The Jews were not a national group and came from many countries. The economic and social impact of Jews on America varied coincerning their origins, but my far the most important wre the Russian and other Eastern European Jews. The vast oproportion of Jews who emmigrated to America came from Russia and eastern Europe, but primarily Russia. (Large areas of Poland at the time were part of Tsarist Russia.) The reason of course was the terrible oppression visited upon the Jews by the Tsarist regime and the Cossacks. Not only were there legal restrictions, but vicisious programs massacred Jews in the thousands. The primary impetus for Russian immigration to America was the pogroms directed at Jew in the wake of the assaination of Tsar Alexander II (1881). A substantial proprtion of the Russian immigrants were Jews. This was the largest group of European Jews to come to America. Earlier Jewish immigrants had been primarily German, but they were realtively small in number compared to the numbers of Russian Jews that began to arrive in America during the 1880s. This same oppression drove Jews into Western Europe, especially Germany which under Bismarck had emancipated the Jews. The Jews are notable for several reasons. Notably the Jews were most likely to stay in America. Few returned to Europe. The Jews were also the immigrant most willing to aid new arrivals. They actively support relief agencies for the new arrivals. The most important impacts of the Jews is surely the impact on American intellectual and political thought.
The Jews were not a national group and came from many countries. The vast oproportion of Jews who emmigrated to America came from Russia and eastern Europe, but primarily Russia. (Large areas of Poland at the time were part of Tsarist Russia.) substantial proprtion of the Russian immigrants were Jews. This was the largest group of European Jews to come to America. Earlier Jewish immigrants had been primarily German, but they were realtively small in number compared to the numbers of Russian Jews that began to arrive in America during the 1880s.
Jews came to America in small numbers, in the 17th century mostly Sephardic Jews fleeing the Inquisition. The Inquisition dates to medieval Europe. The Spanish and Portuguese expelled the Jews to "purify" their countries (1492). This dispersed the Jewish community when became known as Sephardic Jews. Many Jewsstayed in Spain and either converted or claimed to have converted. The Inquisition devoted considerable attention in the 16th and 17th century to ferreting out these Jews. The first Jews to arrive in America came from from Portuguese Brazil where the Inquisition was targeting Jews. A group of 23 Spanish-Portuguese Jews arrived in New Amsterdam (1654). Many Sephardic Jews sought refuge in the Netherlands. These were the few Jews to arrive in the Dutch colony. The Dutch restricted Jewish worship, but wre willing to accept the Jews. More Jews arrived, this time from the Neherlands (1655). The British subsequently seized New Amsterdam, remaming it New York (1664). The British proved more tolerant than the Dutch. Throughout the colonial perod, small numbers of Jews came to America. Mostly they came as individuals and quitely worshiped in their homes. It should be remembered that in the early colonies there was no freedom of worship even for other Protestant denominations. This only developed slowly. One of the most important centers for a more open attitude toward religion was Roger Williams' Rhode Island. And it was here that the first permanent Jewish community was tolerated. That community was in Newport. Jews there under the leadership of Judah Touro built the Touro Synagogue (1773) and it still stands as a memorial to the patriot and philanthropist. There were other early Sephardic (Spanish-Portuguese) Jewish communities scattered throughout the colonies (Charleston, Savannah, and Philadelphia-1745). Another community was organized in Richmond after the Revolution.
The next group of Jews to arrive in America were a very different group, mostly from Germany. While the Sephardic Jews were likely to identify themselves as Jews, the German Jews that came to America in the early and mid-19th century were largely assimilated Jews likely to identify themselves as Germans. Germany at the time was in the process of emancipating the Jews. This was a process began in earest by the French Revolution. Germany was not yet unified and thus this process varied among the different German states. German Jewish emmigration was not largely motivated by religious opression, although this was a factor. Important motivations were scarcity of land, poverty, and restrictions on marriage, domicile and employment. The desire for political freedom was also important, especially after the failure of the 1848 Revolutions. Germany like America in the 1880s was to be affected by the oppression of Russian Jews. Large numbers not only came to America, but also to Western Europe, especially Germany which under Bismarck had emancipated the Jews.
