The Wonders of America, by Jenna Weissman Joselit
In this fascinating book about the folk customs of middle-class American Jews, Jenna Weissman Joselit, a professor of religion at Princeton, explains how many commonly observable phenomena—of the sort one may never have bothered to think about—actually came to be.
Why, for instance, do suburban synagogues invariably contain gift shops, usually located in the same spot to one side of the lobby, stuffed with tacky items and run by the ladies of the “Sisterhood”? Joselit traces their origins to the late 1940′s, when Jews began migrating in large numbers from the downtown areas of cities, leaving behind the centrally located stores that specialized in Jewish ritual objects. At the same time, newly affluent Jews experienced a jolt of interest in home observance, and this called for a supply of gifts and other objects sufficiently fancy to please demanding suburban matrons.
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