composer Aaron Copeland (1900-1990).

Popular songwriters/performers: Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman; 1941– )—"Like a Rolling Stone" and "Blowing in the Wind;" Neil Diamond (1941– )—"Solitary Man" and "I'm a Believer;" Carole King (Carole Klein; 1941– )—"You've Got a Friend" and "Been to Canaan;" Paul Simon (1941– ); Art Garfunkel (1941– ); and Barbra Streisand (1942– ).


Perhaps the best known thinker of the twentieth-century is Albert Einstein (1879-1955), the German Jewish physicist who had completed his most important scientific work before coming to America in 1934. Though best known for his theory of relativity, for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1922, Einstein played a critical role in American history as part of team of scientists who researched atomic power during World War II. At that time, Jewish emigres joined native-born Jews in the famous Los Alamos nuclear project that led to the explosion of the first atomic bomb in 1945. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967), Lewis Strauss, and I.I. Rabi (born 1898), all American-born Jews, teamed up with such Jewish immigrant scientists as Einstein, Enrico Fermi (1901-1954), Leo Szilard, Theodor von Karman, and John von Neumann. Einstein was part of "brain drain" of Jews from Nazi Germany that also included psychoanalysts Erich Fromm (1900-1980), Bruno Bettelheim (1903-1990), and Erik Erikson (1902– ), as well as social scientists Hannah Arendt (1906-1975) and Leo Strauss (1899-1973).

Other American Jews made notable contributions to science as well. Albert Michelson, who measured the speed of light, was the first American to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Jonas Salk (1914-1995) and Albert Sabin (1906-1993) discovered polio vaccines during the 1950s, and Robert Hofstadter (1916-1970) won the Nobel Prize for creating a device for measuring the size and shape of neutrons and protons. Medical science pioneer Joseph Goldberger (1874-1929) laid the foundation for modern nutritional science with his study of the dietary habits of poor whites and blacks in the South. Finally, chemist Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) popularized science with his 500 fiction and non-fiction books on science.


Children of Jewish immigrants at the beginning of the twentieth century gravitated toward sports to break up the routine of daily life. Boxing was especially popular, with Jewish boxing champions Abe Attell (Albert Knoehr; 1884-1969), Barney Ross (Barnet Rasofsky; 1909-1967), and Benny Leonard (Benjamin Leiner; 1896-1947), all hailing from New York's Lower East Side. Other world champions from various weight classes for two years or more include Benny Bass (1904-1975), Robert Cohen (1930– ), Jackie Fields (Jacob Finkelstein; 1908– ), Alphonse Halimi (1932– ), Louis "Kid" Kaplan (1902-1970), Battling Levinsky (Barney Lebrowitz; 1891-1949), Ted Lewis (Gershon Mendeloff; 1894-1970), Al McCoy (Al Rudolph; born 1894), Charley Phil Rosenberg (Charles Green; 1901– ), "Slapsie" Maxie Rosenbloom (1904-1976), and Corporal Izzy Schwartz (1902– ).

Beyond boxing, Jews have made their mark in many other sports as well. The Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in Israel includes the following Americans: Red Auerbach (basketball), Isaac Berger (weightlifting), Hank Greenberg (baseball), George Gulak (gymnastics), Irving Jaffe (ice skating), Sandy Koufax (base-ball), Sid Luckman (football), Walter Miller (horse racing), Dick Savitt (tennis), Mark Spitz (swimming), and Sylvia Wene Martin (bowling).




An organ of the American Jewish Committee and published monthly, this influential Jewish magazine addresses religious, political, social, and cultural topics.

Contact: Neil Kozodoy, Editor.

Address: 165 East 56th Street, New York, New York 10022.

Telephone: (800) 551-3252; or (212) 751-4000.

Fax: (212) 751-4017.


Jewish Forward.

Published in English and Yiddish by the Forward Association. With a circulation of 25,000, the daily paper covers local, national, and international news, with special emphasis on Jewish life.

Contact: Mordecai Shtrigler, Editor.

Address: 45 East 33rd Street, New York, New York 10016.

Telephone: (800) 266-0773; or (212) 889-8200.

Fax: (212) 684-3949.

Jewish Press.

A national weekly newspaper covering issues and events related to Jewish life. Established in 1949, it has a circulation of 174,000.

