LANDSMANSHAFTN: JEWISH HOMETOWN SOCIETIES IN THE NEW WORLD
DANIEL SOYER, FORDHAM UNIVERSITY
Landsmanshaftn, associations of immigrants from the same hometown, became the most popular form of organization among Eastern European Jewish immigrants to the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In addition to providing members with valuable material benefits, they served as arenas for formal and informal social interaction—some providing springboards for involvement in radical politics, others offering houses of prayer and cemetery plots. All of them helped newly arrived Jewish immigrants adapt to their new home and find their place in American society.
Professor Soyer will dive into the fascinating history of these organizations, connecting them to associations of immigrants from other ethnic groups as well as to an existing American tradition of fraternal organizations. In inventing new rituals and traditions, Soyer argues, landsmanshaftn reflected the influence of the surrounding American culture more than the traditions of Eastern Europe. As their members aged, the organizations became a way of keeping alive memories of a world that no longer existed.
Soyer is the author of Jewish Immigrant Associations and American Identity in New York, 1880-1939, the winner of the Saul Viener Award of the American Jewish Historical Society and the Thomas J. Wilson Prize of Harvard University Press. The book has been praised as an “illumination of the world of the landsmanshaftn [that] should stand as a model for all those engaged in the study of immigration and ethnicity.” He is professor of History and Jewish Studies at Fordham University. With Annie Polland, he wrote The Emerging Metropolis: New York Jews in the Age of Immigration, 1840-1920 (NYU, 2012), volume two of City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York, winner of the National Jewish Book Award. His other books are (with Jocelyn Cohen) My Future Is in America: Autobiographies of Eastern European Jewish Immigrants (NYU, 2006), A Coat of Many Colors: Immigration, Globalization, and Reform in the New York City Garment Industry (Fordham University Press, 2005). He is coeditor, with Kirsten Fermaglich and Adam Mendelsohn of the journal American Jewish History.
This program is a part of the annual Wexler Lecture series made possible by the Edlavitch DCJCC’s Bernard Wexler Fund for Jewish History.