Crossing lines: histories of Jews and Gentiles in three communities
, Mar 1, 1992
- 320 pages
Crossing Lines provides a sharply etched portrait of the Protestant establishment and Jewish immigrants in three communities. Bangor, Mount Desert Island and Calais are all in Maine. But over the past century these particular instances of accommodation and assimilation strongly represent what occurred in small cities, small towns and exclusive resorts throughout America. This highly unusual and perceptive narrative brings together Yankee lumber barons and Jewish peddlers, Wall Street financiers and Main Street clothing merchants, local and national elites, and immigrants from Germany and Russia. Some of the personalities who are present in this book--John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Jacob H. Schiff, Charles W. Eliot and Henry Morgenthau, Sr.--maintain strong national reputations many years after their deaths. Others--Dr. Lawrence Cutler, and Sara and Arthur Unobskey--achieved distinction on a purely local scale. Patterns of acceptance varied from place to place. Calais was the most tolerant toward the Jews; yet, in Bangor and Mount Desert Island, rejection of the Jews, fueled by anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic attitudes, eventually gave way to acceptance and economic mobility. Shared by all three, however, was a deep respect for American-style success: wealth, civic pride, residential and commercial development, proud reputations and confidence about the future. Although Jewish immigrants in Bangor, Mount Desert Island and Calais differed in their numbers, cohesiveness and inclination to build Jewish institutions, they were similar in their patterns of development. The first immigrants were peddlers, the more successful of them eventually establishing clothing and dry-goods stores. Theyscrimped and saved to bring their families from Russia and poured their hopes into their children, who rose through the public education system into the middle class. As the immigrants and their children reached out to be part of American life, their eastern-European religious and cultural traditions were radically, often awkwardly and painfully, transformed. Crossing Lines covers the histories of Bangor, Mount Desert Island and Calais from the Gilded Age through the first world war, the 1920's, the Depression, the second world war, postwar prosperity and the civil rights movement. Beginning within a framework of Gentile domination and wealth in contrast to immigrant aspiration and poverty, the book concludes with exclusivity giving way to equality of opportunity for Jews in all but a few pockets of life.