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Becoming American, Remaining Jewish

The Story of Wilmington, Delaware's First Jewish Community, 1879-1924

Toni Young

All immigrants face the same basic challenge: how to preserve their heritage and at the same time become American. The specifics and intensity of the dilemma change for the descendants of immigrants, but the essential issue remains the same. Becoming American, Remaining Jewish traces the development of Wilmington, Delaware’s first Jewish community in order to understand what the Jews created and why, what values were reflected in the institutions they established and the causes they advocated, and what changed over the years. Readers concerned about questions of identity and community today will find much stimulating material in this fascinating story.
Wilmington’s first permanent Jewish community began as a collection of less than one hundred Jews in 1879 and grew to a community of over four thousand people by the early 1920s when the immigration laws changed, and the growth slowed down. Although it began later than Jewish communities in the other original colonies and never grew to the size or status of the communities in neighboring Philadelphia and Baltimore, by 1918 Wilmington’s Jewish community was recognized nationwide as an exemplary community, a model of how Jews in America could maintain their heritage while working closely with the broader community to achieve great heights.
The book traces the development of the community decade by decade. Stories about synagogues, institutions to help immigrants, community efforts to assist Jews in Russia and Palestine, and the people who were active in all the work are developed simultaneously so that the primary interests of the community and the effect of interaction become clear. Biographical information about individuals is integrated with stories of communal institutions in order to emphasize the connections between individuals’ needs and the organizations they formed. The integrated approach is meant to emphasize the fact that people make things happen.
Events in Wilmington are discussed within the framework of what was happening in America and throughout the world with particular attention to the changing attitudes toward immigrants and the fateful march toward the restriction of immigration.
The appendix, which contains the names of more than two thousand adult Jews who lived in Wilmington between 1879 and 1920, is the most comprehensive list of early Jewish Wilmingtonians ever published. With its information on country of birth and first occupation, the list is a valuable resource for historians and genealogists.
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University Press Copublishing Division / University of Delaware Press
Pages: 388Size: 6 3/4 x 9 3/4
978-1-61149-189-0 • Hardback • January 2000 • $100.00 • (£70.00)
Toni Young has served on the Board of Trustees of Goucher College and United Jewish Communities and on the Board of Directors of United Israel Appeal.