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 supportof 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