From Encyc

A Jew is a person who believes in Judaism. The only country in the world with a majority of Jews is Israel.

Jews mainly lived in Ancient Israel until the Romans dispersed them around the world beginning 70 CE in what is referred to as the Diaspora. Throughout the Middle Ages, they were expelled from Western European countries because of Jews largely being bankers at that time and many stories of usury circulated. Thus, Jews were expelled because Europeans thought that they were all usurers and that they were stealing from Europeans, though this belief was not universally held. In many countries Jews were excluded from trade guilds and forbidden from owning land, leaving banking as one of the few professions that they were allowed to do.

An estimated six million were killed during the Holocaust throughout Nazi-occupied Europe (1933-1945). In 1948, they established the State of Israel and revived Hebrew as a modern language. Previously, most Jews either spoke the language of their country, Yiddish (a language derived, like English, from German), or Ladino (spoken among Sephardic Jews, as opposed to Ashkenazi or East European Jews, who spoke Yiddish).

Jews and the Age of Discovery[edit]

The Catholic religion considered banking, or money-lending, as sinful. The kings of Europe, as related by Jewish historian Abba Eban in the 1984 TV series and subsequent book Heritage: Civilization and the Jews, turned to Jewish bankers to raise the money to build the grand cathedrals of Europe as well as their fleets. From Spain to Portugal, to France, to Holland, and to England, Jewish bankers raised the capital for the great exploration ships and great war fleets of the Middle Ages. After they had served their kings, the Jews would be expelled on various grounds and would migrate to another country, to again raise the money for warships and exploration vessels. The strategic dominance of nations followed the Jewish bankers and their ability to fund warships. The New World would not have been discovered, explored, and mapped by such as Columbus, Pizarro, Balboa, Magellan, Cortez, and Ponce de Leon without the sailing vessels built with the money raised by Jewish bankers.

Jews in America[edit]


The modus operandi of American Jews from the turn of the 20th century to its end, a “time-honored tradition” of American Jews, was to anglicize both their given and business names to hide their Jewish identity. This was done not only to avoid anti-Semitic persecution and discrimination, but also to fulfill an almost desperate desire to be accepted and assimilated into American society. Although they still read newspapers published in the Yiddish of Eastern Europe, supporting dozens across the country, the pride of first-generation-born American Jews was to learn and become fluent in English.

Yet, they still faced persecution and discrimination. Most professions were to some degree closed to Jews, including architecture, medicine, law, and veterinary practice. The famous Cornell University veterinary school, for example, through the early 1940’s allowed only one Jew in an entering class. Jewish animal lovers reacted by founding a veterinary school at what was to become Middlesex University in Waltham, Massachusetts, with a faculty of Jews who had fled Germany.

Colleges and universities, including most of the elite universities, had such Jewish “quotas,” even until the 1980’s, severely restricting the number of Jewish students they would admit, previous academic success and future academic promise being irrelevant. With programs in medicine, pharmacy, podiatry, and veterinary medicine, as well as the liberal arts, Middlesex was the only university in the United States where the medical and veterinary schools did not impose a quota on Jews. The American Medical Association refused to grant accreditation to its med school, which its non-Jewish founder partially attributed to institutional anti-Semitism. After the death of Louis Brandeis, Middlesex evolved into the predominantly Jewish Brandeis University, founded in 1947.

Socially, Jews were isolated. The Jews who entered college would form their own fraternities and sororities, the Sigma Chi’s and Tri Delt’s not rushing Jews for members. Tau Epsilon Phi fraternity, for example, was in fact founded in 1910 by ten Jewish men at Columbia University to respond to the refusal of other fraternities at Columbia to accept Jews as brothers. Out of college, with admission to social and athletic clubs denied, the Jews again formed their own. In Chicago, the Covenant Club was formed by Eastern European Jews and the Standard Club was built by Chicago Jews of German descent.

Jewish Influence in Physics and Entertainment[edit]

One of the few fields open to Jews was physics, that not being a popular calling of non-Jews. With the field open to them, most of the breathtaking developments in 20th century physics were made by Jews. The names of Jews, Hans Bethe, Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli, Richard Feynman, Albert Michelson, Max Born, James Franck, Emilio Segre, Arno Penzias, Murray Gell-Mann, Leon Lederman, Niels Bohr, Steven Weinberg, and others, are inscribed in the listings of Nobel Prize winners in gross disproportionality to their international population numbers. J. Robert Oppenheimer, the prodigious genius who in the Manhattan Project directed the greatest assemblage of physics intellects ever assembled, many of them Jews, was Jewish.

