Assimilation of Jews in the Interwar Period

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During the interwar period of the twentieth century, Jewish immigrants and American born Jews faced increasing ant-Semitism and discrimination. The external pressure of anti-Semitism and discrimination led to many Jews facing internal anxieties and conflicts about being Jewish and fitting into American society. Assimilation during this period meant fitting into the white gentile majority’s standard of appearance, mannerisms, and middle class ideals. Common stereotypical images from the time depict Jews with large noses and curly hair, women were often portrayed as dominant over their Jewish husbands, and Jews were often seen as manipulative, controlling, and money grubbing. Jews’ limited social acceptance came on by completely abandoning…show more content…
Internal Jewish anxieties and struggles also made assimilation impossible. Lewisohn’s second reason explaining Jews cannot assimilate is because of their ancestral past. Jews “are a people” and “cannot shake off the impress of experience of seventy generations.” This Jewish past prevents Jews from assimilating because they cannot stop being Jewish, and even if one tries to forget or deny their Jewishness his past makes it impossible. The past is so imbedded “in his essential character. . . as well as of all his actions he remains a Jew.”6 Howe, like Lewisohn, also acknowledges the internal difficulties of assimilation. He writes that New York City at this time was “the embodiment of that alien world which every Jewish boy raised in a Jewish immigrant home had been taught, whether he realized it or not, to look upon with suspicion.”7 Since Jews were “cut. . . off from official society” they formed “from immigrant Jewish families. . . a genuine community.”8 This mutual suspicion between Jews and the outside world caused many Jews to withdraw further into their own segregated communities, making the possibility for larger social acceptance and assimilation impossible. These external and internal struggles had real consequences in Jewish life. The external anti-Semitic world created significant internal anxieties for Jews and is evident in
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