Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree
When Alexis de Tocqueville traveled around America in the 1830s, what most impressed him was the nation’s penchant for sociability. “Americans of all ages, all conditions, and all dispositions constantly form associations… religious, moral, serious, futile, general or restricted, enormous or diminutive,” he wrote bemusedly. “The Americans make associations to give entertainments, to found seminaries, to build inns, to construct churches, to diffuse books, to send missionaries to the antipodes.” Antebellum America was nothing if not a nation of joiners.
The keen-eyed Frenchman did not have America’s Jews in his sights when he put pen to paper, but he might well have. In the years that followed the publication of Democracy in America, they took to organizational life like a duck to water. From coast to coast, the American Jewish landscape was awash in voluntary associations.