Russian-Jewish Emmigration to America

A Guided History by Rachel MacDonald


Immigration to America is not a concept unique to the Jewish people, but they definitely made a huge impact in the new world. The Jews, particularly in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s constituted an extremely large portion of the overall migration to America.  While those Jews emigrating in this period were mainly from Russia, they were not the first to start this trend.  The initial mass migration of Jews beginning in 1820 constituted many regions, but primarily those participating hailed from Germany. The push for migration varied based on where you were leaving from, however overwhelmingly economic issues were the catalyst. There is a bit of a debate on this topic as some Jews claim violence and anti-Semitism lead to the movement, but so far sufficient evidence to support this has not been found.

The research done thus far focuses on why the Jews came to America, the assimilation into the culture and economic system, religion, the role of gender, and anti-Semitism. The sources used begin to explain these topics, and provide a lot of other helpful sources. Primary sources were more difficult to come across than secondary, but that can be expected. Historians have done extensive research on the Jewish Immigration to America so information was easily accessed.

Print Sources

Eli Lederhendler. Jewish Immigrants and American Capitalism 1880-1920, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Lederhendler’s book covers a wide topic range in regards to the Russian Jewish Emigration to America. With extensive information about the Jewish life prior to the move to the United States and insight to the integration once they arrived.  The book is in a comparative context so overall the reader gets a sense of the sharp contrast between their old life and new one. Lederhendler has an extensive about of sources, including informative data tables, that helped progress research on this topic.

Naomi Cohen. Jews in Christian America, New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Religion played a major role within the integration to America, so understanding Judaism is imperative. Throughout Cohen’s novel insight into Jews religious life in America was provided, but overall this source was problematic. The majority of this book was simply outside sources that did not make much sense thrown together, and are outdated. Also, the author states she is taking a historical approach, but the last half the book seemed to be more from a legal perspective.

Seltzer, Robert and Norman Cohen, trans. The Americanization Of The Jews. New York: New York University, 1995.

The strongest aspect of this book is the fact that there are numerous authors represented. This allows for alternative perspectives and different voices throughout. Although likely only a few of the chapters will be of use, this is a valuable source none-the-less. The book discusses relevant points including religion, gender, and the assimilation. One chapter takes an interesting approach to assimilation calling it Jewish survival in America. This portion of the book was the most insightful.

Mittelman, Karen, trans. Creating American Jews. Philadelphia: National Museum of American Jewish History, 1998.

Creating American Jews provided a wide range of information regarding assimilation and anti-Semitism. The format of this book is clear and does not put too much information. Although, some parts may be considered vague, overall provides for a great starting point. Do not expect to get a lot of deep insight through this text, but it helps to get general information.

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Electronic Sources

Public Broadcasting Service. “The Jewish Americans.” Accessed November 18, 2013.

PBS provides a decent amount of information regarding the Jewish life in America. Nicely organized with tabs ranging from the migration to America, to anti-semitism, and even including political activism. Each section included relevant informative video links to further support their points. Also PBS left links to excerpts from certain books that were their primary sources.

Fitchburg State University. “A Resource Guide for Teachers: Russian Jewish Immigration 1880-1920.” Accessed November 16,2013.

The guide on Russian Jewish Immigration was one of the best sources I have found thus far. Although it was not packed with useful information in itself there was a brief section giving helpful insight to life in Russia and the initial arrival to America. However, what makes this so valuable is the extensive list of primary sources given. This is what allowed me to complete the bulk of my research on the whole topic.

Hyman, Paula. “Gender and the Immigrant Jewish Experience in the United States.” Accessed November 16,2013.

Paula Hyman takes a unique approach in explaining the role of gender within the Jewish immigration to America. The comparative context of women’s lives in East Europe including enlightenment helps to understand the topic. This was not the most informative source found on Jewish women in America, but it is a solid starting point.

Mandel, Maud. “Assimilation and Cultural Exchange in Modern Jewish History.” Accessed November 16,2013.

