How Was the Situation for Jews Different in America Than in Europe?
Violence against Jews and their property was on the rise. During Kristallnacht in 1938, synagogues, businesses, and homes were burned and thousands of Jews were interned for varying periods of time in concentration camps.
However, many Jews benefited materially from the Revolution and interacted freely with their non-Jewish neighbors. Having shed blood for their country side by side with their Christian fellows, Jews as a group felt far more secure than they had in colonial days. They asserted their rights openly and, if challenged, defended themselves both vigorously and self-confidently. In the nineteenth century, American Jews, seeking to strengthen Judaism against its numerous Christian competitors in the marketplace of American religions, introduced various religious innovations, some of them borrowed from their neighbors. Young Jews in Charleston, dissatisfied with the "apathy and neglect" they saw manifested toward their religion, somewhat influenced by the spread of Unitarianism, fearful of Christian missionary activities that had begun to be directed toward local Jews, and, above all, passionately concerned about Jewish survival in a free society, created the breakaway "Reformed Society of Israelites for Promoting True Principles of Judaism According to Its Purity and Spirit." This was America's first Reform congregation, with an abbreviated service, vernacular prayers, and regular sermons. Traditional congregations also "Protestantized" some of their practices, introducing regular English sermons and more decorous modes of worship.
As if this was not enough, she also provided some wine, which she said was for the little baby. I wondered how my mother could give wine to such an innocent infant though I did not give it much thought. Once the ceremony was over, I did not hesitate to ask my mother about the significance of the extra seat and the wine. She told me that the extra seat signified the presence of Elijah. It is meant for the continuation, or rather for the propagation, of the Jewish faith in all generations. As cited in Cohen’s article (2000), …women have been more involved in the intimate aspects of their families than men …Jewishly committed fathers, in contrast with jewishly committed mothers, emerge as principled, learned, educationally oriented, and involved in synagogue life. Mothers are remembered for their immediate relationship with the children and other family members, for their greater responsibility for the home, holidays, and kashrut (pp.55-56).
Western Jewry had socially and culturally integrated itself to the extent that they could not imagine that a genocide could happen in the western culture to which they felt they belonged. In Poland, Jews remained a nation apart, fighting for minority rights while in the Soviet Union, Judaism itself, was almost extinguished by government politics. The increasing influence of anti-Semitism and anti-democratic parties in many European countries destabilized Jewish existence even before the Holocaust.
Cohen, S. (2000). The Jew Within: Self, Family, and Community in America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Cohen, S. (2008). Identity and Jewish education. In R. Goodman, A. P. Flexner, & L. D.
Bloomberg, L. D. (Eds.), What we know about Jewish Education: Prospectives on Research for Practice (pp. 75-82) Los Angeles: Torah Aura Productions.
National Museum of American Jewish History. Choices and Challenges of Freedom, 1945-Today
Silver, J., dir. (1975). Hester Street. USA: Midwest Films.