Jewish And African Immigrant Experience In The US


At the beginning of the XX century, a million new residents came to the United States every year. The fate of immigrants was brutal: in the XIX century, no government programs supported the poor. In most cases, the newcomers settled in ethnic areas of New York and other major cities. Among the new immigrants to the United States, immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, including Jews, dominated. The experience of Jewish migrants described in the novels Jews Without Money and Manchild in The Promised Land is somewhat similar to the details of the life of African Americans living in Harlem. However, despite the numerous similarities in the aspects of gender, race, religion, and social movement, there are differences between the positions of these groups related to the intensity the degree of discrimination.



The gender component of the life of Jewish migrants and Harlem residents has many similarities. Since, in both peoples, the man is the head of the family and is obliged to provide financial support for the woman, most migrant women do not work but devote themselves to raising children. Jews sign a prenuptial agreement — “ktuba” – before the wedding.1 According to this agreement, the husband is obliged to feed, clothe and fully provide for their wife’s and children’s other needs. Even though African Americans do not have a legally certified contract, they provide for their wives according to moral customs and traditions. Thus, most of the labor force among Jewish migrants and Harlem residents are men.


The main gender difference between European migrants and Harlem residents is the divorce frequency and the process’s nature. In Jewish families, the divorce rate is relatively low since marriage is concluded later than in African-American families, where a wedding is typical due to teenage pregnancy.2 In the event of a divorce in a Jewish family, the husband is obliged to transfer to the ex-wife an amount of money that will last them for at least a year of comfortable existence.3 In African-American families, ex-spouses often do not pay alimony, so women have to work several jobs.



Both Harlem residents and Jewish migrants face racial discrimination. They experience restriction or deprivation of rights and benefits based on race. Bias manifests itself in all areas of migrants’ lives. In both cases, it has the form of apartheid and is defined as the deprivation of rights in all spheres of life: politics, economics, and society.4 Discrimination is directed against both groups of the population, considering their belonging to a particular race.


The difference is in the degree of discrimination between Jewish migrants and African Americans. Residents of Harlem, unlike Jewish immigrants, are subjected to racial segregation. Racial segregation was abolished by law, but some of its manifestations continued.5 First of all, this concerns housing – black migrants experienced difficulties renting and buying housing in white areas. In addition, it was difficult for them to get a job not in the service sector. Although these problems were relevant for Jewish migrants, they were on a much smaller scale.6 For example, Jews could live outside of national neighborhoods, while realtors refused to rent housing outside of Harlem to blacks.



Both the Jewish and African-American communities are religious, which plays a vital role in rallying national groups. Religion becomes a unifying factor, a worldview basis for strengthening community relations.7 The significant discomfort experienced due to the move generated in both groups is a desire for consolidation not only on ethnic but also on confessional grounds.8 Religion defined racial, ethnic, gender, class and confessional aspects of the life of both African-American and Jewish minorities. The difficulty of the real-life situation, the fear of tomorrow’s unknown future, and the partial or complete lack of assistance from the state force African Americans and Jews to seek help from religion.


The differences are in the religious customs of the communities in question. The African American population of America is predominantly Christian: about 92% of them are members of the Church of Christ.9 The overwhelming majority of the white population of the United States considers themselves believers and more than half profess to Christianity.10 Since this religion is quite widespread among Americans, religion acts as a rallying factor for African Americans with white citizens. Jews profess Judaism, which is strikingly different from most American religions.11 Relations between the Jewish community of religious minorities and the religion of the majority of Americans are often confrontational. For Jewish migrants, religion, on the contrary, is a divisive factor, strengthening the social barrier between them and American citizens.

Social Movements


The issues of civil rights and freedoms of both Harlem residents and Jewish migrants are among the urgent problems. Such issues are an integral part of the domestic policy of any state, especially a multinational one such as the United States. In this regard, both residents of Harlem and Jewish immigrants are participants in social movements organized to fight for their rights. The persistence of discrimination against the nation has led to the preservation and even development among these communities in the United States of a group ethno-racial identity projected in various social movements.12 Thus, the similarity between the two groups consists of freely organized social movements acting independently in a non-institutionalized form to change society to combat racial discrimination.


The difference between the social movements of African-American residents of Harlem and Jewish migrants in their scale and media coverage. No other ethnic minority, including Jews, had to fight fiercely for their political rights as African Americans. They were excluded from the political process in many southern states until the 1960s through intimidation and discriminatory election laws.13 In addition, the number of African Americans in the USA is higher than the population of Jewish migrants. Therefore, the social movements of the African-American community are often covered in the media, and a lot of attention is paid to them. At the same time, the social movements of the Jewish community are more effective at the local rather than the global level.


When migrants change their residence, they face various problems, and social adaptation occurs. Many similar processes are observed in both African-American residents of Harlem and Jewish immigrants. They relate to religion, gender roles, issues of racial discrimination, and the focus of social movements. However, there are also quite pronounced differences between these two groups, primarily related to the intensity of these phenomena. This is due to the historical processes that have taken place in the United States for centuries and have made the problem of discrimination against African Americans in the country more extensive than the challenges faced by Jewish migrants.


Brown, Claude. 2011. Manchild in the promised land. New York: Scribner.

Gold, Michael. 2004. Jews without money: A novel. New York: PublicAffairs.

Stewart Justman. 2021. ” Fresh thinking.” Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology 28 (2): 16-25.

Mari Yoshihara. 2020. ” Editor’s note.” American Quarterly 72 (2): 6-12.


  1. Claude Brown, Manchild in The Promised Land (New York: Scribner, 2011), 66.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Claude Brown, Manchild in The Promised Land (New York: Scribner, 2011), 75.
  4. Michael Gold, Jews Without Money: A Novel (New York: Publicaffairs, 2004), 45.
  5. Michael Gold, Jews Without Money: A Novel (New York: Publicaffairs, 2004), 52.
  6. Stewart Justman, “Fresh Thinking,” Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology 28, no. 2 (2021): 16.
  7. Michael Gold, Jews Without Money: A Novel (New York: Publicaffairs, 2004), 46.
  8. Claude Brown, Manchild in The Promised Land (New York: Scribner, 2011), 71.
  9. Mari Yoshihara, “Editor’s Note,” American Quarterly 72, no. 2 (2020): 9.
  10. Claude Brown, Manchild in The Promised Land (New York: Scribner, 2011), 39.
  11. Stewart Justman, “Fresh Thinking,” Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology 28, no. 2 (2021): 18.
  12. Stewart Justman, “Fresh Thinking,” Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology 28, no. 2 (2021): 19.
  13. Mari Yoshihara, “Editor’s Note,” American Quarterly 72, no. 2 (2020): 7.