Jewish American Culture

Table of Content

As one approaches professional experience in the healthcare industry, recognizing the rich cultures represented by the many members of the staff that comprise the workforce team is important. One must seek a cultural understanding while seeking the impact of these cultures on the workplace, and one must explore the recommended steps to set up and maintain an inclusive environment for people from different cultural backgrounds.

A proper appreciation of the Jewish American culture begins by considering the aspects included in this culture. These can include traditions, beliefs, and other factors such as economy; politics; social history; education; family structure; religion; and popular culture trends in fashion, art, and cuisine. A clearer perspective of the cultural heritage of the Jewish American community helps strengthen the interaction with this community and to create an environment of inclusivity.

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First, all people live in an economic system. Jewish economic prosperity results from the efforts of many generations of people. The connection with finance and trade goes back to medieval Europe, where many of the Jewish people pursued trade and economy. Two factors affected their choice of industry. Jews avoided interactions with Gentiles (other than a Jew). Furthermore, they took jobs that other groups found objectionable, such as tax collecting and money-lending. Later, as the Jewish people emigrated to the United States, they took this experience and established themselves as retailers. Common occupations included: baker; tailor; and sales. As time passed, Jewish Americans developed their skills and by 1890, 70% of American Jews were active in banking, wholesaling, and accounting related fields. When Russian and German Jews from Russia and Germany immigrated to America, they took factory jobs. Their skills helped to create one thousand Jewish American clothing manufacturers by 1900 (Kemp, 2020).

Next, along with the economy, the political systems of a people group exist plays a role in their culture. Though Jewish, modern Jewish Americans are citizens of the United States of America. They have the same political freedoms that all other citizens of the United States enjoy. Jewish immigrants to Colonial America, however, faced laws that limited their religious expression and their ability to operate businesses. So, Jews called for the freedom of religious expression in the Constitution of the United States. The American Jewry was active in politics ever since. While no people group is universal in beliefs or voting patterns, their interest in social justice lends support to the Democratic Party (Kemp, 2020).

Third, to gain additional insight into the experience of the Jewish Americans, one must consider their social history. In 1654, twenty-three Jews from a region in Western Spain and Portugal came to New Amsterdam (now New York) as the first Jewish immigrants. By 1776, the number was 2,500. Within eighty-five years, 150,000 Jews lived in Americans. This increase resulted from a lower cost to immigrate to America. European anti-Semitic prejudice continued. So, by 1924, the total number of Jewish immigrants rose to 4.5 million. The United States government changed its policy reducing the annual number of Jewish people that could immigrate by ninety percent. And in the 1990s, the number had risen to six million. New York City hosts the largest concentration with 1.45 million Jewish Americans (Kemp, 2020).

Fleeing from persecution and anti-Semitism, Jewish immigrants sought acceptance in the culture of America. Despite episodes of negativity, most people welcomed the contributions of the Jewish people. Pressure to Americanize caused struggles among the generations of the Jewish people. The older generation sought to maintain their Jewish identity, and the younger generation embraced Americanization (Kemp, 2020).

Fourth, the educative approach of a culture is another factor in the culture of this group. Education is important to Jewish Americans. The ability of the German Jews to read enabled them to succeed in their new home. Modern Jewish Americans continue to see education as an important avenue to gain professional opportunities. Also, many Jewish Americans emphasize religious education. Jewish American students to spend several hours each week (in addition to traditional schooling) learning the history, traditions, customs, and language of the Jewish people (Kemp, 2020).

Fifth, family life and structure are an element of the cultural heritage of the American Jewry. Strong family units developed from the immigrant journeys. This observation of Sabbath encourages these family units and the sense of community. During this time, the family rests and pursues unity, togetherness, and community. The preparation efforts of the family encourage this. Sabbath begins at sunset on Friday and ends Saturday evening. It is a religious observance that ties the family together in a common faith (Kemp, 2020).

An additional aspect of family life involves marriage. Judaism (the faith of the Jews) consider marriage as one of the primary functions or purposes of people. As a result, most Jews marry. This extends to their clergy (called rabbis). The marriage process involves a matchmaker that seeks to find compatible spouses. However, the individuals are free to select their spouses for themselves. Another aspect of marriage involves the traditional opposition to intermarriage with Gentiles. Those Jews that wed Gentiles will likely face shunning from their family and community. The practice of avoiding intermarriage did continue through much of the twentieth century. But by the 1970s, 20 and 30% of Jewish Americans had non-Jewish spouses (Kemp, 2020).

Jewish weddings have many special features. For example, the couple is generally under a canopy called a huppah. A huppah is open on all four sides picturing the openness of the new couple’s home. Brides will circle their grooms several times. Then, the rabbi blesses the couple. Next, the bride and groom each drink from the same wine glass. Following this, the groom puts a ring on the bride’s hand and proclaims their union. Legality requires two witnesses. Now, the congregation sings. These songs consist of the ketubah (the marriage contract) and the Sheva bra hot (the seven blessings). The ceremony ends with the breaking of a glass which reminds the couple that they will face difficulties as a couple. Finally, the assembly shouts Mazel tov (good luck), and a meal follows (Kemp, 2020).

