Barriers Between Jews and Christians Reported Coming Down in Suburbia

The 58th annual meeting of the American Jewish Committee opened here tonight with a report by Dr. John Slawson, executive vice-president of the organization, showing that a growing congenial atmosphere between Christians and Jews is taking shape in middle-class suburbia in this country. The report was based on an intensive study which disclosed that almost half of the Christians surveyed “don’t care” how many Jews live in their neighborhood.

The study, conducted by the American Jewish Committee of a large mid-Western upper middle-class suburb, found that barriers between Jews and Christians are coming down as the members of each group relate to each other increasingly at work and in community groups. However, it found also that older members of the community tend to blame Jewish newcomers for any resentment they feel toward cultural and social changes the suburb has been experiencing.

The pioneering study, known as the Lakeville study–a fictional name given to a Midwestern community–probed in depth basic trends on how Jews and Christians get along with each other, and the main directions that American suburban inter group living is headed for in the future. Lakeville was chosen because sociologists felt it reflected future patterns of suburban living. One of the study’s major conclusions dealt with the fact that the new spirit of friendship in the suburb was casual rather than close and personal.

It was in community organizations, such as PTA’s and similar groups, that the congenial atmosphere developed when both Christians and Jews intermingled and worked together for common goals. However, the hobby, recreational and social groups in the community remain dominated by cliques and status interests, with little or no intermingling between Christians and Jews.

The Lakeville study, whose author is Dr. Benjamin B. Ringer, was conducted under the direction of Dr. Marshall Sklare, the Committee’s director of scientific research. It will be published early next year. The study has taken about five years to complete, and is based mainly on interviews in depth with Christians and Jews living in Lakeville, which has a population of 26,000, about one-third Jewish.

DEGREE OF ‘ACCEPTANCE LEVEL’ OF JEWS BY CHRISTIANS VARIES

Four out of five non-Jews in Lakeville were found to be willing to live among Jews although the degree of their “acceptance level” of Jews varied within the group. Twenty-three percent of the non-Jewish respondents said they would prefer a situation in which Jews remained the minority of the community–not more than about 30 percent of the population. About 25 percent indicated that they would accept a situation in which there were as many Jews as non-Jews; and about 43 percent said they “don’t care” how many Jews live in their neighborhood.

The report found that in relationships between Christians and Jews, Jews have a somewhat different approach than Christians do. Most Jewish newcomers feel that their own convictions should be respected on controversial community issues. But these newcomers, as well as the older Jewish residents, bend their efforts “toward cultivating good relations with non-Jews,” while working for the welfare of the community. Christ-ions, on the other hand, seem to reveal little interest in winning acceptance by the Jews, and, while they might accept Jews, they do not feel the need to be accepted by them.

The desire among Jews for good inter group relations is matched by a parallel impulse to maintain strong ties within the Jewish group. This issue of Jewish group identity is the subject of a companion study in Lakeville, currently in preparation.

Jewish newcomers are treated somewhat differently than old-timers. A recent influx of Jewish residents has shifted Lakeville’s traditional character, the report points out, and introduced many problems that accompany municipal growth. “All of which,” the report states, “has placed the Jewish newcomer in a particularly vulnerable position. He is the main scapegoat of those residents who disapprove of the cultural and political changes in Lakeville as well as those who simply disapprove of Jews.” The report describes four types of non-Jewish attitudes toward Jews, as found in the Lakeville study:

1. The Exclusionist–considers Jews a “racial” or biological type and is opposed to them completely as a group. He is so supposed to them as a group that he would tend not to accept any Jewish neighbors.

2. The Exemptionist–is willing to tolerate Jews when they remain in a very small minority as non-Jewish Jews.

3. The Pluralist–is the individual who finds differences in people challenging rather than threatening. He is attracted and stimulated by Jews because he believes their “differences” can be rewarding. He prefers an equally balanced neighborhood where no one group is dominant.

4. The Egalitarian–emphasizes the similarities underlying group differences and believes in relating to people as individuals rather than as members of a group. He seems to be generally indifferent to the number of Jews in his neighborhood and maintains a “live and let live” attitude which fosters congeniality and acceptance.

The Lakeville study covered Jewish residents embodying a broad cross-section of old timers and newcomers from German and East European backgrounds of diverse social and economic classes. The survey is based on a broad sample of the community conducted by professional interviewers, including those from the staff of a prominent public opinion research organization connected with a major university.

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