Celluloid Assimilation: Jews in American Silent Movies

  • Author(s): Lester D. Friedman
  • When: 1987-07
  • Where: Journal of Popular Film and Television
  • In 1881, a series of pograms and anti-Jewish decree in Russia forced waves of East-European Jews to emigrate to the United States. Although small groups of East-European Jews inhabited America as early as 1852, millions more streamed to her shores from 1881 to 1924, when a series of restrictive immigration laws stemmed the flood of refugees. By 1926 there were 3,111 congregations, 1,782 synagogues, and 4,100,000 Jews here, and modern historians estimate that eighty-five per-cent of all Jews living in America today trace their roots back to these East-European immigrants. This extraordinary period of immense immigration forced a growing American awareness of this entity called "The Jew," much to the embarrassment of the 250,000 well-established German and Spanish Jews already here who had slipped into American life with little fanfare. So the quiet and orderly process of assimilation going on since 1644 ended in the confusion of Ellis Island and the noisy din of city streets. America's Jews were about to become more conspicuous than ever before, and both they and their adopted country would be profoundly changed by the experience.

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