Jews on the Frontier

Sharfman, Rabbi I. Harold. “Jews on the Frontier”

"Jews on the frontier" by Rabbi I. Harold SharfmanIt was difficult for Jews and any minority to maintain their identities during the drive west, particularly in the smaller communities. In “Jews on the Frontier: An Account of Jewish Pioneers and Settlers in Early America” by Rabbi I Harold Sharfman, Ray Allen Billington of the Huntington Library writes in the introduction: “The primitive frontiers provided no clergy or teachers as a link with the past, no teachers to keep faith alive, no synagogues for worship, no leisure that would keep the Sabbath holy, no kosher foods necessary in upholding the dietary laws. Instead they hurried the disintegration of traditional practices in two ways. First, most Jews, in common with other minorities, tended to move westward as individuals, thus subjecting themselves to alien pressures and denying themselves the group strength needed to preserve inherited beliefs and practices. Second, men always outnumbered women along the Western fringes. In fact, few Jewish women were among the early frontier pioneers. Marriage beyond the faith was common, and with that marriage a loss of Jewish identity. The lone Jew, denied the companionship of others of his faith and married to a Gentile with little sympathy for his religious beliefs, simply disappeared into the emerging social order. This fate has denied Jewish frontiersmen the recognition they deserve for their role in the conquest of the West. Historians who read the records, unaware that many of the pioneers whose deeds they were chronicling boasted a Jewish ancestry, simply assumed that Jews were concentrated in Eastern cities and played no part on the frontier.”

Billington continues, “Few histories of the West mention their contributions, even though other minority groups — Negroes and Mexican-Americans, for example — have been given some of the credit they deserve. If a Jew does appear, he is usually an unnamed peddler who supplies the commercial needs of frontier towns or mining camps, but contributes nothing to the settlement process. Nothing could be farther from the truth.”

Sharfman, Rabbi I. Harold. “Jews on the frontier.” H. Regnery 1977. First Edition; First Printing. Hardcover, Very Good in Very Good dust jacket. 337 pages, 8.9 x 6.3 x 1.5 inches; 337 pages

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