Just a couple of years ago, I was walking through downtown Philadelphia to go to services at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, a Reform temple. As I was walking, I noticed something fascinating: I was looking a big and shiny synagogue building right in the middle of an old, run-down area of town. It didn’t quite make sense to me; all of the synagogues I had seen in my life were usually in pretty affluent areas. It just didn’t sit right with me. I knew I had to learn more.
Fast forward to my senior year at the University of Kansas, where I would get to research and write a thesis paper for my Jewish Studies degree. As I thought about my topic, I transported myself back to Philadelphia and there it was – I wanted to understand why so many synagogues and Jews were situated in the suburbs and how that impacts our commitment to social justice.
As I started to dig into this topic, a surprising amount of resources appeared. Almost immediately, it was clear that I would be wading into Jewish racial identity (an issue that is incredibly close to my heart), the causes and impact of White flight, and that my work would have some big implications for the present Jewish community.
I’m a little more than embarrassed that it took me more than a whole year to share my thesis, but better late than never! I hope you find it interesting, and reach out if you have any questions or want to talk about it more. For those of you who don’t necessarily want to dive into a long, academic paper, here are some summary points:
- After observing demographic data for New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles, it’s clear that Jews participated in White flight during the mid-twentieth century
- Jews have a complicated history of racial identity in the United States, but for the most part were included as White by the 1950s
- Many factors pushed and pulled Jews toward the suburbs, including rising socioeconomic status, some racism, and general acceptance as White by society
- Many Jews, synagogues, and Jewish organizations exist in the suburbs currently because of this White flight
- While Jews participated in the Civil Rights Movement, Jewish life existing in the suburbs strained relationships with people of color in the past and has set up barriers against social justice work today