Friday, March 28, 2003
# Posted 12:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik
THE SOUTHERN FRONT: Judging by your respones to my posts, the most important issue facing America today is anti-Semitism
in the Southern United States. Here are some of more of the interesting thoughts and stories you have sent my way:
Briefly, RL points out that Jim Moran
is originally from Boston, and not a native Southerner.
ET from Colorado writes that
I haven't actually lived in the South and am in no position to comment on the day to day incidence of anti-Semitism there. Still, I happen to know that synagogues, JCCs and Jewish philanthropy are highly developed in the South and I think there are a couple of ways to interpret this phenomenon in terms of how it relates to anti-Semitism.
On the one hand, this robust Jewish associational life seems to suggest that Jews feel confident enough in their safety to build significant parts of their social lives around Jewish communal institutions. I wonder if Jews in the midwest (outside of Chicago/Skokie) and northern plains states share such a willingness to organize and identify this freely on the basis of their Jewish identity.
On the other hand, it should be recognized that churches are the focal point of a lot of social activity in the South. This state of affairs more or less compels Jews to establish separate institutions and charities of their own, since they can't, or more likely today--don't, want to belong to explicitly Christian ones. That's one reason why we see very active JCCs and Jewish Federations in the South. In fact, for many years, Tulsa, OK has had the distinction of being the highest per capita giver to the UJC (United Jewish Communities--the largest Jewish philanthropy) of any city in the country. In second place? Greensboro, NC.
You can read about it for yourself here and here.
I wouldn't call this current situation anti-Semitism (though that's probably what led to it), but in some ways it surely resembles conditions in other places where Jews were historically segregated, shunned, or
otherwise never really "fit in". Interwar Poland had many Jewish schoolsthat belonged to a variety of educational streams. So too did Morocco. In Argentina, to this day, the social lives of many Jews center around Jewish social clubs called "Hebraicas".
The upshot of all of this is a robust Jewish associational life. These Jewish institutions promote Jewish identity, culture and education and might help stem the tide of intermarriage (though I know there are mixed feelings about whether this should be an explicit goal).
A troubling question, then, is whether social marginalization might actually give rise to stronger Jewish communities that provide more services and are better poised to address communal Jewish concerns,
including responding to anti-Semitism.
I think this state of affairs can be tolerated as long as it doesn't block Jews' access to political participation, economic opportunities or civic involvement. There may be a parallel here with black churches and
historically black colleges, which also trace their origins to intolerance by the white majority, but have today become effective platforms for expressing communal interests and are springboards for articipation in public affairs.
Still, the question remains: In places with a legacy of intolerance, is it "healthy" to foster continued segregation?
A good question. I wish I had the answer. Moving on, TN writes in that
I too grew up in South Carolina, in a small town called Edgefield (pop. 3000) in the western piedmont area. I live in Atlanta now.
I have to concur with your other Southern correspondents. Anti-semitism just wasn't a factor I ever noticed. Nor did I ever hear even casual anti-jewish sentiments expressed anywhere else in piedmont or low country South Carolina (where most of my extended family lived). It may be that anti-semitic feelings were more widely spread and more deeply felt than I knew, but if so no one ever bothered expressing them, and so far as I know they don't now. Further, I've got truckloads of cousins in South Georgia, and it's not anything I ever heard down there, either.
I was going to point out Sol Blatt myself -- his son is still around, a retired federal court judge. However, I think his son converted to episcopalianism (if that can be called a "conversion"). I might be
wrong about that, it may have been his grandson that converted. That would make sense, because Episcopalians were (and are) very prominent in the S.C. social & political circles, so such a conversion would have advantages.
Sol Blatt did not go out of his way to hide his jewishness -- it was no secret, nor something covered up. I've heard stories of him being caught at stump speeches and other political rallies eating pork
barbecue, and being teased about, to which which he had a stock response, with a wink -- Pork?!?? I thought this was goose!!! Back then, it seems, barbecue and politics weren't wholly separable if you
were serious about either.
