Jews, Ethnics, and the American City
AT A time when the plight of the American city engages so much of our attention-when scarcely a week can pass without the New York Times featuring a story about middle-class New Yorkers fleeing the metropolis to seek contentment in a New England village-it would also seem particularly appropriate to analyze the special relationship of the Jew to the American city. For the Jews, more than any other group, have been among America’s most enthusiastic city-dwellers, regarding the urban environment not as a problem or a source of pain, but as an opportunity and a place of pleasure. One might even go so far as to say that in their mode of life and occupational patterns American Jews have constituted the perfect urbanites. Furthermore, Jews have played a major role in supplying others with the amenities and graces of urban life (amenities and graces, incidentally, which seem to have lost some of their former attraction).
If Jews have been singularly successful in their accommodation to the American city, their success is not accounted for by anything in their history-East European Jews did not, for instance, merely transfer to an American setting the arts and practices of urban living they had acquired in Warsaw or Kiev or Cracow. In fact, most American Jews are the descendants of villagers. The mass Jewish migrations to the city began only about a century ago, when Jews left their East European hamlets to settle in New York, Philadelphia, Manchester, Johannesburg-and in Warsaw. This move followed a precedent set by the German Jews who, half a century or so earlier, had emigrated to New York or Philadelphia, to Berlin or Munich, from their native villages in Bavaria and the Rhineland.
About the Author