Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A Jewish American (also commonly American Jew) is an American (a citizen of the United States) of Jewish descent or religion who maintains a connection to the Jewish community, either through actively practicing Judaism or through cultural and historical affiliation.
The United States contains the world's largest Jewish population, and its most diverse. Jewish Americans span a range from the extremely religious haredi communities to the large segment of Jews that are entirely secular.
See main article: History of the Jews in the United States
Though Jews arrived in the United States are early as the 17th century, Jewish immigration grew in the 19th century. During the early 19th century, many secular Jews from the former Holy Roman Empire arrived in the United States and primarily became merchants and shop-owners. There were approximately 250,000 Jews in the United States by 1880, and many of them were middle class and secular. As a result of persecution in parts of Eastern Europe, Jewish American immigration increased dramatically in the 1880s, with most of the new immigrants coming from the poor rural populations of Russia and Eastern Europe. Over two million Jews arrived between the late 19th century and 1924, when immigration restrictions increased. A large number of these immigrants settled in New York City and its immediate environs, establishing what became one of the world's major concentrations of Jewish population.
At the beginning of the 20th century, these newly-arrived Jews lived primarily in urban immigrant neighborhoods, and built support networks consisting of many small synagogues and landsmanschaftn (associations of Jews from the same town or village). Jewish American writers of the time urged assimilation and integration with the wider American culture, and Jews quickly became part of American life. Five hundred thousand American Jews (or half of all Jewish males between 18 and 50) fought in World War II, and after the war, Jewish families joined the new trend of suburbanization. There, Jews became increasingly assimilated as rising intermarriage rates with non-Jews combined with a trend towards secularization. At the same time, new centers of Jewish communities formed, as Jewish school enrollment more than doubled between the end of World War II and the mid-1950s, while synagogue affiliation jumped from twenty percent in 1930 to sixty percent in 1960.
As of 2005, there are somewhere between 5.1 and 5.8 million Jews in the United States. Jews in the U.S. settled largely in and near the major cities, first in the Northeast and Midwest but in recent decades increasingly in the South and West. In descending order, the cities with the highest Jewish populations are: New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington DC. Miami's Jewish community skews older than most other U.S. Jewish centers as it heavily consists of retirees from the big cities of the northeast (however, this has been offset somewhat by more recent immigration to the area by younger Jews from Latin American countries such as Argentina and Brazil). Several other major cities have large Jewish populations per capita, like Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and St. Louis. Also, some areas of the Sunbelt outside of Florida and California (which have always had significant Jewish communities) that have seen a large general population growth have also seen both the size and proportion of their Jewish population grow significantly. Examples of this are Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, Raleigh, NC, and especially Atlanta and Las Vegas. In many cities the majority of Jewish families have moved to the suburbs.
According to the 2001 National Jewish Population Survey, 4.3 million American Jews have some sort of strong connection to the Jewish community, whether religious or cultural.
Intermarriage rates in the Jewish community are high (40-50%), and only about a third of intermarried couples raise their children with a Jewish religious upbrining. The result is a slightly declining American Jewish population.
Although Judaism is generally considered an ethnic identity as well as a religious one, the Jewish religion is the root of Jewish identity and culture. Jewish religious practice in America is quite varied. Among the 4.3 million strongly connected American Jews, over 80% have some sort of engagement with Judaism, ranging from Passover seders to lighting Hanukkah candles.
The survey found that of the 4.3 million strongly connected Jews, 46% of belong to a synagogue. Among those who belong to a synagogue, 38% are members of Reform synagogues, 33% Conservative, 22% Orthodox, 2% Reconstructionist, and 5% other types. The survey discovered that Jews in the Northeast and Midwest are generally more observant than Jews in the South or West.
In recent years, there has been a noticable trend of secular Jewish Americans returning to a more religious Orthodox lifestyle, called Baal teshuva, although it is not clear how widespread or demographically important this movement is.
American Jews are generally more highly educated than the American public as a whole. 55% have received a college degree, and a quarter have a graduate degree, this is compared with 29% college degrees and 6% graduate degrees among the general population.
There is also an active Jewish education system, with a wide network of Jewish day schools, as well as Jewish colleges and universities. Jewish education is also commonly offered at synagogues in the form of supplementary Hebrew schools or Sunday schools.
Jewish American culture
See also: Secular Jewish culture
As the last major wave of Jewish immigration to America was the two million Eastern European Jews who arrived between 1890 and 1924, Jewish secular culture in the United States has become integrated in almost every important way with American culture more broadly. Many aspects of Jewish American culture have, in turn, become part of the wider culture of the United States.
Several staples of Jewish cuisine have been adopted into mainstream American culture; bagels, lox (smoked salmon) and matzoh ball soup are examples. Initially, they were adopted as part of New York City's culture, and then spread to the rest of America. For example, bagels have been a staple of New Yorkers both Jewish and non-Jewish for decades, but really didn't spread "west of the Hudson" until the 1980's.
Although almost all American Jews are native English speakers (though many haredi Jews are still raised speaking Yiddish) Yiddish, once spoken by several million European Jews who immigrated to the United States, has made an influence on American English. Among the donated loan words: chutzpah ("effrontery", "gall"), nosh ("snack"), and shlep ("drag"). Many American Jews also study Hebrew, the language of most Jewish religious literature, the Tanakh (bible), Siddur (prayerbook), and the modern State of Israel.
Jewish American literature
Although Jewish Americans have contributed greatly to American arts overall (see the following section), there remains a distinctly Jewish American literature. Generally exploring the experience of being a Jew, and especially a Jew in America, and the conflicting pulls of secular society and history, the literary traditions of Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, and Bernard Malamud all fall in this category. Younger authors, like Michael Chabon and Jonathan Safran Foer continue this view of Jewish American literature, examining the Holocaust, and the meaning of being an American Jew.
Jewish contributions to the United States
Many individual Jews have made significant and diverse contributions to American popular culture. Probably the most famous examples are the early Hollywood moguls such as Samuel Goldwyn, Louis B. Mayer, and the original Warner Brothers and the characteristically Jewish humor of the Marx Brothers, Milton Berle, Woody Allen, Joan Rivers, and Gilda Radner, but the legacy also includes songwriters as diverse as Irving Berlin, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and Lou Reed and writers as diverse as Joseph Heller, E.L. Doctorow, Lillian Hellman and Allen Ginsberg, in addition to the authors listed above.
Government and military
Since 1845, 25 Jews have served in the Senate, and seven have served in the Supreme Court. Sixteen American Jews have won the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Science and academia
Jews have traditionally been drawn to academia (see Secular Jewish culture for some of the causes), and have made major contributions in science and the humanities. Of American Nobel Prize winners, 37% were Jewish Americans.
- Feinstein Center. Comprehensive collection of links to Jewish American history, organizations, and issues.
- United Jewish Communities of North America. Also site of population survey statistics.
- Jews in America from the Jewish Virtual Library.
- American Jewish Literature
- Jewish-American History on the Web
- Jewish American Hall of Fame
- List of Famous Jews
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