There were Catholics and Jews in colonial New England. Their numbers were so small that their faith or ethnicity aroused few fears (other than the fear of French Catholics and their Indian allies on the northern frontier). In Maine the first German Jews readily assimilated; the first Irish were mainly Protestant. Erstwhile Puritan prejudices were muted.

Maine would never have urban ghettos that maintained separateness (e.g. New York) nor voting blocks that controlled cities (Boston). But “Russian” Jews and Irish Catholics would face considerable difficulties as their numbers increased. Discrimination was both subtle and sometimes blatant. To “fit in” or retain one’s identity? All sorts of compromises were possible.

The Irish came first, moved by poverty at home, then compelled by the Great Famine. Poverty and pogroms in Eastern Europe drove Jews to America. “Chain migration” was common: the recently arrived and even slightly successful, encouraged relatives and fellow villagers to emigrate too. (Jewish Montrealers became chain vacationers as they told of the kosher hotels and general tolerance of Old Orchard Beach.)

Stereotypes have basis in facts. Many Yankees shopped with a Jewish peddler or employed an Irish maid; most saw Irish laborers building roads, canals, railroads, factories… Successor generations moved up the socioeconomic ladder: free schooling and the arrival of new immigrant underclasses opened positions as foremen, clerical workers, teachers, eventually as professional persons, successful politicians, etc.

Assimilation was relatively easy. All were “white”, or became so (see Roediger, “Working Toward Whiteness” on a strange aspect of American xenophobia). Yiddish and Gaelic were too foreign to be locally useful, and a majority of the Irish already spoke English. Jews found it hard to maintain religious practices when they couldn’t assemble a minyan (10 adult Jews) even for holy days or funerary rites. In predominantly gentile company, work on the Sabbath often seemed necessary. The Catholic Church hierarchy generally favored Americanization. In the 1960s, as overt racism became unfashionable, Maine’s anti-discrimination legislation opened jobs, hotel rooms, etc.

Categories, groups, masses are one approach to history. Goldstein’s “Crossing Lines: Histories of Jews and Gentiles” offers another, a look at generations of individuals and families. The bibliography of Connolly’s “They Change Their Sky” provides a guide to the diverse Irish experience. Churches and synagogues are visible history; some are now engaged in conscious cultural preservation.

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