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From the Banks of the Rhine River
to the Banks of the Mississippi River : a New Cultural Beginning.

Jewish Migrants who had settled along the Rhine Valley from the XIXth to the XXth Century.

PHD defended in Strasbourg, Université Marc Bloch, November 24th, 2006.

Abstract :

French and German Jewish migrants have settled along the Rhine valley for four generations and have told the story of their travels and their adaptation to the new continent.

The life stories which they have given from themselves or from their descendants question the ways in which they settled, the professional model adopted, peddlers, dry goods shopkeeper, planters, cotton factors, their religious appurtenance or the definition of their relationship with other people whether they be Jews, -Western or Eastern Jews-, from the African- American minority or from the mainstream society. For more than one hundred and fifty years, practices and images and even the terminology have undergone vast changes. When faced with the situation of transplantation, the migrant must cope with the tension between the temptation to bury himself in traditional values coming from the old country and the necessity to adapt to the values of his new world.

We have given definitions of acculturation, Americanisation adapted to the milieu. So it is here in the environment of modernity and liberty, new ways of religious and social expression are being put into place. It is in this context that the French and the Germans joined together, forgetting their old hostilities.

New patterns of Judaism are invented with the birth of the American Israelite where Reform Judaism is less visible than Orthodox Judaism. The categories of the religious, the Israelite and the assimilated Jew can be seen again from the American perspective where these new communities are acknowledged by the cities where they resided. At the same time, these categories are nomadic and gave birth to the age of post-modern Judaism, chosen freely, “mixed Judaism, “Judaism by genealogy.” A new model appears which goes beyond the previous categories, “the carrier of memory” and of re-establishes ties between the two continents and transmits his heritage to the future generations.

The back cover

With the large-scale immigration of Jews from diaspora communities, the Jewish population of the United States is the second largest in the world. You've most definitely heard about the Jewish communities in and near major cities such as New-York, Miami, and Los Angeles. But did you know that one-fifth of the Jews that reached the US shores in the 19th- and early 20th-centuries settled in Louisiana?

From France and Germany, they crossed the Atlantic Ocean to become peddlers, small shop-owners or sugar and tobacco traders in small towns along the Mississippi River. Jews they were, but Jews who invented a new and liberal Judaism that interacted with the Christian world which dominates the South. Whites they were, but Whites who had to fight for their civil rights (and their new country) and did not abide by segregation laws. Migrants they were, but migrants who let the good time roll and invented an authentic Creole kosher cuisine.

Their history is written all over the South, here on street corners and on gravestones, there on synagogues and museums. But their legacy lives on: Anny Bloch-Raymond explored countless archival boxes and talked to dozens of families before beginning to write From the Banks of the Rhine to the Banks of Mississippi — a story and a history of Jewish life in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

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Read the rewiew by Helen Y. Herman, Brookline, MA