Jewish Holiday Notices in Newspapers – Part II

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Introduction: Map of Jewish Holiday Notices in Newspapers

In my last post, I summarized why Jewish holidays would ever be announced in a newspaper in the United States, pre-1865, in a place like Wheeling, West Virginia or Olympia, Washington. Newspapers reported news and news came from the “outside.” This “outside” reached these seemingly far-flung places because these towns had a post road, or a railroad depot, or a canal that passed through. News would carry, allowing for new article topics, such as an upcoming Jewish holiday.  Newspapers from other cities would also be delivered and articles would be copied and reprinted (see Viral Texts for more on this if you are interested). Many of the articles, in fact, are reprints of one another.

Here is a cartodb map with a post road layer (you can remove if you so choose) with a heatmap layer demonstrating the density of the announcements over time:

Jewish Notices and Newspapers Methodology

This projects specifically looks at Jewish holiday notices for three different (and arguably the most important) Jewish Holidays. These are the days that Jews, even the most non-observant, tend to celebrate because they are that important.

  • Passover or Pesach – Usually in March or April. Celebrating and recounting the story of the Jewish exodus from Egypt.
  • The Jewish New Year or Rosh Hashana – Usually in September or October.
  • The Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur – Comes 10 days after the Jewish New Year. The most important day of the year in Jewish calendars.

Using Chronicling America, I did an advanced search and compiled the articles that were relevant to each holiday:

  • Passover or Pesach – I used the box “…with any of the words:” for my search terms (see below), and searched between the years 1836 (the earliest) and 1865 (the end of the Civil War).
    • Passover, Pesach, Matzah, Matzoh, Matza, Matzo
  • The Jewish New Year or Rosh Hashana -I used the box “… with the phrase:” for my search terms (see below), and searched between the years 1836 (the earliest) and 1865 (the end of the Civil War).
    • Rosh Hashana, Rosh Ha Shana, Rosh HaShauna, Rosh Ha Shauna, Jewish New Year, Hebrew New Year, (I also found results when I filed through the Yom Kippur results because many of the articles would mention both holidays)
  • The Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur – I used the box “… with the phrase:” for my search terms (see below), and searched between the years 1836 (the earliest) and 1865 (the end of the Civil War).
    • Yom Kipur, Yom Kippur, Yom Kipour, Yom Kippour, Yom Kipor, Yom Kippor, Yom Kipoor, Yom Kippoor, Day of Atonement

I then went through each result and added them, if they were relevant, using the Zotero extension for Chrome to my Zotero repository. Their relevance was based on whether they fell during the time of year the holiday occurred and whether their content was a notice or description of the holiday. The only bug with this process was the fact that I had to enter the titles of the articles, the publication’s name, and the place of publication manually because Zotero doesn’t read the metadata correctly for Chronicling America. Please note, the article titles that are in brackets [ ] mean that there was no title for the article. I created the title in brackets. I then exported each Zotero collection to csv (download them through my Github repository, link below).

I then added coordinates to the data based off of the place column using a basic geocoder. I also created a csv with all of the data combined. This csv had an additional column which identified the holiday that each article centered around.

I then uploaded each of the csv’s to Cartodb. I used their SQL API along with a leaflet library and called the table I had created from the “Combined Jewish Notices” csv. I used the call to create this comprehensive map where you can filter by the holiday which the article announced. Each point offers a link to the newspaper page where the announcement is located and (most of the time, depending on Chronicling America’s OCR) highlighted.

The Map!

Click here to see the map in a larger version!

A Favorite Article

The first article that I thought was particularly fascinating was from Passover of 1865. I didn’t realize that President Lincoln was assassinated during the holiday. The New York Herald published an article entitled “How the News was Received in the Jewish Synagogues.” The article describes the mourning rituals of three congregations in New York City. It is interesting to read the different descriptions, and also to think about what the author (who may not have been Jewish) noticed and detailed regarding the different synagogues.

Jewish Holiday Notices in Newspapers – Part I


Why Jewish Holiday Announcements in the American Press (pre-1865)?

