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Middletown Jews: The Tenuous Survival of an American Jewish Community Hardcover – November 1, 2000

4.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Kirkus Reviews

The pioneering 1929 and 1937 sociological studies of ``Middletown''--the small city of Muncie, Indiana--said almost nothing about the community's 200 Jews. This work, while not altogether satisfying, goes a significant way toward describing Jewish life there during the first three-quarters of this century. Reading these interviews with Muncie Jews whose roots in the community go back to the 1920s, one is struck by how professionally homogeneous they were : Almost all the heads of households were merchants. Almost as notable is their lack of religious and cultural resources: There was and is one Reform temple (serviced by a visiting student rabbi) and a chapter of the fraternal organization B'nai B'rith. This has resulted in much intermarriage- -apparently, a critical mass of Jews is needed for a community to endure--and some syncretistic religious practices by those who have remained Jewish; one woman recalls how her family lit Sabbath candles each Friday night but also had a Christmas tree. The word ``tenuous'' in the book's subtitle is well chosen. Revealingly, not a single interviewee recalls the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 or mentions visiting there. Finally, the interviews reveal the extent of anti-Semitism in Muncie. In his useful introduction, Hoover (History/Ball State Univ.) estimates that fully ten percent of the town's citizens were members of the Ku Klux Klan during the '20s, and that restrictive covenants in housing persisted until the mid-'50s. This book could have benefited had Rottenberg, a Philadelphia-based journalist, and Hoover noted the broader political, socioeconomic, and cultural context in Muncie and provided some hard data on such questions as: What exactly was the intermarriage rate at various periods, or, how did the Jews' educational and income levels compare with those of their fellow Muncie-ites? Yet if this history is somewhat ``soft,'' it still is a welcome addition to the small but growing number of monographs covering local aspects of American Jewish history. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Review

"Middletown Jews ... takes us, through nineteen fascinating interviews done in 1979, into the lives led by mainly first generation American Jews in a small mid-western city." - San Diego Jewish Times "... this brief work speaks volumes about the uncertain future of small-town American Jewry." - Choice "The book offers a touching portrait that admirably fills gaps, not just in Middletown itself but in histories in general." - Indianapolis Star "... a welcome addition to the small but growing number of monographs covering local aspects of American Jewish history." - Kirkus Reviews --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press; First Edition edition (November 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0253332435
  • ISBN-13: 978-0253332431
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #9,854,079 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As historical books go, very solid, honest, no revisionism, and thus, a pleasure to read.

It did go on a tad too long, but I realize that was the intent of the study, so it was hard to avoid.

I hope more Jewish leaders, especially those who forget (or don't know of) our pre 20th century history and triumphs in the midwest, will read this. It's eye-opening and important as we celebrate not just the lawyers and doctors of our heritage, but the working class who symbolize a proud portion of American Jewry as well.

Mazel Tov!
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Format: Paperback
At the 31st annual meeting of the Indiana Jewish Historical Society author and rabbi Lance Sussman stated that if Judaism can thrive in the heartland, in Indiana, it can and will survive anywhere in this great country of ours. Hence, any serious student of American Jewish history or Indiana should require of himself or herself to read "Middletown Jews."
This is a portrait of a microcosm of American Jewry in the middle of the country, a testing ground, far from urbane centers of American Jewish life and yet a reflection of those larger communities too. Dan Rottenberg's composite of nineteen interviews is a period piece, recalling the formation of a community long before the passing and enforcement of the Federal Fair Housing Laws and before the Jewish Renaissance blossomed with the emergence of the third such commonwealth in the land of Israel.
This is a portrayal of how ordinary Jewish folks in Muncie survived as a minority community in a much larger host community. Their neighbors were predominately a bigoted white society that often masqueraded as Klan members, not because of ideology but because it was the `in thing' to do at the time for White Protestants. The Klan leadership of the 1920s targeted their hate crimes more towards blacks and Catholics in Indiana than the small numbers of Jews (unlike the much more dangerous and anti-Semitic Klan cells of today which has compounds in places like Osceola). Muncie Jews made a niche for themselves in businesses and in an environment that wouldn't even allow their children newspaper carrier positions, let alone trendy neighborhoods and clubs.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Oral histories were very interesting. I grew up in Muncie knowing many of these people, or their children. Was interesting to read their comments about the Klan and its activities/members in the 20's & 30's.
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Format: Paperback
"Middletown" (1929) and "Middletown in Transition (1937) are among the highlights of American sociology. The books were studies of smalltown America by Robert and Helen Lynd and the typical American town they studied was Muncie, Ind.
The Lynds more or less ignored Muncie's Jewish community because it was statistically insignificant.
In the preface to "Middletown Jews: The Tenuous Survival of an American Jewish Community" (Bloomington, University of Indiana Press, 1997), Dan Rottenberg quoted the Lynds: "The Jewish population of Middletown is so small as to be numerically negligible."
The book is a collection of 19 interviews with members of Muncie's Jewish community, conducted in 1979, and is sad a reflection on the future of Jewry in America as you are likely to find. The oral history was edited by Rottenberg.
Muncie has had a temple since 1922, a Reform temple, but has never had a resident rabbi. It uses itinerant rabbis or students from Cincinnati's Hebrew Union College.
There are a few souls who want to follow kashrut and observe tradition, but in the end they usually join the temple. There is a great amount of intermarriage with non-Jews and even attendance at non-Jewish religious services, especially that of the Church of Jesus Christ, Scientist.
The spark for the book was Martin D. Schwartz, owner of a paper company and a graduate of Harvard College, who wanted to have the history of his shrinking community recorded. It is not explained why the 1979 interviews were the last word on the community. But Schwartz contributed a 1996 afterword, which shows some of the change.
What had been a community of merchants, almost all having shops on the same street, has become a community in which faculty of Ball State University have taken leading roles.
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