Arriving In America Essay

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His exploration of the expulsion decree promulgated in 1182 by Philip Augustus of France, of the way in which, although limited in scope to the crown lands, it differed radically from anything that had come before, and of its role in solidifying royal power even as it set a tragic and destructive precedent for European Jewry, is especially evocative and persuasive.

So, too, is his description of how a cycle of princely recruitment, exploitation, and then expulsion of Jews, a cycle starting in England and France and then rippling onward, drew Jews northward out of the ancient diaspora regions of the Mediterranean and pushed them eastward in rolling waves.

They came by the thousands, then by the hundreds of thousands.

Fleeing the pogroms and state-sanctioned economic discrimination that followed the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881, the Jews of the Russian empire poured out of Eastern Europe into Germany and Austria.

As it happens, nothing illustrates this point better than the migratory history of one group in particular: the Jews.

Two new books, one about that history and the other about how to repair the troubled American immigration system, shed much light on the subject.Chazan, a professor of Jewish history at New York University, presents a survey of Jewish population movements from late antiquity to the end of the 18th century.Although the Great Wave is thus technically outside his purview, it crops up in his book even more frequently than do the two other momentous events foreshadowed by his subject: the Holocaust and the foundation of Israel.Chazan contends forcefully that this account mistakes official expulsions—an infrequent pattern that began in France only in the 12th century and occurred fitfully in Europe thereafter—for the entire sweep of Jewish diaspora history.Chazan is at his strongest in writing about the European Middle Ages (his area of academic specialty).For complex and salutary historical reasons, America displayed an accepting attitude toward Jews, even a welcoming one.This alone made it markedly different from any part of the Old World.The distinction between those two categories has become crucial to the functioning of America’s and most of the Western world’s immigration systems.But that distinction is also of surprisingly recent vintage.This was the start of the Great Wave, the largest migration in Jewish history and until recently in U. In other senses, though, it was vital: Americans debated how best to conceptualize the newcomers, and also how best to help those still left in the old country. On the one hand, some of the first major protests took place against Russian human-rights abuses, with ex-President Grover Cleveland leading a rally in Madison Square Garden, and with both Jewish and non-Jewish Americans raising money for relief funds.On the other hand, there was the emergence of the Jewish garment industry on New York’s Lower East Side, for the proprietors of which the new arrivals were not objects of charity but a source of labor.


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