Maud Mandel takes an academic approach at trying to explain the Jewish Immigration. The majority of resources on this topic focus on Russian or German Jews, but he discusses French Jews. This source was particularly helpful in regards to the assimilation to America. Mendel takes assimilation a step further by discussing cultural exchange, which is key to truly understanding this concept.

American Jewish Historical Society. “Archives & Finding Aids.” Accessed November 18, 2013.

This source appears to be full of valuable information, but it is difficult to navigate through. PBS was a helpful resource, so since they listed this resource one would believe it is also helpful. Taking about twenty minutes just to figure out how to get into an archive, the website is not worth the time. Once the information is displayed it was somewhat helpful, but did not give any unique insight. There may be other parts to the website that are more informative, but good luck trying to find any. If the American Jewish Historical Society provides information via a different medium it may be worth looking into.

Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. “Assimilation and Authenticity: The Problem of the American Jewish Community.” Accessed December 6,2013.

The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs provides an alternative view on the process of assimilation to American culture. It takes an approach that focuses on issues of assimilation. Also, there is a great amount of information regarding just how unique the Jewish culture actually is. Also information in regards to how different America is in comparison to Europe is discussed. Emancipation of the Jews is also discussed in detail, which many sources leave out since it occurs before the Russian Jews arrived.

Institute for the Study of Labor. “Russian Jewish Immigrants in the United States.” Accessed December 6, 2013.

The Institute for the Study of Labor contains a plethora of information regarding Russia Jewry. This is an in-depth look at Jew’s English proficiency, which is imperative to understand. The examination also correlates English proficiency to their earnings in the American economic system. There is a lot of data as well as good leads to additional sources.
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Primary Sources

The Library of Congress. “From Haven to Home.” Accessed November 16,2013.

The Library of Congress covers a range of information on the mass immigration of the Jews to America in general but includes a specific focus of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The timeline section on this source was particularly helpful by truly connecting all the information.

Jewish Women’s Archive. “Sharing Stories Inspiring Change.” Accesed November 13, 2013.

The role of women once the Jews immigrated to America was very significant. The Jewish Women’s Archive serves as a primary source on this specific topic. Complete with an encyclopedia and various exhibits and newspaper articles, this website provides information that could not be found elsewhere. Also, there are bibliographies directly related to the topic of Jewish women in America. Overall this was the most helpful source on Jewish women integrating into American society.

The Yivo Encyclopedia Of Jews in Eastern Europe. “Parties and Ideologies.” Accessed December 6,2013.

In order to understand how the political parties in America were far better than those in Russia, you need to understand Russia’s. This source makes this information obvious as it bluntly explains the political history. In regards to the topic of Russian-Jewish Immigration, there is not a huge amount of information, but what is provided is very helpful.

Commission for Commemorating 250 Years of American Jewish History. “Jews in America at a Time of Growth and Change: Forging New Frontiers.” Accessed December 6,2013.

 This website provides insight into a variety of topics in regards to the Jews in America. There are many first-hand stories told, and deep insight into life for Jewish immigrants in America. The website focuses on the Jews in a solely positive manner, which is not always a good thing. So while alternative sources are necessary to get  the full picture, this provides all of the positive views. Also, there are many sources included that can help lead to further reserach.

Wenger, Beth S. The Jewish Americans: Three Centuries of Jewish Voices in America. New York: Doubleday, 2007.

This book covers Jewish Americans in every necessary aspect. It is similar to the above PBS source, only it goes much more in depth. There is information covering a variety of topics including political, social, and cultural integration to American life. There are many documents and various charts throughout the book giving insight that could not be found elsewhere.

Harvard University Library Open Collections Program. “Aspiration,  Acculturation, and Impact. Immigration to the United States, 1789-1930.” Accessed December 7, 2013.

The Harvard library covers a broad range of information on immigration to America in general. Although you have to dig deep to find information about Jewish immigration, it becomes a very informative source. It opens the door to a variety of many other sources regarding the Jewish immigration to America. If you search for long enough you will be able to find information on almost every aspect of immigration.



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