Embracing a Western Identity: Jewish Oregonians, 1849-1950. By Ellen Eisenberg. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2015. X + 292 pp.
To the growing scholarly literature on American Jewish regionalism, enter Ellen Eisenberg's monograph on Jewish Oregonians. Her work speaks directly to differences in the experiences of American Jews who settled outside the East Coast's large urban areas. "Many remain convinced that Jewish authenticity resides only in the East, and that to put Jewish and Oregonian in the same phrase is somehow oxymoronic. Yet Jewish Oregonians and Jewish westerners have long embraced both parts of their identities and see them as compatible," the author contends (9-10).
Analysis of the complex interplay between regional and ethnic identity unfolds in six chapters. Eisenberg begins with Oregon's first Jewish settlers-"town leaders, civic boosters, and neighbors"-who settled small towns in the mid- to late-nineteenth century (15). Their prominence and high levels of acceptance within the state's social and political hierarchy, as compared with Jews in other regions, stemmed from their acculturation prior to arrival, status as pioneers, contributions to community building, and racial status as white.
The author explores migration in the second chapter as well, arguing that the Sephardic/German/ Eastern European periodization often used to explain Jewish immigration to America does not work in Oregon. Instead, Bavarian Jews predominated in Oregon's first wave, joined in Portland by growing numbers of Jews from Posen in the 1860-1880s. Particularly through the synagogue they founded in 1869, these Poseners served as a cultural bridge to the late nineteenth-century influx of Eastern Europeans Jews. By 1920, over 2,000 Sephardim from the Mediterranean Basin comprised the second largest Sephardic community in the U.S. after New York City. Despite their national differences, modernization influences in the southern Pale of Settlement prior to arrival in America, acculturation in America prior to arrival in Oregon, and an occupational structure that reduced class conflict created "relative cohesion among ethnic groups in Portland's Jewish community" (70).
Chapters 3 and 4 analyze social and political relationships between Jews and non-Jews within and outside of the Jewish community. Neighborhood House, founded in 1905 by Portland's National Council of Jewish Women chapter, served as an important point of contact between the...