The 11th and 12th grades recently studied a unit on Jewish Immigration to America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. While learning what motivated Jewish immigrants to come to America, students spent time discovering why their own families moved to America and from which countries.
Our students' ancestors came from Poland, Germany, Russia, Turkey, and Egypt, among other places. They came primarily for the increased opportunity and to escape persecution.
One of the main themes in our study of immigration was the rate of assimilation by our Jewish brethren into the American culture.
This unfortunate blending of Jewish culture and values was even more dramatic among the children of the first wave of immigrants.
We identified many factors leading to assimilation, including:
the desire for social acceptance and upward mobility
the difficulties in making a living while keeping Shabbat and
the predominance of Reform Jewry
The students also had the opportunity to look at old kosher cookbooks printed in the early 1900s. These cookbooks were written in both Yiddish and English to allow the immigrant parents to cook with their American born, often assimilated children who spoke English.
Many students were eager to try the recipes, including those published by Crisco. Crisco was one of the food brands anxious to market their new, Pareve solid form of "fat" to the kosher consumer. This new product enabled people to bake pareve cakes, etc. Until this point they had to use either Shmaltz (meat) or butter (dairy).
While many Orthodox Rabbis did not want to leave Europe to move to the generally less religious America, frequently, Rabbis would come from Europe to collect money and to give Chizuk (strength) to the Orthodox Jewish communities in America.
One such Rabbi was Rav Moshe Mordechai Epstein, who spent a week in Seattle in 1927. He was the Rosh Yeshiva of the Chevron Yeshiva in Slabodka, Lithuania and later when it moved to Israel. The Seattle Times reported on his important visit in at least five articles. (See photo above)
We were genuinely pleased to see that Seattle was worthy of a visit by this great Rabbi, even though it entailed his traveling across the country to visit Seattle.
We also came away from this unit, realizing how lucky we are to be receiving a Jewish education and the support of the local Jewish community.