Family Origin: USA, Tel Aviv, Israel 2008
Family Origin: USA, Tel Aviv, Israel 2008Click to Enlarge
Often framed as a monolithic society, Israel is in fact made up of the many stories of the immigrating families who have built their lives there, united under the values of a shared heritage and history. The Israeli family has a distinct blend of customs from their original home country and the homeland.
Immigration to Israel is known as aliyah (ascent) and a newcomer as an oleh, one who has risen up, as if having attained new heights arriving in the Biblical, historic, and religious homeland of the Jewish people. The elders in these photographs had reasons for aliyah as diverse as their backgrounds.
The reality for new arrivals to Israel was often more harsh than the promised dream of “a land flowing with milk and honey”. These challenges are a reminder of the complexity of building one nation, that includes Jewish people from every corner of the earth.
American Jews, also known as Jewish Americans, are American citizens of the Jewish faith or Jewish ethnicity. The Jewish community in the United States is composed predominantly of Ashkenazi Jews and their U.S.-born descendants, making about 90% of the American Jewish population. Minority Jewish ethnic divisions are also represented, including Sephardic Jews, Mizrahi Jews, and a number of converts. The American Jewish community manifests a wide range of Jewish cultural traditions, as well as encompassing the full spectrum of Jewish religious observance.
The United States is home to the largest or second largest (after Israel) Jewish community in the world. In 2012, the American Jewish population was estimated at between 5.5-8 million. This constitutes between 1.7% and 2.6% of the total U.S. population.
Jews have been present, in what is today the United States of America, as early as the 17th century. However, they were small in numbers and almost exclusively Sephardic Jewish immigrants of Spanish and Portuguese ancestry. While denied the ability to vote or hold office in some areas, Sephardic Jews became active in community affairs in the 1790s, after achieving political equality in the five states where they were most numerous. Large scale Jewish immigration, however, did not commence until the 19th century, when, by mid-century, many Ashkenazi Jews had arrived from Germany, migrating to the United States in large numbers due to antisemitic laws and restrictions at home. They primarily became merchants and shop-owners. There were approximately 250,000 Jews in the United States by 1880, many of them being the educated, and largely secular, German Jews – although a minority population of the older Sephardic Jewish families remained influential.
Jewish migration to the United States increased dramatically in the early 1880s, as a result of persecution and economic difficulties in parts of Eastern Europe. Most of these new immigrants were Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews, though most came from the poor rural populations of the Russian Empire and the Pale of Settlement, located in modern-day Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova. During the same period, great numbers of Ashkenazi Jews also arrived also from Galicia, at that time the most impoverished region of Austro-Hungarian Empire with heavy Jewish urban population, driven out mainly by economic reasons. Over 2,000,000 Jews landed between the late 19th century and 1924, when the Immigration Act of 1924 and the National Origins Quota of 1924 restricted immigration. Most settled in the New York metropolitan area, establishing what became one of the world’s largest Jewish communities.
At the beginning of the 20th century, these newly arrived Jews built support networks consisting of many small synagogues and Ashkenazi Jewish Landsmannschaften (German for “Countryman Associations”) for Jews from the same town or village. American Jewish writers of the time urged assimilation and integration into the wider American culture, and Jews quickly became part of American life. 500,000 American Jews (or half of all Jewish males between 18 and 50) fought in World War II, and after the war younger families joined the new trend of suburbanization. There, Jews became increasingly assimilated and demonstrated rising intermarriage. The suburbs facilitated the formation of new centers, as Jewish school enrollment more than doubled between the end of World War II and the mid-1950s, while synagogue affiliation jumped from 20% in 1930 to 60% in 1960; the fastest growth came in Reform and, especially, Conservative congregations. More recent waves of Jewish emigration from Russia and other regions have largely joined the mainstream American Jewish community.
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