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June 16, 1989 - Image 25

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-06-16

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No longer a
patriarch in his
house, but uncomfortable
with the idea of
being just a pal
to his children,
the Jewish father
is groping toward
a new role
and identity.

Art by Barry Fitzgerald

resort. This was a sharp contrast to the
patriarchy in the non-Jewish, European
family which put women in a completely
secondary position, in the home and in
For many in the major waves of Jewish
immigrants to America, women's dom-
inance in the home usually continued.
The husband worked long hours, often in
sweatshops or small businesses. For
those women who put in similar hours
away from home, the first sign of some
family affluence was staying home and
regaining their domesticity.
This was the generation, said New
York psychologist Lee Salk, of "stern
fathers who doled out punishment. There
was an element of fear about them. They
were not necessarily the stronger one in
the marriage, but the more author-
It was also the generation determined
to rise above its grueling poverty and
lack of education, the generation that
would give its children an entry into the
America that lay beyond the Lower East
With this goal, the father slaved and
saved, stinted and sweated. Less and less
the personification of his religion, of the
wisdom and traditions of the past, he
soon became the "provider." The family's
salvation would come from his efforts in
the marketplace, not from his porings
over holy books or from his praises to
God in shul.
What the immigrant father and his
children or grandchildren accomplished
was extraordinary. Jews had about the
swiftest rise into the middle-class — and

beyond — of any ethnic group in Amer-
ica. But "providing" had its price. The
father let others handle his children's
nurturing. He would provide the bucks;
they would provide the substance. As
Gratz College sociologist Rela Geffen
Monson said, "The father who was con-
cerned with kashrut in the home, the
quality and quantity of Jewish learning
of his children and in their emotional,
ethical and intellectual growth as Jews
was replaced by the one who provided the
money so that secondary institutions and
surrogate teachers and models could do
this for him, under the direction and co-
ordination of the mother."

To Woody Allen, the Jewish father
is a schlemiel; to Philip Roth,
he is a victim. To the rest of us,
he is provider or nurturer, the
fellow who changes diapers in the
evenings or works in the office
late at night.

These early Jewish fathers in America,
said Monson, "are always praised for
their goals, but not for the costs: ulcers
and heart attacks. I don't blame them for
this. The demands put upon them were
The Jewish father was as self-
sacrificing as the Jewish mother of
popular lore, according to Joe Giordano,
director of the American Jewish Commit-
tee's Center on Ethnicity, Behavior and
Communications. The difference was that
Mom made the sacrifices at home, while



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