English Composition/Judaism's Modernization In America term paper 4162

English Composition term papers
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The Jewish way of life has been affected in a tremendous

way by the people of the United States of America. By the time

of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, there were

only 2500 Jews in America. For forty years beginning in 1840,

250,000 Jews (primarily from Germany, Hungary, and Bohemia)

entered this country. Anti-Semitism and economic woes in Eastern

Europe went from bad to worse after the pogroms of 1881-1882.

Almost three million Eastern European Jews left between 1881 and

1914, two million (85%) of which decided to come to America,

where they thought "the streets were paved with gold." They were

wrong. Because of this intercontinental migration, the social

characterization of Jews in America changed drastically. Before

the move, the largest group in the early eighteenth century were

the Sephardic Jews. They lived in the coastal cities as merchants,

artisans, and shippers. The Jews who predominately spoke German

came to America over 100 years later, and quickly spread out over

the land. Starting as peddlers, they moved up to business

positions in the south, midwest, and on the west coast. New York

City had 85,000 Jews by 1880, most of which had German roots. At

this time in American history, the government accepted many people

from many different backgrounds to allow for a diverse population;

this act of opening our borders probably is the origin of the

descriptive phrase "the melting pot of the world."

These German Jews rapidly assimilated themselves and their

faith. Reform Judaism arrived here after the Civil War due to the

advent of European Reform rabbis. Jewish seminaries, associations,

and institutions, such as Cincinnati's Hebrew Union College, New

York's Jewish Theological Seminary, the Union of American Hebrew

Congregations (UAHC), and the Central Conference of American

Rabbis, were founded in the 1880s.

America was experimenting with industry on a huge scale at

the time the Eastern European Jews that arrived. Their social

history combined with the American Industrial Age produced an

extremely diverse and distinct American Jewry by the end of the

intercontinental migration, which coincided with the start of the

Great World War (World War I). Almost two out of every three new

immigrants called the big northeast municipalities (such as the

Lower East Side of New York) their new home. They would take any

job available to support the family, and they worked in many

different jobs which were as physically demanding as they were

diverse. The garment district in New York today was made from the

meticulousness, the sweat, and the determination of the Jews. Low

pay, long hours, and disgusting working conditions characterized

the average working day. Labor unions fought for these workers'

rights and eventually won. There are stories of men in the Lower

East Side of New York who started to sell rags from a cart, and

slowly moved up the ladder in time to run a small clothing shop.

Like other Jews in America at this time, they sacrificed the

Sabbath to work during it, but it was for the good and the support

of his family.

The 1890s saw the birth of many Jewish-oriented charities were

organized to raising funds for medical and social services, such

as Jewish hospitals and Jewish homes for the aged. The American

Jewish Committee was formed in 1906 to attempt to influence the

American government to aid persecuted Jewish communities overseas.

B'nai B'rith, a Jewish fraternal society, was set up in 1843 by

German Jews in America; in 1913 it instituted the Anti-Defamation

League to combat anti-Semitism. Today the ADL combats not just

anti-Semitism, but also racism and other discriminants.

Furthermore, The B'nai B'rith Hillel Foundation has put together

Hillel Houses at major college campus throughout the country to

ensure that Jewish college students get an adequate religious

experience. Anti-Semitism in America did not become widespread until

the turn of the century. Anti-Semitism follows Jews around; it is not

part of a community unless Jews live with them in that community and

the gentiles don't want them there. Jews were informally ostracized

from clubs and resorts, and were denied entrance to colleges and other

institutes of higher learning. Moreover, it was a common practice to

not employ Jews in particular professions and basic industries.

