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The Emergence Of Two Types Of Jews In America

2427 words - 10 pages

If one were to ask a New York resident in the 1950’s how many people he or she would expect to be living in New York sixty years from now, he would most likely not say 20 million. Among those 20 million, it is even more unfathomable that an estimated 1.7 million Jews reside within New York City, making New York home to over a quarter of the Jews living in America today . Amongst those Jews however, how many of them consider themselves religious? Seeing that only an estimated 10 percent of Jews today classify themselves as observant, how and when did this substantial dispersion occur? The period post World War II in America presents the many different factors and pressures for Jews arriving in America during this time. Although many Jews believed America would be the best place to preserve and rebuild Jewish presence in the world, the democracy and economic opportunity resulted in adverse effects on many Jews. The rate of acculturation and assimilation for many of these Jews proved to be too strong, causing an emergence of two types of Jews during this time period. Pressures including the shift to suburbanization, secular education into professional careers, covert discrimination in the labor market and the compelling American culture, ultimately caused the emergence of the passive and often embarrassed ‘American Jew’; the active ‘Jewish American’ or distinctly ‘Jewish’ citizen, avertedly, makes Judaism an engaging active component of who and what they are amidst this new American culture.
For a Jew arriving in America from Europe starting anew marked a defining point. After losing six million Jews in the Holocaust, the United States of America served as one of the most secure havens for reestablishing a strong Jewish presence in the world. Also at this time following WWII, the creation of the Jewish State of Israel came to pass. While many Jewish survivors chose to settle in their ‘homeland’ and help build the state of Israel, many Jews seemed reluctant. Second generation ‘Jewish American’, Samuel Heilman recalled his parents saying “Israel was not attractive; the thought of having to struggle for life in a new and poor country in a land that, although promised by God to our people, was still very much contested by a hostile Arab population was overwhelming and inconceivable.” . The attraction of a democracy and economic opportunity made America an asylum for those Jews looking to start over. More importantly, families believed that America would preserve and protect their families’ Jewish future, amidst this new American lifestyle. Elliot Cohen, founder and editor of Commentary magazine provided testimony to this belief in the magazines first issue in November of 1945 in an article titled An Act of Affirmation. In the article, Cohen believed American Jews “will evolve new patterns of living, new modes of thought, which will harmonize heritage and country into a true sense of at home-ness in the modern world.” Despite this testimony of...

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