Judaism's Transformation to Modernization in Relation to America



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