“Becoming American” at the Maltz Museum

On Tuesday evening, November 30th, we viewed a virtual forum put on by the Maltz Museum as part of its “Becoming American” series.

This event was devoted to the history of Jews settling in Cleveland from the mid-1900’s up to present times.

Appropriately, the format was that of a panel discussion wherein Dr. Shari Rabin, Assistant Professor of Jewish Studies and Religion at Oberlin College, acted as the moderator and the panelists were:

Dr. Kathryn Hellerstein, Ruth Meltzer Director of the Jewish Studies Program and Professor of Germanic Languages and Literature (Yiddish) at the University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Kenneth Levine, noted Organizational Communication Educator who has taught at the American Jewish University on such subjects as the Yiddish Immigrant Press

Dr. Sean Martin, Associate Curator for Jewish History at the Western Reserve Historical Society

During the discussion, Dr. Hellerstein shared with us the remarkably well-researched history of how both the maternal and paternal sides of her ancestry immigrated to the United States in the mid-1900’s, settled in the Midwest, and produced several generations of children that included herself.

Along these lines, we were fascinated by what Dr. Levine had to say about the founding of the Yiddish press in Cleveland by Mr. Samuel Rocker who opened “The Jewish Daily Press” (Die Yiddishe Tegliche Presse) in 1908 which not only provided immigrants with information about what was taking place in the homelands as well as in Cleveland but, through editorials, advised them how they should vote which was an activity they were largely not accustomed to; thus, the guidance was welcomed.

(see http://ead.ohiolink.edu/xtf-ead/view?docid=ead/OCLWHi0209.xml;query=;brand=default/)

Plus, Dr. Martin had a lot of information to offer about the more recent migration of Jews from the Soviet Union and the cultural shock that they initially underwent because, just as all immigrants must, they had to learn English quickly and form new friendships/associations with people unfamiliar with their experience.

Not only that, but, since the newcomers from the Soviet Union were now free to openly practice their faith without fear of persecution, they had to decide if they wanted to join either the Orthodox, Conservative or the Reformist sects.

All in all, we learned quite a bit and look forward to attending the next program on December 15th when essays will be read that have been written by people who have immigrated to the United States and settled in Northeast Ohio.

We learned new things and had what we already knew about migration to Cleveland reinforced. On the latter point, we have learned that people who have immigrated to the United States in the mid-1900’s didn’t directly to Cleveland but arrived at a point-of-entry (i.e. probably New York) and eventually made their way to Cleveland if they had a relative/friend here ready to welcome them and/or there were employment opportunities. Once here, they sought to assimilate by learning English and attending festivals and social events.

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