The online Jewish Encyclopedia says some 5.6 million Jews live in the United States – about 1.8% of the population. Most of them reside in rich cities: Miami, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Boston, and mainly New York. A study of the Pew Forum institute from 2008 found that Jews are the richest religious group in the US: Forty-six of Jews earn more than $100,000 a year, compared to 19% among all Americans. Another Gallup poll conducted this year found that 70% of American Jews enjoy “a high standard of living” compared to 60% of the population and more than any other religious group. Since the mass immigration some 100 years ago, Jews have become richest religious group in American society. They make up only 2% of US population, but 25% of 400 wealthiest Americans. More than 100 of the 400 billionaires on Forbes’ list of the wealthiest people in America are Jews.
The United States is among the richest countries in the world, making American Jews one of the wealthiest ethnic groups in the universe. Their success story is even more phenomenal considering the speed in which they became rich. Only several thousand Jews lived in the US upon its establishment on July 4, 1776, most of them Marrano and people who were exiled or escaped from Spain in favor of colonies in North America. In the mid 19th century, some 200,000 Jews immigrated to the US, mostly from Germany and central Europe. Most of them were Reform Jews, well-established, who saw themselves as Germans and Americans more than as Jews. They scattered across the continent and set up businesses, from small stores and factories to financial giants like Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs. The great wave of immigration began in 1882. Czarist Russia, which was home to about half of the world’s Jews, went through a failed industrial revolution and was on the verge of collapse, while the Jews living in small towns became impoverished and suffered from cruel pogroms. Within 42 years, some two million Jews immigrated to the US from Ukraine, western Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and Romania. They made up 25% of the Jewish population in those countries, about 15% of the world’s Jews, and 10 times the number of Jews who immigrated to the Land of Israel during that period. The US became the world’s biggest Jewish concentration. The immigrants arrived in the US on crowded boats, and most of them were as poor as church mice. Dr. Robert Rockaway, who studied that period, wrote that 80% of US Jews were employed in manual work before World War I, most of them in textile factories. Many workplaces were blocked to the Jews due to an anti-Semitic campaign led by industrialist Henry Ford. Most of them lived in crowded and filthy slums in New York – Brooklyn and the Lower East Side. Many of the Jews, who were socialists in Europe, became active in labor unions and in workers’ strikes and protests. Many trade unions were established by Jews. The Jewish immigrants, however, emerged from poverty and made faster progress than any other group of immigrants. According to Rockaway, in the 1930s, about 20% of the Jewish men had free professions, double the rate in the entire American population. Anti-Semitism weakened after World War II and the restrictions on hiring Jews were reduced and later canceled as part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, thanks to the struggle of liberal activists, many of whom were Jews. All the experts we asked said the reason was Jewish education. Jewish American student organization Hillel found that 9 to 33% of students in leading universities in the US are Jewish. “The Jewish tradition always sanctified studying, and the Jews made an effort to study from the moment they arrived in American,” says Danny Halperin, Israel’s former economic attaché in Washington. “In addition, the Jews have a strong tradition of business entrepreneurship. “The Jews progressed because many areas were blocked to them,” says Halperin. “The Jews entered new fields in which there was need for people with initiative. They didn’t integrate into traditional banking, so they established the investment banking.” “The cinema industry was created from scratch in the 1930s, and the Jews basically took over it. To this day there are many Jewish names in the top echelon of Hollywood and the television networks. Later on, they took high-tech by storm too – another new industry requiring learning abilities.” “The Jews were the first people to undergo globalization,” says Rebecca Caspi, senior vice president of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). “They had a network of global connections way before other nations, and a strong and supportive community. “The Jewish communal organization is considered a role model for all other ethnic groups. It helped the Jews everywhere and especially in the US, which was always more open than other countries and provided equal opportunities, while on the other hand –wasn’t supportive of the individual.” “The mutual help allowed poor Jews to study.
Excerpt for this article were taken from a Ynetnews.com article called “How did American Jews get so rich?” which was published on October 26, 2011. To read the full article click on the link below: