Unformatted text preview: I. II. III. Introduction a. The antebellum period was a unique period for American Jews in the South. Due of the existence of slavery and its racial hierarchy, Jews in the South had more access to social mobility than their peers in the North and their significantly smaller communities contributed to a communal cohesion in the established Jewish centers of Charleston and Savannah. Challenges to Jewish unity and identity can be identified, however, in the struggles that happened within extended families, as seen in an analysis of the Mordecai and Sheftall families, in which assimilation, intermarriage, apostasy, and political issues provoked familial schisms. b. Leonard Dinnerstein, "A Neglected Aspect of Southern Jewish History," American Jewish Historical; Quarterly, September 1971, Volume 61, Number 1, Publication of the American Jewish Historical Society in Waltham, MA Nature of Jews in the South numbers, etc. a. "Jewish Values in the Southern Milieu," Abraham D. Lavender i. "The first Jewish settlement of considerable size in the Souht was in Georgia in 1733...dissipated by 1740...and permanency achieved in 1790. Meanwhile, other Southern Jewish communities, particularly the one in Charleston were extablished, but throughout the colonial period the number of Southern Jews remained small, and they were largely of the `more relaxed and casual' Sephardic orientation. In the middle decades of the 1800s increasing numbers of German-Jewish immigrants settled in small communities in the South." P. 127-128 b. Homelands: Southern Jewish Idnetity in Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina i. "After the failed revolution of 1848, with hopes for a more tolerant, democratic Germany crushed, Prussian Jews began emigrating in greater numbers. From 1840 to 1860 America's Jewish population grew tenfold, from 15,000 to 150,000." P. 11 ii. "Few and mobile, southern Jews were slow to institutionalize their Judaism. In 1861 there were only 21 congregations in the South... Early American congregations were all Orthodox, but in larger cities they dividied along national lines. Richmond, the first American home of most early Durham Jews, offered a paradigm: The Sephardic-rite Beth Shalome was founding in 1789 followed by the Bavarians' Beth Ahabah in 1841, the Prussians' Polish-rite Kenesseth Israel in 1856, and the Russians' Sir Moses Montefiore in 1880. Ethnic lines were not sharply drawn. Beth Shalome's membership consisted mostly of Germans, who appreciated its socially decorous ritual. Over time Prussians gravitated from Orthodoxy toward Beth Ahabah, which evolved toward Reform." P. 19 c. c Existence of slavery and racial hierarchy a. "Jews of the region a level of social acceptance unparalleled in any other Western society of the time" (Goldstein 136). Eric L. Goldstein, "Now is the Time to Show Your True Colors": Southern Jews, Whiteness, and the Rise of Jim Crow in Jewish Roots in Southern Soil: A New History, Edited by Marcie Cohen Ferris and Mark I. Greenberg b. Korn reading i. Realistic to conclude that any Jew who could afford to own slaves and had need for their services would do so...Jews wanted to acclimate themselves in every way to their environment; in both a social and psychological sense, they needed to be accepted as equals by their fellow-citizens. It was, therefore, only a matter of financial circumstance and familiar status whether they were to become slave-owners. (158) ii. "The Southern intellectual scene in the main, was a drab monochromatic landscape of unquestioning adherence to the dominant Southern doctrine about slavery during the two decades before the Civil War. Jews not only accepted this doctrine, some of them helped to formulate and circulate it, although their role was by no means a significant one" iii. "Whatever prejudice there was in the South, before the Civil War aggravated every possible source of tension, was directed largely against the alien Jew, the immigrant peddler and petty storekeeper, the insecure newcomer, whose very survival was in the hands of his customers." 199 iv. "The Jews were white...measurably higher social and political status achieved by Jews in the South than in the North." 200 v. "The Negroes acted as an escape-valve in Southern society. The Jews gained in status and security from the very presence of this large mass of defenseless victims who were compelled to absorb all of the prejudices." 