Adjusting Our Lives

As a matter of very regrettable fact, there is an astonishing lack of comprehensive information, on a statistical basis, about American Jewry—especially when the wealth, size and energy of the Jewish community are considered.

We know precious little about American Jewish life yesterday and today. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent for research, yet we have very little real data to guide our judgment in laying down a program for Jewish adjustment to American life.

The dynamic nature of social and economic forces in present day America affects in a thousand ways Jewish men and women. To mention only a few aspects of our complex economic situation: Do we know what has been happening to Jews leaving or being displaced from the needle trades? What of the small store keepers? What of employment opportunities? Into what trades can Jewish workers be fitted?

Again: What steps must be taken for industrial education, what should be the content of programs of vocational guidance for our young men and women?

On all these questions we know next to nothing.

To take another set of problems. What do we know about the American Jewish family? The changes which have affected home life? Intermarriage, its nature, extent, consequences? What is our birth rate, our death rate, what diseases are we particularly subject to?

What of the condition of Jewish life in the hundreds of smaller cities throughout the United States? The actual facts of immigrant adjustment? What is our wealth and the nature of its distribution?

The nature and variety of problems concerning the development and growth of Jewish cultural movements are veiled in total darkness. Is it immaterial to find out what Jewish influences are playing upon our growing Jewish youth? What are their recreational, cultural, and educational interests? What are the results of cultural conflicts here in America? How is Jewish life being affected by the cross-fertilization of cultures? The nature, variety, extent and significance of Jewish youth movements?

With this shocking paucity of relevant facts and figures, all and any deductions from, or reflections on, the peculiar position of the Jews in the American scene are based on a foundation of sand. American Jews and the Census

The great source of accurate statistical information about the American people is our decennial census. Unhappily for our people, we can learn almost nothing about the Jews from the census. For long years Jewish leadership objected to the Government taking cognizance of religion in its census. We have achieved an easy victory, but have to pay for it by a state of ignorance about ourselves.

With immigration reduced to a minimum and nearly stagnant, it is of little avail to know that the Immigration Bureau in Washington, D. C., quite logically classifies immigrants by nationality and includes the Jews as a distinct national group.

Although there are six years left until the census of 1940, yet there are many other special reports published by the Government in the course of the year. Now, if we desired it and asked it, some authoritative students of Jewish affairs think, those reports might include a wealth of information about Jews. When we ourselves try to get this information, it involves a loss of time, labor and money, and we have at the end approximate figures at the best.

PROBLEMS OF DISCRIMINATION

The matter of growing, threatening discrimination and anti-Jewish prejudice in industry, in the academic field, in the commercial world is a known, incontestable fact. However, statistical material on this subject is conspicuously absent. Moreover, the problem of discrimination against Jews can hardly be studied through figures alone. It calls for careful and considerate study by experienced and sympathetic, understanding minds.

Social discrimination (in clubs, hotels, apartment houses, etc.), economic discrimination and educational restrictions against the Jew are undeniable facts. But what is the trend? Are things getting better or worse?—We do not know. Consequently, how can we suggest ways and methods of improvement and settlement?

Attempts at studies in one field, namely, discrimination against Jewish employment, have recently been made. For certain reasons (no money!) the progress in this enterprise has been discouragingly slow.

A GREAT OPPORTUNITY

Nevertheless, present-day Jewish social research in America, though far from being a sprouting and sturdy plant, is yet equally far from hopeless barrenness. For a decade already, the Bureau for Jewish Social Research in New York has specialized in Jewish philanthropy and related fields. The Jewish Statistical Bureau, furthermore, renders valuable services through systematic dissemination of accurate material on Jewish life here and abroad, and carrying out various research projects. Its directing head, Dr. H. S. Linfield, a searching and seasoned statistician, is surely entitled to a greater measure of interest and support from the Jewish public than that given him up till now.

Yet these enterprises are utterly inadequate in view of the critical times through which our community is passing. Vital information is needed on which to base sound programs for Jewish adjustment to American life.

Dr. S. C. Kohs of the Graduate School of Jewish Social Work in New York has aptly said: “Here is a golden opportunity for some intelligent philanthropist to make a contribution to Jewish life in America which will bring light where despairing, morbid darkness now prevails.”

Dr. Frank’s articles appear in this space every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

NEXT STORY