Paper pub. date
October 2015
ISBN 9780870718182 (paperback)
ISBN 9780870718199 (ebook)
6 x 9, 304 pages. 30 B&W Photographs and illustrations. Tables. Notes. Bibliography. Index.

Embracing a Western Identity

Jewish Oregonians, 1849–1950

Ellen Eisenberg

Not all of Oregon’s pioneers were Christian farmers or bachelor prospectors. Indeed, many of the first brick buildings on Oregon’s newly platted Main Streets were built by Jewish merchants whose services were essential to town founding and growth.

In Embracing a Western Identity, Ellen Eisenberg places Jewish history in the larger context of western narratives, challenging the traditional view that the “authentic” North American Jewish experience stems from New York. The westward paths of Jewish Oregonians and their experiences of place shaped the communities, institutions, and identities they created, distinguishing them from other American Jewish communities. Eisenberg traces the Oregon Jewish experience from its pioneer beginnings in the mid-nineteenth century to the highly concentrated Portland communities of the mid-twentieth century.

Drawing on extensive archival resources at the Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education, this historical commentary explores patterns of migration and settlement, the place of Jews in the state’s ethnic landscape, their engagement in politics, the development of institutions, and their relationship to Zionism. Departing from familiar treatments of the Jewish experience, Embracing a Western Identity provides a critical look at the impact of place and opportunity upon the identities of migrants both as Oregonians and as American Jews. Readers and scholars interested in western history—religious, ethnic, expansionist, and otherwise—will enjoy Eisenberg’s accessible writing style and rich photograph collection.

About the author

Ellen Eisenberg is the Dwight and Margaret Lear Professor of American History at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, where she has taught since 1990. She is the author of Jewish Agricultural Colonies in New Jersey, 1882-1920, The First to Cry Down Injustice: Western Jews and Japanese Removal during WWII (a 2008 National Jewish Book Award finalist), and Jews of the Pacific Coast: Reinventing Community on America’s Edge, coauthored with Ava F. Kahn and William Toll.  

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"Historian Ellen Eisenberg is an articulate and engaging writer. In Embracing a Western Identity; Jewish Oregonians, 1849-1950, she brings a scholarly yet accessible perspective to the intriguing story of the Jewish experience in Oregon."

Jeanne Abrams, Annals of Wyoming: The Wyoming History Journal

"[Eisenberg] has offered a valuable and compelling counterpoint to a common American Jewish narrative."

Mark I. Greenberg, Western Washington University

"If [The Jewish Oregon Story] is equally strong, then Eisenberg will have written the definitive works on the Jewish Oregon experience."

Michael J. Hamberg, Pacific Northwest Quarterly

"Ellen Eisenberg provides a refreshing contrast to the stereotypical image of American Jewry as based in a "New Yorkish" culture. She traces the history of Jews in Oregon from the days of the California Gold Rush to the 1950s in the first two volumes on Oregon Jewish history. Arranged topically (with chronology within each topic), the book describes how Jewish Oregonians practiced their faith while participating fully in the state's political, social, and economic development."

Abraham Hoffman, Western States Jewish History

"Ellen Eisenberg envisions Embracing a Western Identity: Jewish Oregonians, 1849-1950 as the first of two volumes on the Oregon Jewish experience. Each of the six essays in this installment is deeply researched, drawing from a broad array of sources, from works published in the subfields of Jewish and western history (many of which Eisenberg authored or co-authored), to oral histories, city directories, census records, sermons and lectures, advertisements, newspaper articles and editorials (local and national), voting returns, and organizational records. The results are impressive."

- Mary Ann Irwin, Pacific Historical Review, May 2017

"Both studies [Embracing a Western Identity and The Jewish Oregon Story] should prove welcome additions to the bookshelves of scholars and others interested in western Jewish history, the history of American Jewish women, and, of course, the history of Jews in Oregon. They both function as solid reference works and can serve as foundational texts in university classrooms, continuing education programs, and other venues where Jews and others study the American Jewish experience...both books make an important contribution to our understanding of the Jewish experience in Oregon, the Far West, and in some ways, the United States."

-Erik Greenberg, The American Jewish Archives Journal

"Eisenberg's at its best when she explores the insights, attitudes, and contributions of women...Her study...focuses greater attention on Jewish women's identities, and in so doing she provides important insight into the social implications of such ethnic divisions."
- Erik Greenberg, The American Jewish Archives Journal

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