Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition (Goldstein-Goren Series in American Jewish History)

23 Nov

Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition (Goldstein-Goren Series in American Jewish History)

Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition (Goldstein-Goren Series in American Jewish History)

Marni Davis

Language: English

Pages: 272

ISBN: 1479882445

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Finalist, 2014 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature from the Jewish Book Council
From kosher wine to their ties to the liquor trade in Europe, Jews have a longstanding historical relationship with alcohol. But once prohibition hit America, American Jews were forced to choose between abandoning their historical connection to alcohol and remaining outside the American mainstream. In Jews and Booze, Marni Davis examines American Jews’ long and complicated relationship to alcohol during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the years of the national prohibition movement’s rise and fall. Bringing to bear an extensive range of archival materials, Davis offers a novel perspective on a previously unstudied area of American Jewish economic activity—the making and selling of liquor, wine, and beer—and reveals that alcohol commerce played a crucial role in Jewish immigrant acculturation and the growth of Jewish communities in the United States. But prohibition’s triumph cast a pall on American Jews’ history in the alcohol trade, forcing them to revise, clarify, and defend their communal and civic identities, both to their fellow Americans and to themselves.    

















interacted with the brewing industry as suppliers of raw materials like hops, malt, and wheat—as commercial intermediaries between grain farmers and beer producers19—they rarely found work within the breweries or established a brewery of their own. Jewish immigrants seeking similar employment in the United States thus had little practical knowledge in industrial beer production. In a disconcerting twist, the six-pointed hexagram—most familiar today as the Magen David, or Jewish star—was the

showed far less interest in accommodation than Mordecai Noah’s actions had demonstrated. Instead of seeking to establish mutual understanding between themselves and the temperance movement, they openly and consistently denounced its imposition of evangelical morality on American politics. Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise led American Jewry in this ideological battle. When Wise founded his weekly newspaper, the American Israelite, in 1854, he intended his publication to unify and modernize American Jewry,

Eldridge Street.62 Within New York’s Jewish neighborhood, saloon culture was, one might say, eclectic. But whether their patrons argued about political philosophy or formulated plans for illegal activities—and surely some hosted customers who did both—these saloons served a similar purpose, and fulfilled the same need as all immigrant saloons. The seedier joints, no less than the establishments that served more tea and cake than whiskey, created opportunities for Jewish immigrants to be among

to a white clientele.83 For all these men, it was as plain as day that the street’s business climate made opening a saloon an obvious choice. Saloonkeeping was an entrepreneurial opportunity they had grabbed because the product sold well in the neighborhood. Many of these saloonkeepers attempted other kinds of businesses in Atlanta first, and took up alcohol purveyance after studying the local entrepreneurial environment for a year or two. In 1905, only four of Decatur Street’s Jewish

Morris Cohen in 1909, that he kept the liquor for a “Hebrew celebration.” And a bon vivant known as “Jew Joe” garnered a reputation for supplying the nightclubs of Charleston with whiskey from Florida—“as close to a gangster as we ever got in Charleston,” according to a local resident.35 In general, however, southern Jews were not as deeply involved in the region’s illegal alcohol trade as were Jews in the Northeast and Midwest. One reason was that most southern states had already been

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