The American Jewish Immigrants


The Jewish migration into the United States of America occurred in three patterns that represented significant periods in the history of the American Jews. Thus, the immigration of these people into the USA occurred in three phases. The character of any of the particular migrating groups of the Jewish people was shaped by their origin and their time of migration. Each group had a distinct reason to come to the USA. When they arrived, they had to deal with unique circumstances. The first group of the Jews came to the New World in the colonial America. The second group arrived to the country between the early and mid-1800. Finally, the third group came from Eastern Europe for the same reasons as the second one. They settled in major cities and formed their own communities. The last two groups followed the economic expansion in the West, Midwest, and Southwest. The Jewish diasporas that settled in the USA tried to escape from unfavorable political and economic conditions in Europe. However, they were not able to fully integrate into American society because other European migrant groups treated them as outsiders.

Migration Patterns

The majority of the Jewish community in the USA is of Ashkenazic origin. This part of the Jewish population originality hailed from Eastern Europe and Germany. However, this group consists of the Jewish population that arrived in the early and mid-19th century. The first group of the Jewish migrants to arrive into the USA is referred to as the Sephardic. It has its origins in Portugal and Spain. Thus, they descended from the Portuguese and Spanish Marranos. Furthermore, this group was converted to the Catholic faith at the time of Spanish Inquisition. Because of the nature of their faith, this group continued practicing its true religion but it did it covertly. The Sephardic group arrived in the USA in the early 1650s. They came from Brazil and first settled in New Amsterdam. This group later spread to the US colonial ports such as New York, Charleston, and Philadelphia. Since they were traders, they set up trade establishments in the areas of their settlements. The Ashkenazi Jews came later in larger numbers and exceeded the population of the Sephardic community that had already settled. As the latter group had settled earlier, it influenced the culture of the Jewish community before and during the revolution. This could be witnessed in the synagogues and other religious rites.


The customs and culture did not change much from what the Sephardic group had practiced. Their synagogues acted as the centers of trade. The Jewish people have always been merchants. Moreover, the synagogues in colonial America combined traditional Judaism culture with modern aesthetics. As a result, these people were more refined as compared to traditional Jewish society. Their synagogues created order and defined the roles of each member of the community. However, there were the most prestigious families who were placed at the top of the congressional order. Unlike the practice of American society during this time, the Jewish people assigned some specific seats to women to encourage them to be a part of the congregation.

Jewish Germans had run away from unfavorable living conditions in Germany to look for better environment in the United States. They arrived later in the 1840s since after unsuccessful attempts at reforms and revolution in Germany, this group had decided to try moving to a new land. Furthermore, the German Jews were subjected to persecution and restrictive laws. At the same time, the USA would offer a social and economic opportunity for this group to thrive. Even though these people were Jewish, they also spoke German. A larger part of the group went to the USA during World War I when the Jewish persecution was at its peak. This grouped settled in the South, West, and Midwest of the USA. They continued with their trade in these areas. They opened shops and merchant shades. This sudden surge in population boosted the percentage of these people in the USA significantly. They settled in the areas with other communities and integrated with them. In some areas, they completely outnumbered the locals, making some towns their own. Cincinnati is one city in the USA that the Jewish had taken. Initially, this city would be used as center of trade.

The German Jewish group continued to show its commitment to Judaism. Cincinnati was used as the center of the Jewish faith. This new group agitated for the reform in this old religion. To this end, such institutions as the National Council of Jewish Women, B’nai B’rith, and the American Jewish Committee were created. Later, Eastern European Jews joined the other group after 1880. This group had left the Austro-Hungarian nation and Germany also due to an unfavorable environment. They were alarmed by the growing anti-Semitism in these regions. They also ran away from the problems of poverty, overpopulation, and oppressive laws. The assassination of Czar Alexander II in 1881 further triggered migration of Eastern European Jews. The Jewish people in Romania, Austria, Russia, and Hungary tried to escape bloody pogroms as the result of anti-Semitism. This period witnessed the largest number of the Jewish migration in the history of this nation. The population that came in the USA during this period constituted about 2 million. Consequently, they had a significant impact on Jewish culture that had existed in the USA until that time. This group came with its own traditions and a belief system that was different from that practiced by others. Since it outnumbered other groups greatly, this group was able to influence the others to modify their practices.

The USA experienced a lesser number of immigrants in the years leading to Second World War because of the 1924 Act. The only time that the Jewish people had another opportunity to enter the USA was during the rise of Adolf Hitler. The fascist Nazi regime expanded so quickly and to many regions in Europe. The Nazi regime had successfully managed to round out many Jews in Europe. Thus, The European Jews found themselves under the attack by the Nazis. They had to run away from home, and the USA was the only other place they could find refuge. The terror began on Kristallnacht in 1938. During the night also known as “the night of glass”, the Jewish families and business owners had to defend themselves from Nazi attacks. The fascists orchestrated exile for the Jewish people from the place they called home. Moreover, they had promoted the practice of ostracism of the Jews. These people were treated with disrespect, while they were also heavily tasked. Some began to escape to the USA, while others waited for the murders to begin before they could run away. Thus, German Jews were exiled from home because they were not wanted. The USA provided home for this group so that they could live again normally.

The Problems the Jews Faced Upon Settling in the USA

They social cultural identity of the Jewish people, coupled with the outsider tag placed on them by other white communities, served to deny them access to the social amenities and healthy social interactions with the rest of society. The Jewish people are among the white American population that has suffered from structural disadvantages. They trailed others in employment and higher education. The position was worsened by the institutionalized anti-Semitic sentiments from the rest of society. The only attempt to break this barrier was after the end of the Second World War.

