Jewish Life in Small-Town America


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A History

Lee Shai Weissbach

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In this book, Lee Shai Weissbach offers the first comprehensive portrait of small-town Jewish life in America. Exploring the history of communities of 100 to 1000 Jews, the book focuses on the years from the mid-nineteenth century to World War II. Weissbach examines the dynamics of 490 communities across the United States and reveals that smaller Jewish centers were not simply miniature versions of larger communities but were instead alternative kinds of communities in many respects.
The book investigates topics ranging from migration patterns to occupational choices, from Jewish education and marriage strategies to congregational organization. The story of smaller Jewish communities attests to the richness and complexity of American Jewish history and also serves to remind us of the diversity of small-town society in times past.

Lee Shai Weissbach is professor of history at the University of Louisville.

"Unquestionably the most thoroughly researched of all books on small Jewish communities, this volume will stand for many years as the definitive work on the subject."—Jonathan Sarna, author of American Judaism



"Weissbach's organization and clear writing style are impressive and he humanizes his story by placing a snapshot of Jewish life at the beginning of each chapter. . . . His is not a provincial study but a comprehensive one that goes beyond regions to present a clear and much-needed study of small-town Jewish life in America that is ground-breaking and will remain the standard interpretation for years to come."—David Wallace, Community

"Weissbach painstakingly develops a detailed portrait of nearly 500 . . . Jewish communities. . . . [He] conveys the flavor of both Jewish institutional and family life in these small towns. Evocative photographs of synagogues, local leaders and Jewish organizations bring them to life. . . . An authoritative book on a topic often sidelined by American Jewish history. . . . An important reminder that American Jewish history encompasses the ‘small-town’ as well as the ‘uptown’ and ‘downtown.’"—Melissa R. Klapper, Jerusalem Report

"Weissbach has contributed significantly to our understanding of American Jewish community development. . . . Formidable and exhaustive, the book nonetheless invites debate. . . . It is a tribute to Weissbach that he impresses not just for what he has accomplished but also for the further reflection that he inspires. Jewish Life in Small Town America will be a touchstone for all subsequent studies in the field."—Leonard Rogoff, Southern Jewish History

"Deserves applause from all. . . . American Jewish historians should be grateful to Weissbach for expanding the horizons of the field. American historians generally should also pay attention to what the Jewish experience can teach about the small town as an American phenomenon."—Amy Hill Shevitz, American Jewish History

"This volume is an original, much-needed contribution to the rich literature on the Jewish experience in the United States. It will certainly be a standard reference for anyone interested in how German and eastern European Jews built a way of life out of their own social and cultural capital as they responded to the unique demands and constraints of small town America."—Jack Glazier, Shofar

"An important new book. . . . The scope and span of Weissbach's research is impressive, and students of social history could learn a great deal from his creative use of such mundane sources as obituaries, wedding announcements, and the Federal Census. . . . His outstanding work of old-fashioned social history raises provocative questions for students of southern Jewish history. . . . An important work that scholars of southern Jewish history will need to wrestle with for years to come. His work is an important contribution to the debate over southern exceptionalism and the definitive voluem on small-town Jewish life in America."—Journal of Southern History

"A tremendously undertaking. . . . The sheer volume of material that Weissbach has collected and analyzed boggles the imagination; he has perused seemingly innumerable census records, narratives, interviews, and manuscripts. His lucid prose makes for a volume that is both readable and difficult to put down. All in all, one will find Jewish Life in Small-Town America a magisterial work. . . . The reviewer cannot bestow enough accolades on Lee Shai Weissbach for his monumental achievement."—James I. Martin, American Jewish Archives Journal

"The definitive stydy of a topic important to modern American life."—Nora Faires, The Annals of Iowa
ISBN: 9780300106718
Publication Date: May 11, 2005
448 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
27 b/w illus.