Between World War I and World War II the United States placed limits

on the number of Jews allowed in per year. Zionism, the movement

formed by Jews to get themselves to a land that they can call their

own, had a definite impact on American Jewry during Zionism's times of

development and execution. American Zionism was affected by German and

East European Jews coming to America.. Although the small membership

of the American Zionist movement was almost completely East European

at first, many of its leaders came from the older German group. By

1915, Zionism began to attract prominent American-born figures, such

as Louis D. Brandeis, who is most famous as being the first Jew to

serve on the Supreme Court. Brandeis and his associates added a

distinctly American note into Zionism, rejecting the belief that

the diaspora was a form of exile, and also that Zionism tried to

address the dangerous problem of dual loyalty for patriotic Jewish

Americans. For Brandeis, American and Zionist ideals reinforced

each other.

The occurrences of intermarriage (a Jew marrying a gentile) was

not only extremely rare in the first generation of American Jews,

it was also unheard of and rarely talked about. Today, love

commonly crosses the borders of religion; intermarriages are

common. Although divorce is allowed by the Jewish religion, it

also happened once in a blue moon in those times. In America

today, every other marriage ends in a divorce. The parents tried to

push their children for them to have a better life (i.e., material

wealth), a better job, and a better education than they themselves

did. The primary reason for this is so the parents would know that

their children could adequately support them in old age. Today, "the

curve has changed." This happens on a much lower rate, and the chances

that it happens again (on the same scale the first generation of

American Jews) is slim; today's economy is but one reason of many why

this will happen. Back then, only the husband worked and the

"universal middle-class expectation" of the wife was to stay at home

and tend for the children. If the wife had to work -- even part time

during seasonal times of the year -- then it shamed the family into

thinking that the husband was not a good provider. Today it is not

uncommon for both parents to work, and usually neither parent is

ashamed that both work to (simply) support the family; usually

they are both employed such that the family can enjoy a higher

standard of living. Furthermore, the advent of women's liberation

has made it possible for more women to go out into the work force.

Keeping Kosher is yet another issue that has changed over the

generations of American Jews. My mother and father, both Jews,

grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, and my mother's family always kept

kosher. Today, as a Jew, I have never kept kosher in my life, with

the exception of certain holidays, and when my rabbi was watching

me.

Finally, the last issue which is a part of the Jewish-American

generation gap is the Yiddish language. Parents spoke Yiddish

often, but not to the children. They only spoke it to each other

if they did not want the kids to understand what they were talking

about (i.e., marriage problems). However, because the parents did

not choose to have their kids learn Yiddish, they may have

contributed to the generation gap. Today, Yiddish is dying

rapidly. Yiddish theater in New York is but one of a few remaining

areas in America that still speak the language. Today, as a Jew, I

have never heard a Yiddish sentence -- only a few words here and

there, like "schlemiel" and "zoftig" -- and even then I am still

unsure of their true meaning in the times when it was spoken

freely. Scholars have predicted the extinction of the language by

2040 AD, or 5800 on the Jewish calendar.

America has also been an influence on new kinds of Judaism.

Mordecai Kaplan founded the Jewish Reconstructionist movement in

America in the early 1900s. In 1917 he led a shul which

incorporated a broad realm of cultural and recreational

activities. Five years later, he formed the Society of the

Advancement of Judaism, which believed that worship was only one

of many issues a congregation should address. His book Judaism as

a Civilization called for a "reconstruction" of Jewish life. The

Jewish Reconstructionist Foundation (now the Federation of

Reconstructionist Congregations and Havurot) issued new liturgical

texts in the 1940s and 1950s, and it opened the Reconstructionist

Rabbinic College in Philadelphia in 1968. It is an evolving and

organic kind of Judaism, which is constantly adapting itself to the

needs of the community and the society it serves.

Judaism today, largely because of the American

hustle-and-bustle contemporary lifestyle, is just a religion instead

of a way of life. We are now in a period of time where many options

are presented on how to be Jewish -- going to shul, observing the

holidays, sending your children to learn about the Jewish ways of

life, belonging to temples and Jewish organizations (i.e.,

Havurah, an attempt to revive Judaism in small social groups) --

instead of what was only one way to be Jewish. No central idea

holds it together. There's really no one common way to be Jewish

anymore.

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