Contact: Sholom Klass, Editor.

Address: 338 Third Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11215.

Telephone: (800) 992-1600; or (718) 330-1100.

Fax: (718) 935-1215.


Nashreeye B'nei Torah.

A bimonthly journal published by the Iranian B'Nei Torah Movement that carries articles on Jewish history, tradition, and culture for Iranian Jews.

Contact: Rabbi Joseph Zargari.

Address: P.O. Box 351476, Los Angeles, California 90035.

Telephone: (310) 652-2115.

Fax: (310) 652-6979.

Reform Judaism.

An organ of Union of American Hebrew Congregations, this quarterly concentrates on religious, political, and cultural issues of concern to Reform Jews.

Contact: Aron Hirt-Manheimer, Editor.

Address: 838 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10021.

Telephone: (212) 650-4240.

Online: .

The Sentinel.

An English-language weekly paper established in 1911 with a circulation of 46,000. It publishes local, national, and international news stories and commentary as well as listings of events of interest to the Jewish community.

Contact: Jack I. Fishbein, Editor and Publisher.

Address: 6 North Michigan, Suite 905, Chicago, Illinois 60602.


More than a dozen Jewish radio programs are broadcast weekly in cities across the United States. Typically lasting one to two hours, the programs are found on such stations as the following:

KCSN-FM (88.5).

Address: 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, California 91330.

Telephone: (818) 677-3089.


Online: .

WCLV-FM (95.5).

Address: 26501 Renaissance Parkway, Cleveland, Ohio 44128.

Telephone: (216) 464-0900.

Fax: (216) 464-2206.


Online: .

WMUA-FM (91.1).

Address: 105 Campus Center, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Massachusetts 01003.

Telephone: (413) 545-2876.

Fax: (413) 545-0682.



There are several Jewish television broadcasting stations, including:

Israel Broadcasting Authority.

Address: 1101 30th Street, Washington, D.C. 20007.

Telephone: (202) 338-6091.

Israel Broadcasting Authority Radio and Television.

Address: 10 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, New York 10020.

Telephone: (212) 265-6330.

Jewish Television Network.

Address: 617 South Olive Street, Suite 515, Los Angeles, California 90014.

Telephone: (213) 614-0972.

Jewish Video Cleveland.

Address: Jewish Community Federation, 1750 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115.

Telephone: (216) 566-9200.


Cable channels 23, 24, 25, and M in New York City.

Telephone: (212) 620-7041.

Organizations and Associations

American Jewish Committee (AJC).

Founded in 1906, the AJC is an influential organization dedicated to the protection of religious and civil rights. Representing more than 600 Jewish American communities, the AJC sponsors educational programs, maintains its own library, and publishes the noted journal, Commentary.

Contact: David Harris, Executive Director.

Address: c/o Institute of Human Relations, 165 East 56th Street, New York, New York 10022.

Telephone: (212) 751-4000.

Fax: (212) 838-2120.


Online: .

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).

Founded 1914, the JDC is a charitable organization created by the American Jewish Relief Committee, the Central Committee for Relief of Jews of the Union of Orthodox Congregations, and the People's Relief Committee. In addition to providing economic assistance to needy Jews in 25 countries, the organization fosters community development through an assortment of educational, religious, cultural, and medical programs with an annual budget of $90 million.

Contact: Michael Schneider, Executive Vice President.

Address: 711 Third Avenue, New York, New York 10017-4014.

Telephone: (212) 687-6200.

Fax: (212) 682-7262.


Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith (ADL).

Founded in 1913, the ADL was created by B'nai B'rith, an international organization founded in 1843 to foster Jewish unity and protect human rights. The ADL was established to counter the rising tide of anti-Semitism during the early twentieth century, but it has since expanded its focus to protect against defamation of any group of people. Though the ADL has broadened its mission and sought to improve interfaith relations, one of the group's primary goals is to further American understanding of Israel. The ADL sponsors a number of bulletins, including its Anti-Defamation League Bulletin, as well as articles, monographs, and educational materials.

Contact: Abraham H. Foxman, Director.

Address: 823 United Nations Plaza, New York, New York 10017.

Telephone: (212) 490-2525.

Fax: (212) 867-0779.

92nd Street Young Men's and Young Women's Hebrew Association (YM-YWHA).

