Urban Exodus: Why the Jews Left Boston and the Catholics Stayed

Gamm, Prof. Gerald

Published by Harvard University Press, 1999
ISBN 10: 0674930703 / ISBN 13: 9780674930704
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Across the country, white ethnics have fled cities for suburbs. But many have stayed in their old neighborhoods. When the busing crisis erupted in Boston in the 1970s, Catholics were in the forefront of resistance. Jews, 70,000 of whom had lived in Roxbury and Dorchester in the early 1950s, were invisible during the crisis. They were silent because they departed the city more quickly and more thoroughly than Boston's Catholics. Only scattered Jews remained in Dorchester and Roxbury by the mid-1970s.

In telling the story of why the Jews left and the Catholics stayed, Gerald Gamm places neighborhood institutions--churches, synagogues, community centers, schools--at its center. He challenges the long-held assumption that bankers and real estate agents were responsible for the rapid Jewish exodus. Rather, according to Gamm, basic institutional rules explain the strength of Catholic attachments to neighborhood and the weakness of Jewish attachments. Because they are rooted, territorially defined, and hierarchical, parishes have frustrated the urban exodus of Catholic families. And because their survival was predicated on their portability and autonomy, Jewish institutions exacerbated the Jewish exodus.

Gamm shows that the dramatic transformation of urban neighborhoods began not in the 1950s or 1960s, but in the 1920s. Not since Anthony Lukas's Common Ground has there been a book that so brilliantly explores not just Boston's dilemma but the roots of the American urban crisis.

Review: Boston's so-called white flight of the 1960s and '70s became a national symbol of the urban crisis. But what caused whites to move to the suburbs in such great numbers? Common knowledge holds that an influx of African Americans, assisted by the Boston Banks Urban Renewal Group, pushed Jews out of their neighborhoods and into the suburbs. In Urban Exodus, however, historian Gerald H. Gamm argues that the driving force behind suburbanization is not race but religion.

Gamm studies two remarkably similar Boston neighborhoods, Roxbury and Dorchester, and argues that, while the Jewish population left, the Catholics stayed because of religious rules--rules that "are real not because they are written down but because they are obeyed." Looking at canon law and Talmudic guidelines, he separates issues of membership, authority, and "rootedness." In brief, Catholic congregations are bound by the geographical lines of their parishes and the physical structures of their parish churches, as established by Church hierarchy. Jewish congregations, on the other hand, are more autonomous, with the power to create and dissolve synagogues--and worshippers are not bound by geography and can attend the synagogues of their choice. Gamm is quick to point out that he does not argue that Catholics are necessarily more likely than Jews to stay in urban neighborhoods, but that the Catholic parish is better able to sustain neighborhood attachments. He also notes that race is a newer issue--"only after the urban exodus had nearly run its course, emptying apartments and lowering rents, were blacks able to overcome longstanding barriers to entry." Indeed, it was the growing population of the automobile and automobile suburbs in the 1920s that pushed suburbanization, as middle-class whites left still-white urban neighborhoods. Urban Exodus is a thought-provoking look at the shifting populations in America's cities--and the role organized religion plays in those shifts. --Sunny Delaney

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Title: Urban Exodus: Why the Jews Left Boston and ...
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publication Date: 1999
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Used: Good

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