How Capitalism Gave Rise to American Jewish Calendars

March 29 2019

In his early-20th-century memoir of immigration and Americanization, Marcus Ravage notes how much harder it was to keep track of the Jewish holidays in the New World than it was in the Old. But things became easier in the following decades with the advent of mass-produced Jewish calendars that included holidays and other important information. Jenna Weissman Joselit writes:

[Some] American Jews relied on their kosher butcher, the neighborhood grocer, and by the 1930s, the manufacturers of food products to keep them in the loop. Commercial interests, sensing an excellent opportunity to join community service and goodwill to profit, either commissioned a Jewish calendar or put their name to one already in production. What an artful way to flag time-sensitive products such as matzah for Passover, dairy products for Shavuot, flour for [baking challah for the] Sabbath.

B.C. Friedman and Sons Matzoh Bakery of Philadelphia clearly thought so. Purveyors of matzah meal, matzah farfel, and a distinctive form of unleavened bread called protein matzah—a product “recommended by doctors for those suffering with diabetes”—the company furnished its loyal customers with a “calendar booklet for 5700” (1939-1940). In the years that followed, the B. Manischewitz Co., Isidor Jacobson Wines and Liquors of Jackson Heights, New York, Drake’s Cakes, [and] the National Sugar Refining Company of New Jersey . . . made sure to keep their customers satisfied by offering their own, cost-free version, of the Jewish calendar, along with their best wishes for a “happy and prosperous New Year.” . . .

Although it nearly cornered the market, the commercialized Jewish calendar faced competition from another quarter: the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, the umbrella organization of Reform Jewish women, under whose aegis a decidedly more elevated approach to Jewish timekeeping—a “Jewish art calendar”—came into being. Intended to “Judaize the homes” of its members who had either grown rather lax in or increasingly indifferent to Jewish ceremonial life, it transformed the Jewish calendar from an exercise in consumerism into a vehicle of “religious consciousness,” heightening the appeal of Jewish rituals along the way.

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More about: American Jewish History, Capitalism, History & Ideas, Jewish art, Jewish calendar, Religion & Holidays

Understanding the Background of the White House Ruling on Anti-Semitism and the Civil Rights Act

Dec. 13 2019

On Wednesday, the president signed an executive order allowing federal officials to extend the protections of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to Jews. (The order, promptly condemned for classifying Jews as a separate nationality, did nothing of the sort.) In 2010, Kenneth Marcus called for precisely such a ruling in the pages of Commentary, citing in particular the Department of Education’s lax response to a series of incidents at the University of California at Irvine, where, among much elase, Jewish property was vandalized and Jewish students were pelted with rocks, called “dirty Jew” and other epithets, and were told, “Jewish students are the plague of mankind.”

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, U.S. Politics