It should be mentioned that Jewish immigrants settled in some of the poorest neighborhoods of American cities. By the beginning of the 20th century, there were major Jewish neighborhoods in bigger US cities such as Chicago, Boston, New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. The new immigrants joined the industries as low level industrial employees. Thus, the clothing industry received a major boost because of the cheap labor provided by these immigrants. Other than in apparel sector, the Jewish people also worked as laborers in the construction, cigarette manufacturing, and food production industries. Because they were in the lower job category, they suffered from poor working conditions. Thus, Jewish laborers provided great support to the labor movement in an attempt to improve their working conditions. This forced many Jewish people into activism as they committed themselves to improving working standards.

The last time a large number of the representatives of the Jewish community entered the USA was in 1924. This was the Eastern European Jewish community, and it was the last group. Each of the three immigrating groups had its impact on the Jewish culture and religion because they had originated from different societal settings. The interaction among these groups has created the Jewish culture in the USA that is still evident today. Thus, the Jewish people began as peddlers. They sold wares to the rural communities as a means of improving their economic conditions and rising to the middle-class status. They were aggressive and entrepreneurial in nature. Being industrious, some Jewish people were able to quickly double their wealth. Examples are Levis Straus, Gimbel Brothers, and the Macy family. Between early and mid-19th century, the population of the Jewish people had multiplied by more than 50 times. The economic condition in the USA at this time did not work in favor of this group of people as they had thought.

The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 came with the benefit of increased access to social amenities by the Jews. This Bill allowed them access to suburban housing, hence breaking down the institutional barrier that had been hitherto created against them. The Bill did not guarantee full residential and social mobility. The institutionalized disadvantage, which was formed by the Whites who had settled in the USA earlier, shaped the social position of this group in American society. They were treated as the different kinds of whites in this society. As a result, they were not able to enjoy the full advantages of being Americans.

The impending depression in the early 20th century created fear among many Americans. They were alarmed by the large number of immigrants who would worsen the problem of unemployment in the country. Thus, the government introduced the Immigration Act of 1924 to control the influx of immigrants. One of the key attributes of this Act was that it determined quotas according to countries. Thus, the US Department of State enforced the regulations contained in the Act. The Gilded Age census was used as the basis of assigning the quotas. The government issued visas to only two percent of the immigrant group based on the 1890s census. The US government refused to use the more recent 1910 census as a way of denying the immigrants who had come in later. The enforced new act would issue more visas to the immigrants from Western Europe and deny entry to those from Eastern Europe. The policy perused by the American government significantly reduced the number of immigrants.

How the Immigrants Adapted to Survive the Hostile Environment

The economic condition the Jewish people in the USA was not different from their condition in Eastern European countries. As a result, the spirit of struggle for reforms continued to exist within the Jewish communities in the USA. Therefore, he Eastern European Jewish group initiated the idea of Jewish nationalism. Every member of this group would be made aware of the need for a united course. People were introduced to these ideals from the tender age. The Jewish schools were used to teach children about Zionism. At the time of the arrival of the Eastern European group, the American Jewish community has adopted a more diverse religious environment. The last group was not comfortable with the reformed version of Judaism. They wanted to preserve the tradition of this community in the modern context. These two ideas gave birth to the infused Orthodox and Conservative Judaism.

The Yiddish culture reflected the present need of people. They used journalism, drama, and prose to talk about their plight. The spread of poetry, music, and art helped to promote the Yiddish culture in the cities where the Jewish groups lived. This was one way to address the problems that these people faced in this society. The arrival of the Eastern European group changed the ideological principles of other Jewish groups. These people came from socialist and communist economies. Thus, they were influenced by these ideologies. When they arrived in the USA as workers, they were inclined to the socialist and communist ideals when fighting for economic and social equality. They created a link between the existing American Jewish community and the idea of liberal politics.

The socio-economic position (SEP) of the Jewish people in the USA contributed to their sense of identity. The interaction of this group with the American social institution has been that of outsider experience. Thus, the social institutions in American society treated the Jewish community as immigrants. They were stigmatized and stereotyped, which made them feel as if they did not fully belong in this society even though they might have lived here long enough to be fully assimilated. The messages of stigmatization that the people from this community had received could have contributed to their current SEP. It does not a have stronger co-ethnic social ties with other members of American society. The interplay between the economic resources, reception by the other communities, and the Jewish culture created stronger ties among the Jewish people in the USA.

Even today, the Jewish community in the USA constantly battles negative stereotypes. This group of people is also subjected to negative "othering" encounters with the rest of the white community As the result, the community has come together and created a stronger unit for it to survive. Being entrepreneurial minded, these people quickly began creating their businesses and deepening their mercantile roots. The ability to break social barriers and to create economic security enabled them to survive in this environment. This has enabled them to exist despite the outsider tag and the many stereotypes about them.


The Jewish migration into the United States was driven by need. They came to the country to enjoy some freedom and to seek refuge from their oppressors in the European nations where they had lived. Thus, the German Jews and the East European Jews tried to escape the potential bloodshed that came with the growing anti-Semitic sentiments. They were subjected to harsh economic and political conditions in their former settlements. thus, the USA was to offer them peace and economic freedom. However, when they entered this country, they were treated with similar sentiments and alienation by other Whites in American society.

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