19 October 2015

cities and Jews

This year's Lefkowitz Lecture in Jewish Studies at Alfred University was given by Deborah Dash Moore who teaches at the University of Michigan. Her topic was the "Urban Origins of American Judaism" which is also the title of her most recent book (published by University of Georgia Press in 2014).
I really enjoyed the lecture though she started out by saying that Alfred was probably as far from a city as she could imagine. Sigh.

Dash Moore divided her comments into three sections: synagogues, streets, photographs. The sections blended nicely. I enjoyed seeing the pictures of the Touro Synagogue in Newport (the only extant synagogue building from colonial times) and Plum Street Temple in Cincinnati which I was happy to visit when SAH met there some years ago. It's a Moorish Revival pile across the street from a Catholic cathedral and near a no-longer-standing Episcopal church, with the three religious buildings across the way from the city hall. She noted the importance of them near the center of civic power and prestige. Perhaps the Moorish Revival building brought in the Muslims too. Into the 20th century, she showed a picture of the Brooklyn Jewish Center (1920s) which had a pool, gym, and restaurant. She didn't speculate on whether the building of a Jewish community center was related to people not being on the street as much because they had bigger houses, or drove more, or wanted to be with their kind, or it was a reaction to discrimination. Other national and ethnic groups, of course, also had community centers, and I can blame almost anything on our car-oriented culture.

She talked for a while about the rhythm of street life following the Jewish calendar. That is, people shopped on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, in preparation for the Sabbath. I wonder if she knew that Alfred was observant of the Sabbath until the 1950s. The stores and post office in Alfred were closed on the Sabbath (Saturday) because the town was founded by Sabbatarian Baptists (Seventh-day Baptists). See, Alfred is more like a city than you might imagine.

Lots to think and muse about. I might just have to read the book.

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