That Pride of Race and Character

The Roots of Jewish Benevolence in the Jim Crow South

Caroline E. Light

NYU Press (publisher)

“It
has ever been the boast of the Jewish people, that they support their own poor,”
declared Kentucky attorney Benjamin Franklin Jonas in 1856. “Their reasons are
partly founded in religious necessity, and partly in that pride of race and
character which has supported them through so many ages of trial and
vicissitude.” In That Pride of Race and
Character, Caroline E. Light examines the American Jewish tradition of
benevolence and charity and explores its southern roots.

Light provides a critical analysis of
benevolence as it was inflected by regional ideals of race and gender, showing
how a southern Jewish benevolent empire emerged in response to the combined
pressures of post-Civil War devastation and the simultaneous influx of eastern
European immigration. In an effort to combat the voices of anti-Semitism and
nativism, established Jewish leaders developed a sophisticated and cutting-edge
network of charities in the South to ensure that Jews took care of those
considered “their own” while also proving themselves to be exemplary white
citizens. Drawing from confidential case files and institutional records from
various southern Jewish charities, the book relates how southern Jewish leaders
and their immigrant clients negotiated the complexities of “fitting in” in a
place and time of significant socio-political turbulence. Ultimately, the
southern Jewish call to benevolence bore the particular imprint of the region’s
racial mores and left behind a rich legacy.

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