Founded in 1874, the YM-YWHA resulted from the merger between the Young Men's Hebrew Association, the Young Women's Hebrew Association, and the Clara de Hirsch Residence. It provides Jewish cultural, social, educational, and recreational programs for 300,000 Jews in New York City. The association serves a variety of functions by maintaining several facilities in New York, including residence facilities for Jewish men and women between 18 and 27, men's and women's health clubs, swimming pools, gymnasiums, and a library containing more than 30,000 volumes on Jewish life and thought. Scholarships are also offered to Jewish undergraduate and graduate students.

Contact: Sol Adler, Executive Director.

Address: 1395 Lexington Avenue, New York, New York 10128.

Telephone: (212) 996-1100.

Fax: (212) 828-3077.

Online: .

World Jewish Congress, American Section (WJC).

Founded 1936, the WJC is an international organization representing three million Jews in 68 countries. The American Section of the WJC represents 23 Jewish organizations. Guided by its mission to protect human rights worldwide, the WJC serves a consultative capacity with various international governing bodies, including the United Nations, UNESCO, UNICEF, International Labour Organization, and Council of Europe. The WJC is responsible for such periodicals as World Jewry, Journal of Jewish Sociology and Patterns of Prejudice.

Contact: Elan Steinberg, Executive Director.

Address: 501 Madison Avenue, 17th Floor, New York, New York 10022.

Telephone: (800) 755-5883; or (212) 755-5770.

Fax: (212) 755-5883.

Museums and Research Centers

American Jewish Historical Society.

Founded in 1892 in an effort to gather, organize, and disseminate information and memorabilia related to the history of American Jews. The society has a library with more than ten million books, documents, manuscripts, pictures, and miniatures.

Contact: Justin L. Wyner, President.

Address: 2 Thornton Road, Waltham, Massachusetts 02154.

Telephone: (617) 891-8110.

Fax: (617) 899-9208.


U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Sponsored by the President's Commission on the Holocaust and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, it presents a moving tribute to the millions of Jews who perished in Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Opened in 1994, the museum features photographs, documents, and video.

Contact: Sam Eskenazi, Public Information Director.

Address: 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20024-2150.

Telephone: (212) 488-0400.


Online: .

The Jewish Museum.

Boasts the largest collection in the Western Hemisphere of materials related to Jewish life. Covering 40 centuries, the collection features paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture, ceremonial objects, coins, broadcast material, and historical documents.

Contact: Anne Scher, Director of Public Relations.

Address: 1109 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10128.

Telephone: (212) 423-3200.

Online: .

Leo Baeck Institute.

A research center dedicated to the preservation and study of materials related to the culture and socioeconomic history of German-speaking Jews of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The institute maintains a library with more than 500 unpublished memoirs and 60,000 volumes on the German Jewish experience from the Jewish Enlightenment to the emergence of National Socialism. There is also an art collection featuring more than 3,000 works by German-Jewish artists.

Contact: Carol Kahn Stauss, Executive Director.

Address: 129 East 73rd Street, New York, New York 10021.

Telephone: (212) 744-6400.

Fax: (212) 988-1305.


Online: .

YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

A secular research institute dedicated to scholarship on all aspects of the American Jewish experience, with particular emphasis on Yiddish language and literature. Established in 1925, the institute has gathered a massive collection of some 22 million documents, photographs, manuscripts, audiovisuals, and other items related to Jewish life.

Contact: Dr. Tom L. Freudenheim, Executive Director.

Address: 555 West 57th Street, Suite 1100, New York, New York 10019.

Telephone: (212) 246-6080.

Fax: (212) 292-1892.


Online: .

Sources for Additional Study

American Jewish History: The Colonial and Early National Periods, 1654-1840, edited by Jeffrey S. Gurock. New York: Routledge, 1997.

Dimont, Max I. The Jews in America: The Roots, History, and Destiny of American Jews. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978.

Glazer, Nathan. American Judaism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1972.

Golden, Harry. The Greatest Jewish City in the World. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1972.

Hertzberg, Arthur. The Jews in America: Four Centuries of an Uneasy Encounter. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989.

Howe, Irving. World of Our Fathers. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976.

Kushner, Harold. To Life! A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking. Boston: Little, Brown, 1993.

Sachar, Howard M. A History of the Jews in America. New York: Knopf, 1992.