(I am actively looking for employment opportunities. If you know of one that might be a good fit, please let me know.)

Newspapers are somewhat of a fascination for me. Two summers ago, I worked on Ryan Cordell’s Viral Text project. I learned about and visualized how articles from newspapers spread and were reprinted in the United States during the 19th century. For this project, Jewish Notices and Newspapers,  I took some of what I learned working at Viral Text’s two summer’s ago and applied my knowledge to another fascination of mine: religion and Jewish religious praxis in American life during the pre-Civil War era.

When I researched for my senior thesis  at Haverford College this past year, I found a treasure trove of different newspaper articles from Louisiana and Mississippi (pre-Civil War) announcing a variety of different Jewish holidays. Who knew?! Often times, the South and other parts of the U.S. are thought of as remote havens of Judaism (whatever that means) and especially during the pre-Civil War period these areas are not considered centers of Jewish religious praxis. While the evidence below does not offer conclusive evidence that these areas were centers of Jewish religious praxis, they definitely had Jewish life, and prominent enough Jewish life at that to be featured among the most prominent news of the day.

So, why were articles about Jewish life featured in newspapers, despite the fact that Jews made up a tiny portion of the American populace? I venture to guess for three main reasons:

  • Jews owned businesses. In my thesis I wrote:

“While it is impossible that Jews dominated every town’s businesses or every industry, statistics of American Jewish businesses from the mid-19th century do illustrate the prevalence of Jews in commerce. Rowena Olegario, in her article ‘”That Mysterious People”: Jewish Merchants, Transparency, and Community in Mid-Nineteenth Century America,’ supplies a table of statistics which illustrates the high proportion of Jewish-owned clothing businesses during the mid-19th century. In Springfield, Illinois, for example, between 1841-1869, ‘Jews owned more than half of clothing establishments.’ In 1860 Cincinnati, ‘Jews owned 65 out of 70 clothing businesses.’ And in Indianapolis during the 1860’s, ‘Jews owned 70 percent of all clothing stores'”(Olegario, 166)(Eckstein, 9).

When Jews, as a large percentage of business owners in certain industries, would close up shop on seemingly random days (for Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, or Pesach), non-Jews would take notice because it would affect their buying patterns and probably the city’s economy for the day(s) that their businesses were closed. Take this wonderful article I found in the New Orleans Times entitled “Red River Correspondence.” In my thesis I analyzed this article and wrote:

“’This is the first day of the Jewish New Year,’ the correspondence writes, ‘and as a consequence all the stores with very few exceptions are closed, and country people wander about the town from place to place, vainly endeavoring to find some place to do a little trading; for you must know that all the principal dry goods stores in Alexandria are kept by Jews’ (Red River Correspondence). The ‘Red River Correspondence’ clearly demonstrates the concentration of Jews in the dry goods business in Alexandria, due to the detail that ‘all the principal dry goods stores in Alexandria are kept by Jews.’ In addition, because it is ‘the first day of the Jewish New Year’ and ‘all the stores with very few exceptions are closed,’ according to the correspondent, it then follows that the non-Jewish ‘country people wander about the town from place to place, vainly endeavoring to find some place to do a little trading.’ Thus “country people” depend on the Jewish business community in their town” (Eckstein, 8-9).

If you look at many of the articles I found for this project, you see a similar thought process. Because Jews are primary traders or affect business in such an extreme manner, everyone wants to know, “Where are the Jews?”. Hence, they write these notices regarding Jewish holidays in order to raise awareness and answer questions.

  • Judeo-Christian Religion. I am not an expert on this, but I don’t particularly like this term because I think that it is a misnomer used to make Judaism and Christianity appear philosophically similar when they often times are not. However, if you look back at the newspapers, there is a certain sense that Judaism is Christianity’s parent religion and that Judaism has an exoticism and ancient character that give it authority. Sometimes, it seems that the authors write their stories because they are fascinated. It is a little bit like a freak show at a circus, with Judaism taking center stage (I don’t mean disrespect. That is the best way I can describe what I am attempting to convey).