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Cornell University Completes Study on Life of Jews in Small Towns

July 13, 1962
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Jews living in small-town America have a “decided and unique effect in changing the attitudes of Christians towards Jews generally,” Professor Peter Rose, a noted sociologist, reports in a Cornell University study of “Small-Town Jews and their Neighbors. “The study, sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, was made in rural communities of less than 10,000 residents in New York state.

It concluded that in small towns, Jews are not just participants in formal community functions but are usually “an integral part” of the social life. “Because the Jew is constantly in direct contact with Christians in the small community, he gets to know their ways and they cannot help but get to know him, He not only stands upon the threshold of influencing deep-seated images, but he has the opportunity to recast them,” Prof. Rose reported.

The small-town Jew, the report said, finds himself more accepted formally and informally than does the city Jew. Being invited to one another’s homes for informal visiting is an everyday occurrence between Christian and Jew in the community. Eighty-seven per cent of the rural Jews queried could not think of any community organizations guilty of anti-Semitism. Eighty-one per cent said that no discrimination of any kind was practiced in their communities.

“Fifty per cent of the small-town Jews designated a Christian person as their closest friend; but thirty per cent said they felt ‘more comfortable’ with Jews than with non-Jews,” the study noted. “Identifying with Judaism seems to play a major role in the attitudes of Jewish parents towards their children,” Prof. Rose reported, “Small-town Jews, like their urban co-religionists, are anxious for their children to keep the faith and marry Jews. As a result, they send them to Jewish summer camps and, when they are through with high school, encourage them to attend large, metropolitan universities.”

Although he has a deep-seated sense of Jewish identification, the rural Jew rarely or never attends religious services. Three-fourths of those queried said they belong to some religious congregation and 86 per cent placed themselves in some Jewish category–Orthodox, Conservative or Reform — but they do not attend services because the synagogue is too far away. (Estimates ranged from 15 to 100 miles.) Those who did not consider themselves to be in any of the three categories qualified their answers with “I’m a liberal Jew,” or “My family are ethical Jews,” or “We’re Jews, that’s all.”

While distance or belief keeps them out of the synagogue, many keep traditional observances at home. For example, over half celebrate the Passover holidays, 25 per cent never serve bacon or ham, and 15 per cent maintain strictly kosher homes even though it means importing meat from distant cities.

Almost all of the Jews of New York’s rural areas are urban-emigrants who spent the early part of their lives in American or European cities. Two-thirds of them settled in hamlets for business reasons — they started stores after having been traveling salesmen or peddlers. The majority of the rest are refugee physicians who fled to America from Nazi-dominated countries and found it difficult to establish practices in urban areas. Others are lawyers, teachers, insurance brokers, cattle dealers and farmers, according to the study.

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