The following is the first of a series of articles, to appear on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the Jewish Daily Bulletin, dealing with the problems of Jewish life in America, by Dr. Herman Frank. A brief biographical sketch of Dr. Frank appears elsewhere on this page.
With immigration restrictions remaining as strong as in the past ten years, a regrouping of the Jewish population in the United States is bound to occur. The position of the older immigrant generation is on the decline. Its place is being taken now by the sons and daughters of the foreign-born Jews who have already grown up to mature manhood and womanhood.
Again, the tendencies for restriction of the birth rate are even stronger among the Jews than they are in the other cultural and racial elements. The reduced birth rate, combined with the ceasing of immigration, will result in a lower ratio of Jews in relation to the total American population, whereas during the last fifty years the Jewish community continuously increased its percentage. In 1927, the four and one-half million Jews in the United States formed 3.5 per cent of the people in our country.
WEIGHT OF AMERICAN JEWRY
The qualitative weight of the Jews in America exceeds in importance their minor numerical strength. First of all, 97 per cent of American Jews live in cities and towns, where the destinies of the nation are decided. In the second place, though our American Jewish community with pronounced cultural marks of its own is hardly fifty years old, the traditional leanings of the Jewish mind toward intellectual pursuits begin to bear fruit. The splendid work of a number of rabbis, professors, and professionals in behalf of higher standards of citizenship has received national recognition. Lastly, disinterested social action, as expressed in social welfare work, that has always been a vital force within the Jeish community, is playing an increasingly greater part in the social reconstruction policy of the nation at large. Prominent Jewish social workers have in recent years taken a leading part in matters concerning the new public policy of the government, and the future, of the United States.
AMERICANIZATION AND JEWISH LIFE
The next phase of our history in America will be marked by an obliteration of some of the distinct features of the old world inheritance. This, however, does not imply a cultural or ethnic assimilation. The process of Americanization of Jewish immigrants and their children does not betoken a cowardly abandonment of high cultural standards and social idealsâ€”our precious heritage of centuries.
The Americanization, it now appears, is but an effacing of superficial distinctions between various branches of the Jewish people that meet and enter into interdepending relationships on America’s soil. Therefore, it is rather conducive to the strengthening of the Jewish minority and its organization than destructive of our group existence and future.
The American Jews want to survive as a group more than before in the past thirty years and to a greater extent than other minority groups. Jewish social life is for a long time to come likely to be largely a group matter. The further development of Jewish social life, that is, recreational institutions and facilities, such as community centers, clubs, camps, etc., is very important and wholly in line with recent social trends in our communal life. Group education, both of children and adults, merits and gets greater attention on the part of the enlightened leaders of the Jewish minority.
In this way, as a by-product of the frank admission of the existence of the Jewish group improved Jewish-Gentile relationships are also created. The experience, for instance, of the Hillel Foundation, established in the larger colleges by the B’nai B’rith order to foster Jewish knowledge and sentiments among our collegians, shows that the relationships between the Jews and the student body have changed for the better. Social, economic, and cultural discrimination have weakened as compared with other colleges in which the Jew. for lack of the Hillel clubs, has to stand alone or to hide his adherence to Judaism.
NEW SOCIAL-ECONOMIC TENDENCIES
As usually, our enemies, from Haman to Hitler, have made it possible, better than our prophets and psalmists did, for the Jew to recognize his brother Jew. That is, truth to tell, an artificial bond, uniting only during times of emergency. There is, on the other hand, a growing recognition on the part of Jewish leaders and social workers, writers and educators, that positive forces have to be injected into Jewish life.
Up to the great depression, Jewish communal activities were concentrated mainly upon problems of relief and raising of funds to finance it. With the growing sense of the State’s responsibility for economic insecurity, however, more fundamental problems of Jewish life loom large. At the same time, sad to say, several Jewish cultural agencies, built up through sustained efforts during two decades, have been abandoned as a result of financial pressure.
In the purely economic field, the trends are less encouraging. The tendency toward an anti-Jewish bias does not show signs of abatement. The competition for opportunities grows keener, and keeping pace with it prejudice and “economic anti-Semitism” appear. To overcome it, a counter action by the central Jewish social-political agencies is called for. Through coordinated efforts, backed up by an aroused public opinion, this economic problem would be susceptible of alleviation. A policy of drift, on the other hand, would make the social-economic problem of our rising generation greviously difficult of solution.
Another article in the series will appear Wednesday.