German Jews were present in America before the Revolution, but they became the dominany Jewish cultural group in the early 19th Century. Immigration at the time was virtually wide open. There was no effort made to restrict immigrants for religious reasons. America was a wide open country at the time. The frotier was rapidly being wrestled from Native Americans and pushed west. Like other German groups, Jews spread out throughout the United States. Jews primarily moved into the North and Northwest and to a lesser extent the South. I do not yet fully understandcthis regional divergence. Like other immigrants they traveled west via the Erie Canal. Jewish Communities were founded in Chicago, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and St. Paul. The early European (mostly German) Jews were primarily young, unmarried men. They formed informal, scattered networks of relatives and neighbors, often from the same European communities. Often they encouraged relatives to follow them to America. A second wave of German Jews came after the failed 1848 Revolutions. This second group tended to be slightly older and better educated. They were frustrated by the failure of the republican 1848 Revolutions and often were motivated by a desire for political demokcracy. Economic opportunity was also very important. Many of these Jewing immigrants persued peddling and petty trade requiring only small capital outlays. From these foundations came important depatment stores and other businesses. Perhaps the best known of these immigranys is Levi Strauss, famous of course for his blue jeans. These German immigrants rapidly entered the American middle class. The commitment of these German Jewish immigrants can be seen in their commitment to communal life. They founded a variety of religious, philanthropic and fraternal organizations. They were center of the early Reform Movement in American Judiasm. Reform Judaism was founded by assimilated Jews in Hamburg, Germany and worked to achieve civic equality and social acceptance for Jews.
America with its European origins was noy exempt from anti-Semitism. This was moderated at first because most American Jews until after the Civil War were German Jews and for many it was the German aspect of their appearance that was the most apparent. But still European attitudes persisted, Most Jews went into business opening shops and various commercial undertakings. Unlike Europe, the anti-Semitism practiced in Ametica was almost entirely personal or private organizations (like universities abd clubs) and not reinorced or scantioned by government or legal action. There was, however, one glaring exception and came from an unexpected source. General Ulysses S. Grant was a staunchly anti-slavery individual. But like mostAmericans he harbored anti-Semeriv views, normally unexpressed. He was dealing with aerious black market problem. An issued an order expelling all Jews 'as a class' (December 17, 1862). General Orders No. 11, issued during the war on Dec. 17, 1862, which expelled all Jews from areas then under Grant’s jurisdiction. [Sarna] The order caused a firestorm of newspaper headlines. America's 150,000 Jews were stunned, fearing the beginning of European-style government restrictions. The order with no precedent in law was immediated rescined by President Lincoln, Grant's greatest supporter in Washington. Grant appolgized for his action. The issue would surface in Grant's presidential campaign (1868). He went on to redeem himself by ground-breaking appointments of Jews. He also became the first president to receive a Palistinian envoy--Rabbi Hayim Tzvi Sneersohn, a great-grandson of Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the 'Alter Rebbe' of Chabad Hasidim (1969). The Washington National Intelligencer described the reception of Rabbi Sneersohn, wearing traditional Palestinian Yerushalmi costume. President Grant spoke out against anti-Jewish persecution in Eastern Europe, primarily directed at the Tsarist Pogroms. He was the first president to attend a synagogue dedication (1876). After after his term of office, he became the the first president to visit the Holy Land (1878).
Russia had the largest Jewish population in Europe. Russia in the 18th century aquired large numbers of Jews through the Polish partitions. Actually the term Russian Jews is a misnomer. They mightbbe more acurately called Polish Jews. The Russian Jewish population was fairly limited and Russia when in conquuered areas like the Ukraine expelled or murdered the Jewish population. This only changed with the Polish Partitions of the 18th century. The Jews we now refer to as Russian Jews in America often came from areas Russia acquired in the Polish Partitions. While Jewish immigrants that came tobAmerica commonly came from the Russian Empire, the aeeas that they cane from was commonly the area of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth which became the heart of the Pale established by Catherine the Great (1791). Some Jews assimulated in Russia but most Jews did not. Even assimilated Jews faced wide-spread anti-Semitism even before the accession of Alexander III. Shaken by the assasination of his father, Alexander enflamed sentiment against Jews, in part to distract the growing political opposition to ansolute rule. The pogroms and growing anti-Semitism drove Jews from Russia in large numbers. Some went to Germany and other European countries. Even more came to America. At the time there were no limitations on immigration. The Russian Jews came in such mumbers that they overwealmed the existing Jewish communities with mostly German roots. Most Ameucan Jews todays arecdescended from Russian Jews.
