Why Do Jews Cluster in Certain Jobs?

...We know perfectly well, judging from experience in New York and other cities, that the Irish make very good policemen and firemen. The Scotch have more than their proportionate share of excellent engineers, the Norwegians predominate in navigation, and the Italians and Germans have had more than their share of musical leaders. Why may not the Jews make good lawyers? Why may not the Jews indulge in scientific research and do very good work in the field of medicine?

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This week, from the J-Vault: Jews in Commerce and the Professions (1934)

In 1934, a City College professor of philosophy named Morris R. Cohen addressed the National Conference of Jewish Communal Service in an erudite and wide-ranging discussion of American Jews' employment patterns, dwelling on the area he knew best: the professoriate.

I was once lecturing at one of the eastern universities, and was staying overnight with a friend, a dean of the university. The next morning, in the intimacy of the breakfast table, he turned to. me and said, "Why do you Jews crowd so much into the professions? Why don't you go into industry and agriculture?" Well, as a Jew, I naturally answered by asking him, "Is that what you think of my lecture last night?"...

...The conversation changed, the way it will, but a little later I asked my host: "By the way, what is your boy doing at Princeton? Has he decided whether he is going into the teaching of philosophy or into the ministry ?"My host replied: " No, he has decided to take up law. You see, his mother's father, and his uncles are in this law firm, and the family has been in that firm for quite a while. His mother thinks it would be a good thing for him to continue.in the family tradition." Whereupon I asked: "Well, have you ever thought of sending him into industry or agriculture?"...

...how can you ask a Jewish college graduate to become a stevedore or a truckman or to go into any of those occupations which non-Jewish college graduate do not enter? Why should you expect, that Jewish college graduates will enter into those occupations which non-Jewish- college graduates do not enter? It is absurd to expect it and it doesn't seem to me that we should urge it. It is true that in the old world you will find Jewish scholars who are also workingmen. I have known a tailor who was regarded as one of the most learned men in his town. That is undoubtedly frequent, in Europe and to a certain extent it may even be true in this country, until we become thoroughly Americanized. The delight in learning for its own sake enabled the Jews to bear their hard economic lot in the Ghetto without being degraded by losing their self-respect. And even in this country I have known a Jewish peddler who wrote a book on Spinoza in Hebrew—I don't know whether he ever had it published or not...

...Those things are much more common, I think, among Jews than among other people, although I think you will find similar situations among the Scotch and among the modern Greeks. I once met a modern Greek who was selling peanuts and also had a copy of Sophocles in the ancient Greek in his pocket, occasionally looking into it when he thought his customers wouldn't notice it...

...[S]o long as we have our present democratic system of politics, where the Jews have any considerable vote there will be no open discrimination against them and they will get some opportunity, and that I think is the fact today. With regard to college teaching it seems to me the situation is different because the traditions are different. The tradition of teaching in the public schools is the feminine tradition, that is to say, public schools were regarded as the place where the children were to be taught and generally the men were too busy with important things to do and the women had to teach the children. In the colleges the American tradition is somewhat different. The colleges were never run by women, but they were run by clergymen, the next best thing.

Few adequately realize the significance of that and I think it rather important to dwell on it for a moment or two... You see, the American colleges were founded as ancillary to the theological seminaries, and were originally intended to train ministers... Up to the year 1900, almost every professor of philosophy in an American college, outside of a few exceptionally enlightened institutions in the East, was a clergyman...

...What, now, has happened in recent years? Some years ago Mr. Carnegie, who was an old fashioned radical, believed that it was a good thing to separate religion from education, and he devised what he thought was a very shrewd scheme. He said that he would give certain moneys for pension funds for teachers in non-denominational colleges or universities. Whereupon a great many denominational colleges became overnight non-denominational.

But while you can change the denomination of a college, you cannot change its traditions overnight, and the result is that these colleges and universities are still largely dominated by the old traditions. I will not say that there is discrimination today against Jews as teachers in all colleges. Let us leave that out of the discussion. But it is quite obvious that all other things being equal a gentleman who belongs to the denomination which has fed the college from its beginning, which has supplied the college with all its distingushed professors and presidents, will get preference, and according to the prevailing mores quite rightly...

There is much more worth reading in this fascinating speech.

See other installments in our J-Vault series here.

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David Elcott on Engaging Baby Boomers

As part of our Office Hours series, Prof. David Elcott discusses his research into Baby Boomers and their place in the communal life of minority communities.

Yom Kippur Occupies Wall Street

As the Forward reports, hundreds of Jews (and others, one presumes) gathered in the midst of the ongoing financial district protests on Friday and Saturday for Yom Kippur prayers:

The high point came during one part of the sermon, as Getzel’s voice rose louder and louder:

“Yom Kippur is the day that we are forgiven for worshipping the golden calf! What is the golden calf? It is the essence of idol worship! It is the fallacy that gold is God!”

...There are plans to build a sukkah at New York’s Occupy Wall Street and to continue holding Shabbat services until the protest is over.

