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Middletown Jews: The Tenuous Survival of an American Jewish Community Hardcover – November 1, 2000
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›