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Middletown Jews: The Tenuous Survival of an American Jewish Community

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What did it mean to be a Jew in Muncie? That is what this book seeks to discover, through a series of oral narratives.

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Overview

What did it mean to be a Jew in Muncie? That is what this book seeks to discover, through a series of oral narratives.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Rottenberg (editor, "Philadelphia Forum") revisits the "Middletown" (i.e. Muncie, Indiana) of sociologists Helen and Robert Lynd's seminal 1929 study. Fifty years later, a Ball State University oral history project interviews older members of the Muncie Jewish community, which the Lynds deemed too insignificant to study <-->other than noting their precarious status in an era of Ku Klux Klan clout and exclusion clauses. The focus is on this sample as representative of Jewish experience in contemporary, small town America. These largely assimilated Jews still endure some prejudice based on the majority population's limited experience with minorities, but share similar values with their Gentile neighbors in the places they choose to call home. No index. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780253332431
  • Publisher: Indiana University Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/1998
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 8.82 (h) x 0.96 (d)

Meet the Author

Dan Rottenberg has published five books and hundreds of articles. He is also the editor of Philadelphia Forum, a weekly paper he founded in 1996.Dwight W. Hoover was Professor of History at Ball State University and is the author of several books, including A Pictorial History of Indiana.

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Table of Contents

Preface: Beyond the Lower East Side
Editor's Note
Introduction: To Be a Jew in Middletown
1 The Beautiful Steak with the Pat of Butter 1
2 "I'm the Jew You're Talking About" 8
3 The Klansman's Beneficiary 15
4 At Home with Gentiles 21
5 "Muncie Will Always Be Home to Me" 25
6 "You Were Not Dealing with Urban People" 37
7 Avoiding the "Note of Hatred" 41
8 "You Can't Be Anonymous" 44
9 The Gentile Wife 61
10 Mankind Is Improving 67
11 "There Was No Other Temple" 74
12 Reform vs. Orthodox 78
13 An Instinct for Survival 84
14 A Jew Who Went Fishing 97
15 Tending to Business 102
16 From Metropolis to County Seat 106
17 "Nobody Seemed to Give a Damn Who Went to Church" 110
18 Where the Klan Still Lives 116
19 The Great Transformation 123
Epilogue: Since 1979 135
Afterword 137
Bibliography 141
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