That Jews should become involved in this (largely) economic protest is unsurprising. As Steven Windmueller has written, the economic upheaval of recent years has "devastating implications" for the Jewish community. Much economic coverage in Jewish media sources have focused on the effects of this crisis on Jewish philanthropists and communal organizations, but Windmueller also notes that "A new class of 'near-poor and new poor' Jews is one of the outcomes of this economic crisis." Jews, too, can be have-nots.

Speaking personally, it rubs me the wrong way that an occasion for repentance should be mixed up in an occasion of rebuking/protesting the actions of others. Of course all of us should criticize society when we feel societal structures are unjust, but shouldn't Yom Kippur be a day when it is important to turn around the scrutiny on oneself, focusing on one's own actions, beliefs, and responsibilities rather than on others? A sermon such as the one quoted above, attacking the greed/idolatry of others (a perfectly appropriate topic for another day) seems to miss the mark, in my opinion, on that day. Yom Kippur should be a day to ask urgently: what am I doing wrong?

Click here for more BJPA resources on the economy.

Fun in a Financial Funk

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Worldwide stocks tumbling... A showdown at the UN over a Middle East conflict that appears ever more impossible to solve... Heavy stuff. How about a little fun?

This week, from the J-Vault: Leisure Time Activity in the Depression Period (1932)

"Leisure," writes Samuel J. Rodman, "has been defined as 'the time-surplus remaining after the practical necessities of life have been attended to'":

One's leisure time are those periods in which one is free to do as he wishes or as his interests dictate, it is a period in which one plays. With the above definition as our guide it is quite obvious that it is entirely wrong to call the time liberated by unemployment as leisure time. Picture, if you will, the leisure time of the "true gentleman of leisure" on board the Europa on his way for an extended holiday to the Riviera, as compared to the supposed leisure time of the worker who by 3 P. M . has given up his futile attempt in search for a job—and you have two distinct varieties of leisure time.

The unemployed have special emotional needs which ideal leisure activities should address, Rodman notes. He quotes a report from the Welfare Council of New York City:

"As a result of the economic conditions of the past two years," the report continues, "the family affection has been sorely tried, conjugal and parental ties have been weakened, family groups have disintegrated, the source of income has shifted from the husband and father to the wife and children or to public, paternal authority has lost force, home discipline has suffered, personality difficulties and family problems have been precipitated, instability and insecurity have increased."

I present these excerpts in an attempt to picture the clients for whom leisure time activities are to be planned so that "he may drown his sorrows and divert his mind from his condition."

One of my colleagues in the Jewish center field recently referred to himself in discussing his work as "running a human repair shop." What busy mechanics we should be at this time in repairing the wreck by which we are confronted...

...To keep the Roman unemployed happy and amused, history records that the government presented free circuses and public displays of butchery.

(An aside: I can just see a new kind of government stimulus package: Roman-style gladiatorial games. It has the added advantage of killing off those who lose the games, so... fewer mouths to feed, with no need for a death panel, or a Texas prison, or a Ron Paul health care plan. But back to Rodman:)

Let us boast of a higher civilization, provide civilized outlets for our unemployed by offering public courses in economics, labor history, sociology and other social sciences...

Through tactful guidance and encouragement and influence on our part, we may actually turn this enforced idleness into a golden opportunity for an adult education program which will prepare for the leisure which is bound to come when our economic house is ultimately set in order...

...In Europe, adult education, cultural pursuits and even political study and activity are considered recreational use of leisure. A cultural program, therefore, for our working group, definitely falls within the realm of our program of activity. I am definitely of the opinion that our community centers ought to play an important role in the reconstruction of society. Will we fulfill our responsibility to our community in this national emergency?

So... all you unemployed folks out there: feel like sitting in a Jewish community center and learning socioeconomic theory all afternoon for no money or college credit?

Actually, if I were unemployed myself, I would be happy to spend some time taking social science courses for the sheer fun of it. But I am an inveterate nerd, so let's not make policy based on me.

Interested in the excerpts above? Download the entire publication.

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From the J-Vault: Produce the Long-Form Bar Mitzvah Certificate!

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Last week, to much fanfare, (and before the killing of Osama bin Laden blew this news item completely out of the water,) President Obama released his long-form birth certificate, proving that he was born in the state of Hawaii. But if only the President had been born Jewish in Marlyand in the second decade of the 20th century, maybe birthers would have been convinced sooner. Assuming, that is, that in this hypothetical scenario the President had diligently practiced his haftarah.

This week, from the J-Vault: Bar-Mitzvah Certificate As Evidence (1914)

"The Maryland Child-Labor Law," explained author Aimee Guggenheimer in the Bulletin of the National Conference of Jewish Charities, "provides that no employment certificate or newsboy's badge shall be issued before the Bureau has proof that the child has attained the required age." Although this article was written during the decades of peak Jewish immigration to the United States (1880s- 1920s), even for Jewish children born in the United States, meeting documentation standards could be tricky. Home births were common, and the midwives who kept records were not always considered trustworthy by the state. (Perhaps Shifrah and Puah set the precedent for rocky relations between midwife and state.)

One potential solution? Convince the state to accept Bar Mitzvah certificates just as it accepted baptismal certificates for Christians.

Read more...

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