Wednesday, July 4, 2012

History and Jewish Americans

Jewish Americans

The impact of history on Jewish Americans has powerfully affected their current perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviors. The Holocaust in particular, still weighs heavily on the minds of many Jewish Americans and has instilled a certain defensiveness that comes from years of persecution, especially that which they suffered at the hands of the German Nazis. According to Sue and Sue (2007) the heinous acts against the Jews during the Holocaust left a complex and personal identity of a shared cultural and historic experience. It placed Jewish Americans as targets of bias and prejudice as well as the anti-Semitism that continues today. These experiences have become part of a deeply personal identity.

The Effects of Heritage and Jewish Religious Doctrine

Sue and Sue (2008) claim heritage is a significant part of many Jewish American's worldview. Korman (1989) refers to their worldview as a benign one that posits people are basically good and they continue to develop and move forward in their human evolution. Korman (1989) suggests, however, that when a group of people are subjected to heinous acts (like the Holocaust) they would typically develop a negative theory of human behavior. Kakhnovets and Wolf (2011) believe the religiosity and spirituality of American Jews allows them to separate somewhat from historic events such as the Holocaust and continue to evolve positively. Generally speaking, Jewish Americans "continue to profess such faith in human capability, human growth, and human development" (Korman, para.6). This belief is a fundamental part of traditional Jewish doctrine.

Value of Study and Learning

Another part of the traditional Jewish worldview that has affected contemporary Jewish Americans is the idea that study and learning are responsibilities promoted by Jewish religious doctrine. Traditionally, the study of religious and spiritual doctrine was part of the forward movement of their human growth and development. Present day statistics support the continued value of educational pursuits with over 55% of Jewish Americans over the age of 18 having a college degree. Krasner (2006) posits initially, Jews believed study was synonymous with spiritual and religious fulfillment, however as American Jews became more Americanized, the gap between Judaism and educational pursuits widened. Yet still, relative to the total U.S. population, Jews are more highly educated and earn higher household incomes (Jewish Federations of North America, 2001).

Generational Issues

There is a wide disparity between older Jewish Americans and the younger generation of this group (Kakhnovets & Wolf, 2011; Sue & Sue, 2008). Strasser (2010) writes "A state that is predicated on ethnic nationalism, a state that privileges one group of citizens over another because of ethnic identity, as Israel not a state that will be wholeheartedly embraced by young American Jews like me" (para. 11). Most American Jews are in the 65 and older age group and these elders tend to relate to their heritage more strongly than do younger Jews. This may suggest that in the near future the generalizations currently made about Jewish Americans and their worldview will change drastically.


Jewish Federations of North America. (2001). National Jewish Population Survey. The Jewish Federations of North America. Retrieved July 1, 2012, from

Kakhnovets, R., & Wolf, L. (2011). An investigation of Jewish ethnic identity and Jewish affiliation for American Jews. North American Journal of Psychology,, 13(3), 501-518.

Korman, A. (1989). Jewish American and the Benign World-View. The Jewish Review, 2(3). Retrieved July 1, 2012, from

Krasner, J. (2006). Jewish Education and American Jewish Education, Part III. Journal of Jewish Education, 72(1), 29-76. doi: 10.1080/00216240600581591

Strasser, M. (2010). A worldview at odds with a Jewish state. The Jewish Daily Forward. Retrieved July 2, 2012, from

Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2008). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

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