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Middletown Jews: The Tenuous Survival of an American Jewish Community [Paperback]

By Dan Rottenberg (Editor)
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Item description for Middletown Jews: The Tenuous Survival of an American Jewish Community by Dan Rottenberg...

"Middletown Jews... takes us, through nineteen fascinating interviews done in 1979, into the lives led by mainly first generation American Jews in a small mid-western city." --San Diego Jewish Times

..". this brief work speaks volumes about the uncertain future of small-town American Jewry." --Choice

"The book offers a touching portrait that admirably fills gaps, not just in Middletown itself but in histories in general." --Indianapolis Star

..". a welcome addition to the small but growing number of monographs covering local aspects of American Jewish history." --Kirkus Reviews

In Middletown, the landmark 1927 study of a typical American town (Muncie, Indiana), the authors commented, "The Jewish population of Middletown is so small as to be numerically negligible... and makes] the Jewish issue slight." But WAS the "Jewish issue" slight? What did it mean to be a Jew in Muncie? That is the issue that this book seeks to answer. The Jewish experience in Muncie reflects what many similar communities experienced in hundreds of Middletowns across the midwest.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Indiana University Press
Pages   192
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.5" Width: 5.24" Height: 0.57"
Weight:   0.5 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Feb 22, 1998
Publisher   Indiana University Press
ISBN  0253212065  
ISBN13  9780253212061  

Availability  103 units.
Availability accurate as of Oct 22, 2016 11:17.
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More About Dan Rottenberg

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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.

Dan Rottenberg currently resides in Philadelphia, in the state of Pennsylvania.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > General
2Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > State & Local
3Books > Subjects > History > Jewish > General
4Books > Subjects > History > Jewish
5Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Social Sciences > Special Groups > General
6Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Social Sciences > Special Groups

Reviews - What do customers think about Middletown Jews: The Tenuous Survival of an American Jewish Community?

A bit of Jewish History from the Hoosier heartland  Nov 26, 2003
At the 31st annual meeting of the Indiana Jewish Historical Society author and rabbi Lance Sussman stated that if Judaism can thrive in the heartland, in Indiana, it can and will survive anywhere in this great country of ours. Hence, any serious student of American Jewish history or Indiana should require of himself or herself to read "Middletown Jews."

This is a portrait of a microcosm of American Jewry in the middle of the country, a testing ground, far from urbane centers of American Jewish life and yet a reflection of those larger communities too. Dan Rottenberg's composite of nineteen interviews is a period piece, recalling the formation of a community long before the passing and enforcement of the Federal Fair Housing Laws and before the Jewish Renaissance blossomed with the emergence of the third such commonwealth in the land of Israel.

This is a portrayal of how ordinary Jewish folks in Muncie survived as a minority community in a much larger host community. Their neighbors were predominately a bigoted white society that often masqueraded as Klan members, not because of ideology but because it was the `in thing' to do at the time for White Protestants. The Klan leadership of the 1920s targeted their hate crimes more towards blacks and Catholics in Indiana than the small numbers of Jews (unlike the much more dangerous and anti-Semitic Klan cells of today which has compounds in places like Osceola). Muncie Jews made a niche for themselves in businesses and in an environment that wouldn't even allow their children newspaper carrier positions, let alone trendy neighborhoods and clubs.

Finding a niche in their religious and cultural life was another challenge for Muncie's Jewry, a community with as many independent facets as there were individuals is quite telling in Rottenberg's interviews. This time capsule look at a community divided by established citizens and recent immigrants, a division often juxtaposed between the heirs of German immigrants and Eastern European greenhorns, portrays varying degrees of lifestyle and home-life from Kashrut (Kosher only foods) to Christmas Trees; from Harvard educations to immigrants struggling to learn the English vernacular; from Temple membership to non congregational members; from all Jewish households to those with mixed marriages and multiple religious holiday symbols, hence Muncie's twentieth century Jews reflect the entire perspective of the American Jewish Experience.

This historical document succinctly rids the neat pigeonhole so many like to place or define as the American Jewish experience or American Jew; alas, for such simple minds, Rottenberg's interviews portray a kaleidoscope of a community too diffuse to define. "Middletown Jews" is a good read.

On the road to oblivion  Mar 15, 2003
"Middletown" (1929) and "Middletown in Transition (1937) are among the highlights of American sociology. The books were studies of smalltown America by Robert and Helen Lynd and the typical American town they studied was Muncie, Ind.
The Lynds more or less ignored Muncie's Jewish community because it was statistically insignificant.
In the preface to "Middletown Jews: The Tenuous Survival of an American Jewish Community" (Bloomington, University of Indiana Press, 1997), Dan Rottenberg quoted the Lynds: "The Jewish population of Middletown is so small as to be numerically negligible."
The book is a collection of 19 interviews with members of Muncie's Jewish community, conducted in 1979, and is sad a reflection on the future of Jewry in America as you are likely to find. The oral history was edited by Rottenberg.
Muncie has had a temple since 1922, a Reform temple, but has never had a resident rabbi. It uses itinerant rabbis or students from Cincinnati's Hebrew Union College.
There are a few souls who want to follow kashrut and observe tradition, but in the end they usually join the temple. There is a great amount of intermarriage with non-Jews and even attendance at non-Jewish religious services, especially that of the Church of Jesus Christ, Scientist.
The spark for the book was Martin D. Schwartz, owner of a paper company and a graduate of Harvard College, who wanted to have the history of his shrinking community recorded. It is not explained why the 1979 interviews were the last word on the community. But Schwartz contributed a 1996 afterword, which shows some of the change.
What had been a community of merchants, almost all having shops on the same street, has become a community in which faculty of Ball State University have taken leading roles. There is still no rabbi, no kosher food, no real Sunday school.
What got mention in the 1979 interview was the Ku Klux Klan, which acted as a cementing force for the 200 or so 1920s families. Not one interviewee mentions the establishment of Israel and no one mentions visiting it.
But there are mentions of Christmas trees and non-Jewish relatives. There are no conversions to Christianity.
Jews were once excluded from certain neighborhoods and from the country club. They were later admitted to both and several interviewees see this as progress, although they remain members of the non-exclusive country club founded by Jews (which, it is specifically stated, is not a Jewish country club because there were not enough Jews to be able to support a country club of their own).
In his afterword, Schwartz wrote: "The possibility of Judaism's demise through intermarriage and gradual secularization concerns most thoughtful Jews. What they don't agree on is how to counter those trends."

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