Alexander was the second son of Alexander II. He was born in St. Petersburg on February 26, 1845. Alexander III became official heir to the throne after the death
of his elder brother, Nicholas, in 1865. He came to the throne on March 1, 1881, at the age 36 after the assassination of his father and was crowned in the
Dormition Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin on May 15, 1883. Alexander III's reign coincided with an industrial revolution in Russia and the strengthening of
capitalism. His domestic policy was particularly harsh, directed not only against revolutionaries but other liberal movements. Fearing an attempt on his life, he refused to live in the Winter Palace; instead, he lived away from St. Petersburg in Gatchina, the palace of his great-grandfather, Paul I, which was designed like a medieval fortress surrounded by ditches and watchtowers. He married the Danish Princess Dagmar (Maria Feodorovna) and had six children. Alexander was a mountain of a man and renowed throughout Russia for his strength and vigor. Alexander III died on October 20, 1894, in Livadia, Crimea, and was buried in the Cathedral of the St. Peter and St. Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. I have no information yet on his childhood or how he was dressed as a boy, but am attempting to obtain some.
The reason of course was the terrible oppression visited upon the Jews by the Tsarist regime and the Cossacks. Not only were there legal restrictions, but vicisious programs massacred Jews in the thousands. The primary impetus for Russian immigration to America was the pogroms directed at Jew in the wake of the assaination of Tsar Alexander II (1881). The Russians condicted pogroms (1881-84 and 1903-06) in which Jewish communities were ravished. Large numbers of Jews dispairing of life in Russia emigration to Western Europe and the United States.
The wave of Russian and Eastern European Jews entering America begiining in the 1880s was the third and by far the largest wave of Jewish immigrants.
They were fleeling Tsarist persecution in Russia and Poland (largely conrolled by Russia). The Russian nd Polish Jews coming to America becausevof repression and pogroms were very different than the German Jews that had come before them. German Jews had come mostly as single men. The Russian Jews came as whole families. The Russian Jews were much less assimilate than the German Jews. As part of the Russian and Polish immigration were the Hasidic Jews. The Hasidim for the most part believed in a strict, orthodox way of life. The Russian and Polish Jews did not move west like the German Jews. Rather they settled in New York City and other large northeaster cities. They became part of the industrial proletariat of late 19th and early 20th century America. Many of the girls and young women killed in the New York Triange Shirt Waist Factory Fire, for example, were these Russian and Eastern European Jewish immigrants.
Gradually many of the Russian Jews raised small amounts of capital and went in to busiess, gradually entering the middle class. Many of these Jews spoke Yiddish as their primary language. This was the vehicle for a rich cultural expression which found an outlet in journalism, fiction, poetry and the theater.
The original Sephardim looked on the the middle class German Jews in the early 19th century as upstarts. The well established, assimilated German Jews in the late 19th century as very foreign looking and sounding aliens. The German Jews felt more "American" than the working class Jews pouring in from Rusdsia and Eastern Europe. Their Reform Judiasm also conflicted with the more orthodox Judiasm of the new immigrants. The Russian Jews had been forced into a more insular way of life than the assimilated Grman Jews were accustomed to in America. Russian Jews tended to form formed cohesive communities of their own within the cities where they settled. They fervently maintained an intense sense of religiosity which permeated their daily lives. Reform and Orthodox communities worshiped separately. In particular the maintenance of a Yiddish culture tended to separate the Russian and German Jewish communities.
The Jews are notable for several reasons. Notably the Jews were most likely to stay in America. Few returned to Europe. The Jews were also the immigrant most willing to aid new arrivals. They actively support relief agencies for the new arrivals. The most important impacts of the Jews is surely the impact on American intellectual and political thought.
