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66 SHOFAR Spring 1994 Vol. 12, No. 3 AMERICA'S JEWS: IDEOLOGY OF CULTURAL PLURALISM/REALIlY OF MELTING POT} by Chaim 1. Waxman Chaim 1. Waxman is Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University. He has written in general and Jewish sociological areas. He recently edited Israel as a Religious Reality (Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson,' 1994), and he is currently completing a monograph,jewish Baby Boomers, which will be published by State University of New York Press. The notion of the "melting pot" was popularized, if not coined, by Israel Zangwill, a Jewish immigrant from England. As depicted by Zangwill, the United States is the wonderful vessel or crucible in which all of the disparate ethnic ingredients are blended and cooked together, resulting in a "dish" which is different from and unique among the cultures of the world.2 Zangwill could appropriately be termed an "assimilationist," in the sense that Marshall Sklare used the term,3 in that Zangwill was positively enthusiastic about the process. Those whom Sklare called "survivalists," however, were less than sanguine about the process, even as they may have sensed its inevitability. For example, many Orthodox Jews, from a religiOUS standpoin~, and staunch Zionists, from a secular one, also saw the inevitability of the assimilation process in the melting pot, although they were both ideologically opposed to it. Be that as it may, during the 1960s the ideology of cultural pluralism became part of the dominant cultural 'Paper delivered at the 25th Annual Conference of the Association for Jewis!"t Studies, Boston, December 14, 1993. 2Israel Zangwill, The Melting Pot (New York, Macmillan, 1908). , 3Marshall Sklare, Observing America'sjews (Hanover: Brandeis University Press, 1993), pp. 159-180. America'sJews 67 ideology in American society, and the notion of "melting pot" came to be seen almost as the ethnic counterpart of racism. The thesis of this paper is that; much as I am dismayed by the facts, the reality is that, at least as far as Jews (and other immigrants from Europe) are concerned, the melting pot is, indeed, proceeding, though perhaps not at the pace which Zangwill envisioned or hoped for. Ironically , it is in large measure the very ascendancy of the ideology of cultural pluralism that has accelerated the workings of the melting pot. A brief sketch of the condition of Jews in American society and culture should suffice to make the point. In many respects, the condition ofAmerican Jewry is unprecedentedly positive. Perhaps Charles Silberman captured it best when, almost a decade ago, he called them "a certain people."4 American Jews have made it into American society in ways which could not have been predicted even as recently as mid-century. Socially, Jews seem to have made it into American society. Although much publicity was given a year or two ago to an ADL report showing that one in five, or 20 percent, of Americans hold antisemitic beliefs and attitudes, what was not given notice was that this reflects a decrease in antisemitism. Indeed, all studies since World War II indicate a rather steady and consistent decrease in antisemitic beliefs and attitudes by white Americans. Does this mean that,there is no antisemitism in the United States or that we shouldn't be concerned about it? Certainly not! It does exist, as the annual ADL reports indicate, and it is greater in some parts than in others. For example, it seems fair to assume that in cities such New York, where the economy suffers substantially and where there is the greatest competition between Jews and blacks, hostilities will be greater. Moreover, Jews are disproportionally urban, so there is an even greater probability of such competition. And if there is one lesson that history has taught us, it is that we must constantly be vigilant to antisemitism , no matter how unrepresentative of the society it appears to be. At the same time, there is ample evidence that Jews are making it into spheres of American society which were traditionally closed to them. Evidence from studies ofoccupational patterns indicates thatJews can now be found in virtually every occupational sphere and at the highest levels. Even more, they are able to reach these spheres and levels without...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 66-79
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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