That Pride of Race and Character: The Roots of Jewish Benevolence in the Jim Crow South

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Ithas ever been the boast of the Jewish people, that they support their own poor, declared Kentucky attorney Benjamin Franklin Jonas in 1856. Their reasons arepartly founded in religious necessity, and partly in that pride of race andcharacter which has supported them through so many ages of trial andvicissitude. In That Pride of Race andCharacter, Caroline E. Light examines the American Jewish tradition ofbenevolence and charity and explores its southern roots. Light provides a critical analysis ofbenevolence as it was inflected by regional ideals of race and gender, showinghow a southern Jewish benevolent empire emerged in response to the combinedpressures of post-Civil War devastation and the simultaneous influx of easternEuropean immigration. In an effort to combat the voices of anti-Semitism andnativism, established Jewish leaders developed a sophisticated and cutting-edgenetwork of charities in the South to ensure that Jews took care of thoseconsidered their own while also proving themselves to be exemplary whitecitizens. Drawing from confidential case files and institutional records fromvarious southern Jewish charities, the book relates how southern Jewish leadersand their immigrant clients negotiated the complexities of fitting in in aplace and time of significant socio-political turbulence. Ultimately, thesouthern Jewish call to benevolence bore the particular imprint of the region'sracial mores and left behind a rich legacy.