The Jewish Eye
Jewish Communities on the Ohio River: A History
Reviewed by Zev Harris - May 7, 2009
Jewish Communities on the Ohio River: A History is an engaging account of the history of the Jewish communities that sprung up along the banks of the Ohio River as Jews joined the mass migration westward. Many of these Jews heading west choose to settle in the Ohio River Valley, some settled permanently, for others it was just a stop-off before heading further west. For the purpose of this study, the author, Amy Hill Shevitz, has limited her narrative to twenty-four, moderate to small Ohio River towns in which Jews settled, and in which small, formal, Jewish communities developed. The communities discussed in this study are drawn from six states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois, and include such towns as Wheeling, Aliquippa, Steubenville, Marietta, Covington, Paducah, Evansville, and Cairo. Larger towns such as Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Louisville are touched upon, but not discussed in any detail.
In this book, Shevitz explores the settlement and history of the Ohio River Valley, and the various factors that originally brought Jews to the region. She also discusses why Jews choose to settle where they did, how the various communities developed, their communal organization, and what life was like for Jews in these diverse comminutes. Shevitz also explores how these Jews, who often came from larger cities and many directly from Europe, adjusted to small-town life, and how they were treated by their gentile neighbors. Also covered are some of the contributions that Jews made to the settlement and economic development of the Ohio River Valley region, from the colonial period through to the present. In addition, using ethnographic portraits, she shows how these communities interacted not only with each other, but also with large regional centers of Jewish life.
Shevitz teaches religious studies at California State University at Northridge. She grew up in Marietta, Ohio, and as such as a personal connection to the story that she recounts in this book. Throughout, she presents her information in an engaging and very readable style that will enthrall scholars and general readers alike. Jewish Communities on the Ohio River: A History provides not only insights into what life was like for Jewish minorities in small-town America within the Ohio River Valley, but it also provides a unique glimpse into an aspect of Jewish-American history that is often overlooked in favor of Jewish comminutes in larger, and often Northeastern cities - that of Jewish communal life in small towns.
Jewish Communities on the Ohio River: A History will fascinate anyone with an interest in Jewish studies, the history of the Ohio River Valley, or rural American life. This book is equally accessible to scholars and general readers alike. As well, for those interested in pursuing this topic in greater depth, you will find Shevitz's endnotes and bibliography to be an invaluable aid in your studies.
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- Coalfield Jews: An Appalachian History, by Deborah R. Weiner.
Focusing primarily on the period from the early 1880's - 1920, this insightful book provides a survey of the immigration of Eastern European Jews to central Appalachia during the coal boom of this period. It also provides details about Jewish communal life and the various Jewish communities that developed throughout the region - many of which still exist today.
- Jewish Women Pioneering the Frontier Trail, by Jeanne E. Abrams.
A History in the American West. This text chronicles the history of Jewish Women in the American West from the 1848 Gold Rush through the early 1900's.
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