A Sense of Place: Jews, Blacks, and White Gentiles in the American South

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A Sense of Place: Jews, Blacks, and White Gentiles in the American South

by David Goldfield
Southern Cultures, Vol. 3, No. 1: Spring 1997

"Though their relationship with the South has often been ambiguous, Jews have made a home for themselves in the region."

As quintessential outsiders, Jews have developed a sixth sense in taking cues on public behavior from the host society. Over the centuries, their successful assimilation and at times even their survival have often depended on blending in with the Gentile population; they have had to balance the pursuit of their culture and religion with the necessity of maintaining a low profile. This tension between preservation and assimilation has lessened in recent decades in the United States, but it is still a part of Jewish life in the South. For the South remains the most conservative and evangelical Protestant region of the country, as well as the section in which rural culture has the strongest hold. Jewish religious, social, and settlement traditions are very different from those of the dominant culture, and Jewish success in the South prior to and even to some degree after the civil rights movement depended on minimizing these differences.

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