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Adjusting Our Lives

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The latest official material as to the number of Jews and their distribution over the territory of our country was collected in 1927 by Dr. H. Linfield, director of the Statistical Department of the American Jewish Committee. According to Dr. Linfield’s report 4,229,000 Jewish people were living in the United States at that time. Not less than 190 American cities and towns had permanent Jewish populations of at least 1,000, while Jewish families were found in 6,420 cities, towns and villages, and in 3,300 rural districts.

This census also disclosed a drift of Jews from the large cities to the country towns in the decade from 1917 to 1927.

The largest Jewish urban centers: New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, Detroit, Baltimore, Newark, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, are located in ten states. In small Jewish communities of these ten states there were already living, in 1927, about 480,000 Jews, or eleven percent of the total American Jewry. The half a million Jewish people left the big cities in search of better things.

By 1927 the Jew had already acclimated himself to the American scene to an extent sufficient to give him a feeling of confidence in his own ability to support himself outside of the society of his own kind in dense communities. This circumstance, among several others, accounts for the recent migration of the Jews from the East to the West and South.


Economic pressure in the large cities was forcing out those Jewish families that were still hopeful of being able to climb out of the working class into the middle class. Many young people, too, have found it impossible to get on their feet in the large cities because of the necessity for more capital than they could hope to amass, and because of the fierceness of the prevailing competition.

In smaller communities, where large scale business enterprise could not as yet establish itself on a broad basis, up to the last few years there were still to be found numerous opportunities for keen application, ingenuity and youth. In this way, many retail stores and small chains of such stores, mainly in the nature of family enterprises, were established by Jews in the South and West. As a rule, the local stores, in a great many country towns were a potent influence in the exodus of Jewish people from the overcrowded large cities.


Of late, however, automobiles and hard-surfaced highways are urbanizing the country-side, spreading trade and shopping areas and changing the buying habits of consumers everywhere. The crossroads and village stores are disappearing “apace with the elimination of the fourth class post-office,” as a keen observer has put it. The average trading area for consumers outside of the urban districts has been increased by the automobile from five to six miles to thirty or even 150 miles.

The widening of the shopping radius has tended to develop specialization in merchandising, that is, the setting up of specialty stores. Again, it gives a metropolitan air to the main street in some obscure county court-house town. Flourishing trade centers have sprung up in unexpected localities.

This change has been felt not only by the old type crossroads store, but by giant mail order houses as well. The largest of them have during the past seven or eight years launched chains of retail stores, or in a way miniature department stores in farm districts. Again, regular chain stores grow in response to the widening shopping radius, and they themselves prove a factor in drawing customers from afar.

These recent developments have made small business a less secure and less certain way for Jews to get ahead in commercial pursuits through migration to the interior of the country or to the Southern States.

On the other hand, small retailers, and many Jews among them, have been organizing, as self protection against chains, associations for group purchasing. Also, specialty stores still offer an opportunity for the enterprising business man with restricted capital. For this line of retail trade, the prospects are not dark at all. Frequently, therefore, independent retailers see their sales increase, and see their customers come from greater distances, since the chains opened up shop.


Attempts to settle Jewish immigrants in the West and South have not been lacking in the past. The Removal Office of the Baron de Hirsch Fund in New York, over thirty years ago, was almost a total failure. The so-called Galveston movement, sponsored by Israel Zangwill and Jacob Schiff in the last few years before the World War, was far from successful, as were other projects to open up the vast territory west of Mississippi for Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe.

But the slow process of social acclimatization and adjustment of Jews in America within a generation or two has led, in a natural way, to results similar to those sought in an earlier day, the diffusion of the Jews over the United States.

In the last fifteen years the West and South have been increasingly becoming promising fields for the coming up of bigger and better Jewish communities. Curiously, more than half of the 226,000 Jews in the South, in 1927, lived in the single state of Texas. Many Jewish families in the South derive their livelihood from the gasoline filling station business. “Movies,” that is, the amusement business, constitutes another type of the newer Jewish occupations in America, which brought numerous Jewish people to the southern States. We find them now down there not only in a great many small urban centers, but also in a multitude of scattered tiny communities of very few Jewish families in small villages or farm districts.

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