Jews have long had complex and paradoxical relationships with gentiles, who have sometimes been oppressors, sometimes neighbors, and in many instances “righteous” people who have saved the lives of Jews. This book views immigration through a new lens: it examines how Eastern European Jews perceived and interacted with the diverse set of peoples in the U.S. who were their neighbors, coworkers, adversaries, and sometimes collaborators. Jews arrived on these shores with some negative stereotypes of non-Jews as having a different morality and being more prone to drunkenness and licentiousness. On the other hand, Jews sometimes idealized outsiders, for example, white Anglo-Saxons, who were viewed to have habits and tastes we might emulate. Of course, we also encountered other immigrant groups who beat up our children and called them kikes. The book does a masterful job of portraying the history of these diverse images and encounters. It is carefully researched and provides vivid examples, like the Lower East Side women who rioted over public health efforts directed at removing their children’s adenoids, an event that closely coincided with the Kishniev pogrom and stirred up fears that public authorities were intending to cut their children’s throats. Ribak has done scholars and other readers a service by bringing together a rich and varied set of materials.
Gentile New York: The Images of Non-Jews Among Jewish Immigrants
Susan M. Chambré, Professor Emerita of Sociology at Baruch College, studies Jewish philanthropy, social and cultural influences on volunteering, and health advocacy organizations. She is the author of Fighting for Our Lives: New York’s AIDS Community and the Politics of Disease and edited Patients, Consumers and Civil Society.
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