The Jews of America
A cluster profile covering 13 Jewish groups in 8 countries in the Americas.
Jews represent the oldest monotheistic religion of modern times. Because of the uniqueness of their history and culture, all Jews have a strong sense of identity. Persecution of and discrimination against the Jews have been the historical reasons for their migrations and settlements around the world.
Although they do share a common culture and religion, the Jews of North and South America have very distinctive lifestyles. The South American Jewish communities began as Conversos (Jews forced to convert to Catholicism) who accompanied early Spanish and Portuguese explorers. However, most of the Jewish immigrants to the Americas came in the late 1800's from Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the Middle East. While most of them speak either English or Spanish, other distinctive Jewish dialects are also still used. Yiddish, a German dialect with Hebrew elements, is the lingua franca of those with a European heritage, while Ladino, a blend of Spanish and Hebrew, is often used by those of Spanish descent. Hebrew is the religious language of prayer for the more Orthodox Jews.
What are their lives like?
While maintaining a Jewish identity, the majority of North American Jews conform to the mainstream American culture. "Jewishness" is often defined in more secular terms such as the use of Yiddish words and family traditions, rather than in religious aspects, such as the following of Jewish laws regarding dietary restrictions.
Not all Jews are religious. Some understand their Jewishness only as a social and cultural identity. Understanding what it means to be a Jew begins in childhood. It takes place in the home through storytelling and by taking part in Jewish rituals and festivals such as Rosh Hashanah (New Year), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), and Passover. Socialization also takes place through participation in Hebrew school or synagogue youth groups.
At the age of 13, the Bar Mitzvah ceremony for a boy (or Bat Mitzvah for a girl) is an important rite of passage, which marks him or her as an adult member of the community. While these ceremonies were more spiritually focused in the past, they have become equally important as social events.
Marriage and family relationships among Jews are much the same as other Americans. While Jewish families have fewer children, they are child-oriented, indulgent, and permissive. Although wives generally take on their husbands' surnames, Jewish identity is traced through the mothers. That is, if one's mother is a Jew, then he is, according to Jewish law, Jewish. He or she is entitled to all the rights and privileges that status brings, including the right to immigrate to Israel and settle there as a citizen.
The Jews of North and South America work in most trades and professions. They are very well represented in small and middle-sized businesses, the communication and entertainment industries, medicine, law, and accounting. In South America, Jewish executives have been extremely successful. However, the more successful the Jewish executive in South America becomes, the greater tendency he may have to be assimilated into the Christian European society.
What are their beliefs?
What are their needs?
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
This profile may be copied and distributed without obtaining permission
as long as it is not altered, bound, published
or used for profit purposes.