Silberman, Charles E. A Certain People: American Jews and Their Lives Today. New York: Summit Books, 1985.

Sklare, Marshall. America's Jews. New York: Random House, 1971.

Sorin, Gerald. Tradition Transformed: The Jewish Experience in America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.

Waskow, Arthur I. Seasons of Our Joy: A Handbook of Jewish Festivals. New York: Summit Books, 1986.

User Contributions:

Excellent information of the jewish culture - Keep it up
This was so interesting an informative. I learned so much from this entry.
I was trying to find the causes of Jewish Immigration to the United States for a report, and this website was very helpful. I only wish it had a publishing date for citation purposes.
Basak Kanlilar
I like this article. I am doing a research paper on Jewish culture. I was wondering if there were other articles pertaining to Hereditary disease and religion. I am a UCLA student, school of Nursing. Please let me know of other articles you may have. Thank you
Y. Levin
All in all an interesting and informative article, but with one glaring and often repeated historical error regarding the names given over time to the Jewish Homeland. True, it was originally called Canaan up to and including the time of Abraham and his children and grandchildren. However, from the time of the return of the descendants of Jacob (Israel) from Egyptian slavery (about 400 years after Abraham) until the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans, a span of about 1800 years, it was called the Land of Israel or the Kingdom of Israel (at some points two Kingdoms, of Israel and Judea or Judah). The name "Palestine" was first bestowed on this area by the conquering Romans. The name was loosely based on that of the rival nation of Philistia (the Philistines) which occupied a small sliver of territory on the southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, about the size and location of the Gaza Strip. That nation more or less ceased to exist as a nation (i.e. it was absorbed into neighboring peoples, and there is no connection between it and modern-day Palestinian Arabs) during the course of the reigns of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judea; the name was resurrected by the Romans as a way of minimizing the connection of the Jewish People to the Land of Israel.

So the proper chronological order is: Canaan, Israel, Israel and Judea, Palestine, Israel.

Other than that, excellent article.
Fred Leznek
Of the 250,000 American Jews that served in World War I and 550,000 that served in World War II,can you please tell me how many died in both wars?

Thank you.

Fred Leznek
Shalom Group
Sun City - Huntley, Illinois
Jay cepero
Hello and Thank you again for sharing this wealth of information.
i am RONI, from INDONESIA. a small country in SOUTHEAST ASIA. reading this article, open my perception and horizon about jews !! BUT i still do not find the THE JEWS's PHILOSPHical FOUNDATION that makes individual, community, civilization of jews strong and different with others!!

thank you!
this is excellent information, it helped a lot through my research paper
Dear Sir:
Wonderful article. I am researching my geneology and came across what may be a Jewish ancestor: Amos Enoch Emanuel, b. 1740 in Screven County, GA. His uncle was Revolutionary War soldier/Pvt. David Emanuel, Jr (Governor of Georgia in 1801, and previously a Senator in Screven County, GA). David's father was David Emanuel, Sr. who came to St. George Parish (Burke County, GA) in 1755 from England (??)...that is as far back as I can go.
Can the Emanuel surname also be of non-Jewish origin? I did, however, read a quote from some research I found where Gov. David Emanuel was praised as "an exceptional gentleman and true credit to his 'race'". I am assuming Jews were considered non-white and as such a separate "race"? My DNA shows no African blood, about 2% Native Amer; Basque/Scandinavian Haplotype H17 blood and sub-African and East Asian roots going 35,000 years backwards. Just wondering if you are familiar with the Jews of early, colonial Georgia and if the religion/ethnicity of Gov. David Emanuel is known by you or others researching colonial Jewish roots. Whatever I find out will be exciting!
Demetrius Parker
Greetings. I so very much appreciate the amazing content of your site. I direct health communication, marketing and media activities at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. My special focus is applying cultural insights to communication projects and activities to make the efforts more relevant and accurate. I would appreciate speaking with the manager of the site about a new initiative I am developing about cultural communication strategies.

Thank you.
Dashon Seabrook
This is an excellent work and i am now informed of Jewish Culture.
Do we know when was this article written? I am trying to cite it for a paper
Also wondering if anyone has a date of publication on this? I haven't found additional information on the author, or other works by the author. Does anyone else have the information? Trying to cite source as well.

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