There had been a number of jews that lived in my home county (Edgefield), who arrived in the later 19th century as travelling pedlers who settled down as brick&mortar merchants. One of the 19th century
storefronts in my home town has a stained glass strip that reads "Israel Mukashy". When I was a kid it was run as a dry-goods store by a Mr. Rubenstein, (or was it "stien"?) who always had a piece of sour apple super-bubble bubblegum for the kids. He and his wife were about the only jews around by then -- most of the younger jews had left for larger towns and different careers before I was born. In retrospect, he bore one classic jewish physical stereotype: an enormous hook nose. However, back then I didn't know enough about jews in general to be aware that this was a stereotypical feature, nor would have any of my friends. Besides, Mr. Tompkins in the store a few doors down, who wasn't jewish, had an even bigger nose that looked like a burst section of grapefruit. The point being that, other than knowing Mr. Rubenstein was jewish, that he & his wife had to go to Augusta for Temple, and that Mrs. Rubenstein cooked some tasty but unusual food, you wouldn't have noticed anything that distinctly set him off from anyone else in town.
I do know of an ugly episode that occurred in Marietta, Georgia, in 1913. A young jewish man named Leo Frank was accused of murdering a young girl and ended up getting lynched, apparrently the only known lynching of a jew anywhere in the United States.
However, it doesn't seem that Frank's jewishness was the only thing that did him in -- there was probably some class resentment involved, too, since the workers at the factory Frank supervised were probably poorer and less educated than he. Further, he was a jewish yankee which was all the worse -- but that's another story.
If memory serves, Frank was accused of murdering Mary Phagan. I only know that because one of the networks ran a made-for-television movie on the subject when I was in grade school. Naturally, this is one of the only films I know of that says much about Southern Jewish life. The others are all about civil rights and the murders of Schwerner, Goodman and Cheney. So perhaps what we're beginning to see is that Hollywood (and my own ignorance) are responsible for Northern Jews' perceptions of Southern anti-semitism.
But what about anti-Semitism elsewhere in the US? MR writes that
I've lived all over the U.S. (courtesy of the U.S. Army) and have found some of the worst anti-semitism in the Pacific Northwest, especially the Seattle area. It was so bad there I told my husband if he ever got orders for that place again he could go alone. Never had any problems in the South, but haven't lived in the deep south, although I feel North Carolina was south enough. It seems like a lot of anti-semitism comes out of the North East these days, does Al Sharpton ring a bell? Now I am happily living in San Antonio, Texas, one of the nicest places in the country (and I ought to know!).
I'm a fan of San Antonio as well, having visited briefly while I worked in Texas. SA is now, of course, a major landmark in the blogosphere thanks to Sean-Paul Kelley
. And yes, Al Sharpton does ring a bell, but I think I mentioned in one of my earlier posts that this is a discussion of white anti-Semitism. If we start crossing color-lines, my inbox will surely overflow. Maybe once things calm down in the Middle East we can have an open thread about the Reverend Al.
On a lighter note, MR writes in with the following anecdote:
The first person on my mother's side of the family to immigrate to America was a man named Moses Sauer, a German Jew. For reasons lost to history he went straight to Shreveport, LA where he was promptly conscripted into the Confederate Army. He served and eventually got an honorable discharge (the papers still exist). Anyway, after his discharge he went back to Shreveport. His eventual family split up, with some staying in LA and others moving to NYC (my ancestors).
Fast forward to about 20 years ago, when we met some distant relatives still living in Shreveport, still Jewish and very southern. They were buffont blondes. I was 8 or 9, and one of them, as older Jewish women have done since time began, reached down, gave my cheek a good pinch, and said in a perfect southern drawl, "y'all so meshugge." I can't remember but I think I could hear the theme of the Twilight Zone in the background.
MR, y'all so meshugge!!!
Last but not least, SG, a close friend of mine from Tennessee, asks
Anti-semitism in the South? Didn't we talk about this a million times? I find it interesting that in Berkeley, I'm getting attacked daily for being Jewish because that's apparently why we're at war. Yep, that's right Berkeley, California, liberal bastion. Meanwhile, no one is hassling my parents or friends in Tennessee at all about this. And yes, there are plenty of folks against the war there. Or how about recent events at Yale? I can handle residual ignorance (like the story about the hitchhiker who was asked to see his horns), that can be corrected. What is terrrifying to me is the educated masses deciding to buy the myth of Jewish puppeteering.
Sad but true. Thankfully, Berkeley is a world unto itself. And when anti-Semitism raises its head at Yale, I think we can rest assured that it will be beaten down swifly.
For those of you who want to know even more about Southern Jewish life, both TG and BL recommend Alfred Uhry's play, The Last Night of Ballyhoo. When it comes to London, I'm there.
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