Of all the European groups, Jews seem to have had a particularly important impact on American music. They acted as both a conduit for tghe German classical traditionnas well as their own vibrant cultural contriubution. The first Ameeican Jews were small numbers of Sephardic Jews. For most of the 19th century, most American Jews came from Germany and carried with them a strong German classical tradition. This changed after the Civil War when Tsarist pograms drove much larger numbers of Eastern European Jews to America. They brought with them both the classical German tradition (German music proundly affected music throughout central and Eastern Europe), but also destinctly Jewish rabinical and cultural music. Jews made a major contribution to American music. Until the arrival of the Eastern European Jews in the late-19th century, classical music was the reserve of the American cultural elite. But among Jewish families, even the poorest had a desire for their children, especially the boys, to learn musical instruments and perform in the classical tradition. Many of these children pursued popular music. Jewish performers and composers are some of the best known figures in American music. Much of this was within the Jewish community, but after World War I, a generation of second generation mussicians burt upon the popular stage. Broadway singer Al Jolson was one of the most popular performers of the 1920s. The Jewish music tradition of Eastern Europe was fed into the American popular tradition with compsers like Irving Berlin. He made "America the Beautiful" a gift to the American people. George Gershwin trained as a classical composer and was one of the most important early American composers. He wrote classical pieces and with his brother Ira wrote some of the most beloved Broadway music. Some of his pieces like 'Rhpsody in Blue' and 'An American in Paris' bridge the cap between classical and popular idiom. Jerome Kern wrote 'Showboat' (1927), a musical that continues to be popular after nearly a century. One observer writes, "Amricans of all backgrounds adopted it as a nationally defining story, one that dealt with the ever-intensifying issues of race relations and the search for a common American identity." Benny Goodman, Ziggy Elman, and Artie Shaw helped to bring jazz to a wider American audience. Simon and Garfunkel played a role in popularization folk music. Barbra Streisand and Mel Brooks are other artists that have helped shape music and the modern theater. Jewish composers, most strongly influenced by the German tradition, have also played a major role in clasical music. Perhaps the most important American clasical composer is Aaron Copland. For his compositions he drew from American folk music, but maintained the symphonic textures of classical music. Conductor an composer Leonard Bernstein is another towering Jewish figure in American music. He fused religious and secular music forms with compsitions like 'Chichester Psalms,' which include both Latin and Hebrew sacred texts.
Many of the most established and successful American Jews at the turn of the 20th century were highly assimilated Germann Jews. Many retained ties with Germany. There was little interest in Zionism. The American Jewish comminity was, however, changing. Large numbers of mostly Eastern European began emigrating to America in the 1870s and many although they did not want to go to Palestine, were favorably disposed toward Zionism. Concerns that American Jews would encourage the United States to support Germany was a factor in the British government's decision to issue the Balfour Declaration (1917). There was considerable anti-Semitism in America, but Jews and other minorities also had basic legal protections, although this varied regionally and by minority because of the importance of state governments. Most Jewish immigrants found the freedom of opportunity in America that enabled them to build sucessful, prosperous lives here in America. As a result, Zionism developed as a laregely European movement, albeit with some financial support from American Jews. Few American Jews emigranted to Palestine. A rare exception was Golda Meir, a future Israeli primeminister. The issue of Zionism became more intensely debated by American Jews after the NAZI take over in Germany. American Jews were bitterly divided as to how to respond which had the unfortunate effect of preventing the emergence of a common front as the crisis developed in Europe. There was strong support among the now majority Eastern Europe Jewish population for Zionism. Not that they desired to emigrate, but that German and other European Jews should emigrate. This focus on a homeland in Plestine diverting attention from the developing sutuatuiin in NAZI Germany. German Jews focused on the NAZIs were disappointed at the lack of response from Eastern European Jews and were gendrally dismissive of the prospect for Zionism. Religion was a factor here. German Jews were generally more assimilated than Eastern European Jews. The immigrant from Eastern Europe included some with very traditional, fervent Jewish beliefs. All had terrible family experiences at the hand of anti-Semetic oppresors. Proponents of Zionism with a Jewish state and Jewish army argued their point of view, but many leaders (primarily from the esablished German Jews) were fearful of an anti-Semitic backlash in America. They wanted American Jews keep a low public profile. This began to change at the end of the War when reports on the Holocaust became widely known in America. American Jews began to coalese in support of Zionism and a Jewish state. Many German Jews joined in support for Zionism. [Feingold, pp 225–65.] At the same time, reports on the Holocaust as the end result of racial prejudice largely led to the disappearance of overt anti-Semitism among polite society in America. The increasing support for Zionism and a Jewish state let to pressure on the U.S. Government and in particular helped convince President Truman to support partition of Palestine debing considered by the United Nations. It also meant that American Jews began sending substantial funds to Zionist organizations and after the creation of Israel to Israeli groups.
Feingold, Henry L. A Time for Searching: Entering the Mainstream, 1920–1945 (1992).
Sarna, Jonathan D. When General Grant Expelled the Jews (2012), 224p.
Navigate the Boys' Historical Clothing Web Site:
[Return to the Main U.S. immigration page]
[Return to the Main Jewish Diaspora country page]
[Introduction] [Activities] [Biographies] [Chronology] [Clothing styles] [Countries] [Essays] [Religion]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Glossaries] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[ Boys' Clothing Home]