A Community of Immigrants

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This week, Allison Amend wrote about old Western general stores and Jews in odd places. She is the author of the novel Stations West. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series.

I’m currently attending my brother’s wedding. It’s a destination wedding (in Hawaii, where the bride is from), and is therefore small. Only the couple’s closest friends and family are invited. Everyone attending the wedding has flown in, and we are all staying in beach-side bungalows. We are, in effect, forming our own community.

My mother mentioned that one of the themes she found most interesting in Stations West was the formation of family. As immigrants, the characters in the novel are starting from scratch, without the benefit of (or the burden of, depending on your family) relations. What I found interesting about the characters was that, in the absence of blood relations, they created their own family, with ties every bit as strong.

As much as Judaism stresses family, we have been forced so many times to create ad hoc families and communities. In nascent Oklahoma, the small communities of people who decided to call themselves Jews (there were others who lived lives unattached to the ethnicity and religion—Oklahoma history, as elsewhere, is unsure where to categorize these people) often lacked a religious leader. Several communities would share a rabbi; some went without. The rites and rituals were observed as people remembered them, and were sometimes a hodge-podge of various locational variations. When a rabbi did come to town, several ceremonies were performed at the same time. A bar mitzvah/wedding/Shavuot celebration would not have been strange. And because these communities were so small, people of disparate levels of dedication to the faith, different countries of origin, and different levels of education were forced to worship together.

“Shylocks of Oklahoma City Have State by the Throat.” The Guthrie Daily Leader. 1 Nov. 1912: 1. The Jews of Oklahoma. Henry J. Tobias. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980. 59. Print.

The community formed in Oklahoma was large enough, in some places, such as Tulsa and Oklahoma City, as to be significant segment of the larger society. Especially between world wars, the Oklahoma Jewish community served as a rich voting block. Politicians courted Jewish votes and businesses actively advertised in Jewish papers. This, more than anything else to me, proves a level of assimilation into the culture of the Southwest: the existence of such a community as evidenced by its own source of news, with enough souls to command political clout.

jewish names
The Daily Oklahoman. 27 Mar. 1921: 4. The Jews of Oklahoma. Henry J. Tobias. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980. 59. Print.

My brother gets married on Saturday. The ceremony will be secular, officiated by one of their friends, and a new community of immigrants (although temporary) will be there to witness and wish them well.

Allison Amend has been blogging all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog series. Her first novel, Stations West, is now available.

Posted on June 18, 2010

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