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Philosophy 310 Final

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Autor:   •  October 11, 2017  •  Term Paper  •  1,353 Words (6 Pages)  •  171 Views

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Prof Steve Hoffman

Jewish American Experience 206

1 May 2017

America is one of the few places Jewish people have not to forced to leave. Jewish families have been immigrating here since 1654, and while they experienced hardship and discrimination here too, over time Jews have developed communities and become statistically much more successful than the average American. The Jewish community makes up only 2% of US population, but 25% of top 400 wealthiest Americans are Jewish. Having come so far, what was it like to be a Jewish immigrant? Historically, how did Jewish people get to where they are today? In The American Jew Oscar Janowsky writes “the American pattern of tolerance and good will captured the imagination of the Jews at an early date … in free America, he learned to respect the faith of his neighbor, and expected equal regard for Judaism” (16). This is a very rosy view of Jewish immigration, but when put in the context of the persecution Jews have faced elsewhere it starts to make sense.

For some background, Jewish immigrants have had a rough history of being persecuted everywhere they went. Before even coming to America and dealing with the hardships they faced there, Jews were driven away and looked down on in Europe and Russia. As Ruth Gay, winner of the National Jewish book Award, puts it, “The Jews everywhere were regarded as a strange people, set apart from the Christian world in which they lived. Mysterious in their separateness and in their long, wandering history, they were looked on with a mixture of fear and hatred by ordinary people” (1). Gay describes rumors and old stories passed around, stories that Jews had tails and furry bodies, or used christian blood to make matzah for passover. These tales were intended to suggest that Jews were devil like and evil, to isolate Jewish people from their Goy neighbors. These cruel stories turned into outright blame and hateful scapegoating when stories began to circulate that evil Jews had poisoned the wells and caused the black plague. This led to riots and ultimately an order to for Jews to leave the towns they lived in.

This demand for Jews to pack their bags and find somewhere else to live occured over and over. Even in Spain where the Jews did well for themselves for generations, growing rich and living peaceful lives, the Arab rule was eventually overthrown and Jews were persecuted again. When the Christians came back into power Jews were forced to convert to Christianity and were mistrusted and called “amaranos” (accursed pigs) for generations afterwards. Eventually Queen Isablla of Castile and her husband King Ferdinand of Aragon decreed that all Jews must leave their kingdom within 3 months.

Jewish communities were turned away from Portugal and Brazil among other places before eventually coming to the New World and settling in New Amsterdam (soon to be New York) in 1654. This was the 1st Jewish community in the United States, numbering 23 men, women, and children from South America (Janowsky). Later on in the 19th Century there was a flood of Jewish immigration from German close to 200,000 Jews, all fleeing to escape poverty and oppression. From 1880 to 1920 there was also Russian immigration of about two million due to similar issues of hardship and discrimination and limitations on Jewish marriage. In short, Jews have been coming to America to escape persecution for years, ever since they first saught shelter in the new world.

Even their beginnings in New Amsterdam were rough. The Jews were charged extra money for their passage by ship, and when they couldn’t pay the fee their belongings were auctioned. Kind Dutch citizens bought the belongings at low prices and returned them to their owners, but the captian realized what was going on and decided to imprison two Jews until the debt was paid. However, once there the Jewish community was given official permission from the Dutch West India Company to remain in America, and from that point on the community blossomed.

As time went on this determined Jewish attitude persisted, and new Jewish immigrants did not lay down and give in to their hardships either. It seems to be a characteristic of the Jewish community to work hard to better one’s situations and learn from mistakes made. Prominent scholar and literature professor Charles Bernheimer describes an instance of this, explaining how during the ‘longshoremen’s strike of 1882 Jews didn’t know what strikes were and blindly took the places of employees on strike, but once they understood what was going on they joined the strike. “No sooner, however, had the situation been explained to the ‘scabs’ than they abandoned their wheelbarrows, amid the appluase of the striking Gentiles” (Bernheimer 34). The struggle of starting a life in America


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