200 vi. "Slavery, therefore, played a more significant role in the development of Jewish life in the Old SOUTH c. History of the Jews in America by Peter Wiernik i. "The American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, in its report in 1853, noted that some Jews in the Southern States `have refused to have any right of property in man, or even to have any slaves about them' and that the cruel persecutions they themselves were subjected to tended to make them friends of universal freedom. But these were exceptional, not typical cases, and not more common among Jews than among gentiles." P. 207 d. Valdostans in Jews of the South i. "By picturing the Jews as the lesser of two evils, the newspaper revealed that however receptive the Valdostans might have been to the idea of Jews living among them, inwardly they were not ready to put aside their prejudices. The Jews, therefore, were only too happy to let the freedmen act as a social lightning rod absorbing e. f. g. h. i. bolts of animosity that might otherwise have struck them...The presence of the blacks, therefore, gave the Jews a greater sense of security and freedom." P.3, Immediately post-Civil War Judah P. Benjamin Penina Moise, Southern Jewish Poetess i. "Her sentiments appear to have been those of a moderate Southerner. Like most of her compatriots, she seems to have had a paternalistic attitude towards the institution of slavery. This attitude is revealed indirectly in her only known poem on the subject, which was motivated by an article she had read about a dying slave. She wrote: "No morbid discontent his mien betrayed, / From thirst of liberty yet unallayed. / Was he not free to mark his moral course / By deed that would love and respect enforce? / Tearful was he who stood beside the dead / And laid his hand upon the patriarch's head, / While memory turned back to childhood scene / When he would on his `father's playmate' lean." P. 36-37 American Jewish Archives, April 1980: "Billy Simons: The Black Jew of Charleston" i. Rule No. 23, "Constitution of the Hebrwe Congregation Kaal Kodesh Beth Elohim, or House of God, Charleston," 1820: "This congregation shall not encourage or interfere with making proselytes under any pretense whatever, nor shall any such be admitted under the jurisdiction of their congregation, until he or she or they produce legal and satisfactory credentials, from some other congregation, where a regular Chief [Rabbi] or Rabbi and Hebrew Consistory is established; and, provided, he, she or they are not people of color. P. 6 ii. Billy Simons claimed to have been descended from the biblical Rechabites and to have been purchased in Africa and "brought to America by Jewish masters." P. 6 The congregation made an exception and accepted Simons, but it "tells more of the membership's respect for him as an individual than of its certainty of his Jewish past." P. 6 iii. "Maurice Mayer, the congregation's rabbi, noted that he was `the most observant of those who go to the synagogue' and `Although in the South, as well as in the free North, blacks and colored persons sit apart from the whites in all public places, churches, theatres, and the like, Uncle Billy sits in the nave of the temple among his white coreligionists.'" P. 7 "Judah P. Benjamin," by Richard S. Tedlow i. "In the South, according to Leonard Dinnerstein, `it is rare for a Jew to support publicly controversial issues' for fear of exciting latent bigotry." P. 50 ii. Stephen J. Whitfield, "Jews and Other Southerners" in Turn to the South i. "The rather benign response to Jews in the South may be due to their commitment to family cohesiveness and the loyalty to ancestry that their neighbors could not help but notice. More importantly, Jews posed no genuine threat to the stability of Southern society and traditions, since they were not only white in color but few in number. Even as the cultural contradictions linger, perhaps the paradox this essay has also explored can be resolved by acknowledging how peripheral Jews have been, for even the archetype of the alien and the Christ-killer could not have had the same weight and urgency as the fear of the power of blackness." P. 104 IV. j. s Cohesion of Charleston's Jewish community a. Ferris & Greenberg in Jewish Roots in Southern Soil b. Gary Phillip Zola, "The Ascendancy of Reform Judaism in the American South during the Nineteenth Century, in Jewish Roots in Southern Soil c. Ira M. Sheskin, "The Dixie Diaspora: The `Loss' of the Small Southern Jewish Community" in Dixie Diaspora d. Jenna