Gen­tile New York: The Images of Non-Jews Among Jew­ish Immigrants

Gil Rib­ak
  • Review
By – May 29, 2012

Jews have long had com­plex and para­dox­i­cal rela­tion­ships with gen­tiles, who have some­times been oppres­sors, some­times neigh­bors, and in many instances right­eous” peo­ple who have saved the lives of Jews. This book views immi­gra­tion through a new lens: it exam­ines how East­ern Euro­pean Jews per­ceived and inter­act­ed with the diverse set of peo­ples in the U.S. who were their neigh­bors, cowork­ers, adver­saries, and some­times col­lab­o­ra­tors. Jews arrived on these shores with some neg­a­tive stereo­types of non-Jews as hav­ing a dif­fer­ent moral­i­ty and being more prone to drunk­en­ness and licen­tious­ness. On the oth­er hand, Jews some­times ide­al­ized out­siders, for exam­ple, white Anglo-Sax­ons, who were viewed to have habits and tastes we might emu­late. Of course, we also encoun­tered oth­er immi­grant groups who beat up our chil­dren and called them kikes. The book does a mas­ter­ful job of por­tray­ing the his­to­ry of these diverse images and encoun­ters. It is care­ful­ly researched and pro­vides vivid exam­ples, like the Low­er East Side women who riot­ed over pub­lic health efforts direct­ed at remov­ing their children’s ade­noids, an event that close­ly coin­cid­ed with the Kish­niev pogrom and stirred up fears that pub­lic author­i­ties were intend­ing to cut their children’s throats. Rib­ak has done schol­ars and oth­er read­ers a ser­vice by bring­ing togeth­er a rich and var­ied set of materials. 

Susan M. Cham­bré, Pro­fes­sor Emeri­ta of Soci­ol­o­gy at Baruch Col­lege, stud­ies Jew­ish phil­an­thropy, social and cul­tur­al influ­ences on vol­un­teer­ing, and health advo­ca­cy orga­ni­za­tions. She is the author of Fight­ing for Our Lives: New York’s AIDS Com­mu­ni­ty and the Pol­i­tics of Dis­ease and edit­ed Patients, Con­sumers and Civ­il Soci­ety.

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