Jewish culture and family are patriarchal. In times past, women took care of the home and the children. Although, women are active in numerous religious ceremonies and services. For many years, men exclusively studied the religious texts of Judaism. However, in the 1960s and 1970s, some branches of Judaism adjusted to permit women to serve as rabbis (Kemp, 2020).

Another aspect of family life involves the raising of children. Jewish children may likely have two separate names: a familiar name used for general purposes; and a Hebrew name for religious ceremonies and documents. The naming of a Jewish child takes place eight days after the birth at a special ceremony. Additionally, for male babies, the religious practice of circumcision occurs at this time (Kemp, 2020).

Another ceremony is the bar mitzvah (for males) and bat mitzvah (for female s). This happens when the child turns thirteen years old. The service involves a reading from the religious texts of Judaism. Bat mitzvahs began in the twentieth century and are uncommon among Orthodox Jews (Kemp, 2020).

Sixth, the religious beliefs of the members of this group are a cultural element. For Jews (believers of Judaism), one omnipotent God exists. Doctrinal differences exist in the three major monotheistic religions. Christians believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God and Savior. Muslims (followers of Islam) believe God (Allah) inspired many prophets including Jesus. Jews continue to wait for the Messiah.

The main religious text of Judaism is the Torah, comprised of the books of Moses. Also, they look to the Jewish law, the Talmud (oral traditions and law), and what many would see as the Old Testament. Rabbis are the Jewish clergy. They lead many of their ceremonies in synagogues. The rabbis are equal with other people but serve as a Jewish law authority. Also, the rabbis act as a judge in religious and civil situations (Kemp, 2020).

A departure from strict orthodoxy occurred because of economic and social pressures. 10% of American Jews identify as Orthodox, 30% identify as Reform (liberal), and 40% identify as Conservative. Reform Jews see the law as evolving and changing. Orthodox Jews follow the traditional laws, and Conservative Jews are open to changes as long as the changes affirm the tenets found within the Torah (Kemp, 2020).

Seventh, trends exist within this cultural group. Examples include: fashion; art; and cuisine. The distinctive Jewish clothing demonstrates their identity as a Jew. While captive in Egypt, the Jewish or Hebrew people maintained their traditional clothing. Rabbis believed this declaration of their identification with God contributed to their deliverance. Today, Jewish Americans wear traditional clothing during their meetings in the synagogue. For these services, men cover their heads with skullcaps called yarmulkes or kippot and prayer shawl over their shoulders. Orthodox Jews wear black suits with shtreimel (black hats), a tzitzit (a fringed four-pointed prayer garment under and below the shirt). Modern women that identify as Liberal Jews have begun to cover their heads. Traditionally, for Jewish women, the uncovered head is immodest. They tend to dress in styles and colors to avoid attention from other men. Many modern Jewish Americans practice Judaism and as a result, the clothing choices fall outside the limitations of religious traditions (My Jewish Learning, 2020).

Another popular culture attribute of a group is art. While Jewish believers built an ornate tabernacle and temple with which to worship God, they avoid idolatry. An example is in the Hebrew and Christian sacred texts. When Moses brought the Ten Commandments, he discovered the people had created a statue of a golden calf. Moses destroyed the statue because it violated one of the Ten Commandments. Modern Jews and Jewish Americans, however, are active in creating and appreciating art. In fact, in the disciplines of the art individual, Jews have excelled. Arthur Miller was a playwright born in New York. Native Chicagoan, Benny Goodman, and Bob Dylan (born in Duluth) were musicians. Paula Abdul (dancer) and Jake Gyllenhaal (actor) are Californians (Kamp, 2020).

Finally, cuisine is a factor in the expression and experience of the culture of an American Jew. The faith has laws related to food preparation and consumption. Leviticus, the Judaic and Christian book, details many unacceptable foods for practicing (particularly Orthodox) Jews. Again, an individual that identifies as Jewish can refrain from practicing Judaism. Among the permitted foods are vegetables, fruits, grains, fish that have scales and fins, domesticated birds (turkey, duck, chicken), and animals that have split hooves (sheep, cows, goats). They avoid eating animals like pigs, rabbits, horses, or animals in the water without fins or scales (lobster, crab, shrimp). Nor are birds of prey permitted. These include eagles, owls, vultures, and others. Also, Jewish law describes the method to prepare food (Kamp, 2020).

For practicing Jews, food is an important part of many of their celebrations, festivals, feasts, and holidays. Food is a representation to remind the Jewish community of important events in the history of their people (Kamp, 2020).

By gathering information related to the economy, politics, history, education, family structure, religion, and cultural trends of the Jewish Americans, one can develop an appreciation for their culture. As a result, one can take the steps to develop a work environment that enables members of this community to celebrate their identity.

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Jewish American Culture. (2021, May 22). Retrieved from

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