The theory behind nuclear fission and the subsequent development of the atomic bomb, which prevented the deaths of millions of Americans and Japanese and ended World War II, was based entirely on the discoveries of Jewish physicists. This success in physics aside, Jews were denied entry into most other American professions.

Jews, indeed, created their own American industries where they would not suffer discrimination in opportunity and hiring. Three of the five American-born entertainment industries were of Jewish origin. New York City Jewish veterans of vaudeville performed in the resorts of the Catskill Mountains and there, in the Borscht Belt, stand-up comedy was born. Those with a musical and theatrical bent founded musical theatre, an outgrowth of Eastern European Yiddish theatre and the source of the popular music canon known as the “great American songbook.” The motion picture industry was founded by Jews who moved to southern California. Of the five American-born entertainment industries, only vaudeville and jazz, created in New Orleans by blacks, were not of Jewish origin.

The three great science popularizers of the 20th century were Jews. Isaac Asimov in physics, Carl Sagan in astronomy, and Stephen Jay Gould in paleontology and evolutionary biology are names familiar to those who read popular science books.

World War II: Anti-Semitism and the founding of the State of Israel[edit]

After the war, it was learned that the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt was aware not only of the Holocaust but also the location of some of the concentration camps. Photos, such as in the book The Holocaust Chronicles, show American bombers passing directly over the rail lines of such as Auschwitz. One bomb alone would have save tens of thousand of lives. Roosevelt, although revered by the Jews who voted for him en masse, is now considered by some Jewish scholars as the greatest enemy of the Jewish people since Haman. It is documented that his wife Eleanor and his appointees to the State Department, in charge of immigration policies of Jews from Europe, were virulent anti-Semites the policies of which led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of European Jews.

The discrimination in the professions and colleges continued after World War II. The 500,000 American Jews, an absolutely remarkable half of all Jewish males between the ages of 18 and 50, who served, fought, and became injured or died in the war, returned to a bigoted America. Many, facing this discouraging fact, opted to devote themselves to the creation of a Jewish homeland. Israel was built on the intellect and industry of transplanted American Jews. In a significant way, American bigotry led to its creation, existence, and flourishing as a prominent world center in agriculture, military technology, and salt water reclamation, and as well as classical music and the graphic arts.


To avoid discrimination as well as to seek assimilation, the children of Jewish immigrants to America changed their last names. Cohen became Kahn and Cahn. Greenbaum became Greene. Goldstein became Golden. Shapiro became Shepard. Entertainers could be partially excused for the sake of the marquee, Cyd Charisse adopting that name from her given Tula Finklea, Tony Curtis having been born Bernard Schwartz, Kirk Douglas having been born Issur Danielovitch, Al Jolson having been born Asa Yoelson, and Jack Benny having been born Benny Kubelsky, but it didn’t hurt bookings if they had what they referred to as “goyish,” that is, gentile, sounding names.

Learning the lesson, Jewish parents would forego the traditional old-country Jewish first names. They would try to avoid the Irving’s, Abe’s, Sam’s, Ben’s, Nathan’s, Max’s, Bernard’s, Myron’s, Meyer’s, Hymen’s, Saul’s, Bertha’s, Tillie’s, Libby’s, and Rose’s of their fathers and mothers and name their children Elyse, Iris, Renee, Brad, and Todd. Because Jews name their children after the Jewish name of deceased loved ones, this necessitated some imaginative phonemic manipulation. Parents would choose an English name of “Larry” or “Leslie” to honor and memorialize “Eliezer.” Similarly, “Moshe” would be remembered as “Morris” or “Mark,” “Khanah” as “Anne,” “Miriam” as “Marla,” “Binyomin” as “Bruce,” and “Pinchus” as “Paul.”

Assimilation intensified in America in the later years of the 20th century. Intermarriage increased in frequency and attendance at Conservative Jewish synagogues decreased as attendance in the Jewish Reform synagogues, with its decreased use of Hebrew in the services, increased. Attendance at the Orthodox Jewish synagogues remained about the same, with followers in the major metropolitan areas.

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