Weissman Joselit, "Land of Promise: The Eastern European Jewish Experience in South Carolina," A Portion of the People: Three Hundred Years of Southern Jewish Life Cohesion of Savannah's Jewish community a. "A Haven of Benignity" Mark I. Greenberg in Dixie Diaspora Mordecai family a. Stephen J. Whitfield, "Jews and Other Southerners" in Turn to the South "The rather benign response to Jews in the South may be due to their commitment to family cohesiveness and the loyalty to ancestry that their neighbors could not help but notice. P. 104 a. Mordecai by Emily Bingham i. "Religious and ethnic persecution was rarely visited upon Jews in the early United States. Rather, the Mordecais noted "small slights and neglect," treatment that sometimes wounded family members deeply. Lingering prejudices could explain social snubs from genteel southerners; that fellow Jews often dismissed the Mordecais was harder to bear. Their low status in Jewish circles derived from the fact that Jacob was, as one historian termed it, that `rara avis, an unsuccessful Jew.' In an irony difficult for the Mordecais to accept or overcome, it was from fellow Jews that they felt or perceived the most stinging anti-Semitic stereotyping." P. 6 ii. b. "American, Jewish, Southern, Mordecai: Constructing Identities to 1865" by Emily Bingham in Jewish Roots in Southern Soil Sheftall family a. "The Sheftalls of Savannah" by John McKay Sheftall" in Jews of the South V. VI. VII. VIII. i. The first three generations of Savannah Sheftalls were united by their dedication to Judaism and their physical proximity. However, in the fourth and fifth generations this important unity began to crumble. Some of Levi's grandchildren married outside the Jewish faith, and other family members left Savannah for New York, Philadelphia, California, and Texas. As assimilation into the Christian community continued in the mid and late nineteenth century, various branches of the family were ostracized and legal conflicts erupted. Family letters, legal documents, and oral tradition chronicle the unhappy results of this interfamilial conflict." P. 78 ii. "This slow splintering of unity within the Sheftall family was not atypical of what many early American Jewish families experienced to some degree. Initial struggles for economic and religious survival encouraged cohesion, but after the efforts of the first several generations brought financial security and sometimes even political recognition, cultural and religious assimilation often followed. As the younger family members identified with the Christian community through marriage or other social ties, older family members usually reacted by severing all contact. Offspring from these mixed unions typically had little association with their Jewish relatives. My own branch of the Sheftall family, although not practicing the Jewish religion for more than 150 years, was unusual in that it preserved knowledge of its Jewish heritage." P.78 IX. b. s Conclusion a. Judah P. Benjamin? i. "Judah P. Benjamin by Richard S. Tedlow in "Turn to the South: Essays on Southern Jewry," Edited by Nathan M. Kaganoff and Melvin I. Urofsky 1. "Thus Northerners held Benjamin in low esteem because he had been a leader of the rebellion and a slaveholder, while Southerners did so because they thought him incompetent. And in both sections his Jewish background intensified the criticism." P. 47 2. Judah P. Benjamin "provides support for Korn's thesis that the Civil War, rather than the great immigration at the turn of the century, marks the beginning of modern anti-Jewish feeling in America. Clearly Benjamin's Judaism not only heightened dislike of him but brought into sharper focus an animus against Jews in general on both sides of the MasonDixon line." P. 50 3. ii. b. "Homelands" i. "In the colonial and antebellum eras Jews were identified with commerce and welcomed for their economic utility. Intermarriage with elite families points to social acceptance. Nevertheless, the Jews' religious difference disqualified them as full-fledged citizens politically...The immigrant German Jews who came at mid century arrived when southerners were asserting their separate, regional identity, which manifested itself in secession. Despite their outsider immigrant status, Jews demonstrated their southern nationalism by their ardor for the Confederacy." P. 21 c. D ...
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- Fall '07
- Judaism, Savannah, Charleston, American Jews, Judah P. Benjamin