Tag Archives: Americanization

Booze and the Mainstreaming of American “Ethnic” Holidays

Walking into today’s session of my course on “Religions of the American Peoples,” I bellowed, “Mardi Gras! Woo-hoo!” in honor of the holiday. After students’ nervous we’d-better-humor-the-professor chuckles had subsided, I remarked, “So–is Mardi Gras an ‘American’ holiday?” That was an allusion to a thought exercise students wrote their first short paper on: Is Hanukkah an “American” holiday?

Suddenly, I had one of those brain flashes that can follow when I throw my inhibitions to the wind. Why do certain “ethnic” holidays–like Mardi Gras–become mainstreamed into more broadly “Americanized” holidays?

My brain-flash hypothesis: Booze.

Think about it. Mardi Gras. St Patrick’s. Cinco de Mayo. There’s a pattern there.

Bars as a driving force in the Americanization of minority cultures. Bars as a site of lived religion. There’s a course offering that would fill–especially if we did field work.

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Minhag Amerika

minhagamtpThis afternoon I was preparing a class on Jews in America during the mid-19th century. The Minhag Amerika came up, Isaac Wise’s attempt to create a Jewish prayer book that would, he hoped, unify Jews in the U.S. around a Reform vision of Judaism. The central theme of the course I’m teaching this for is Americanization, with an emphasis on contested notions of what it means to “Americanize.” So the Minhag Amerika works well for asking: What is Wise’s understanding of what it takes to construct an “American” Judaism?

I’d never actually seen the Minhag Amerika, so I popped online and was delighted to discover a scanned version available from Hebrew Union College, just south of me in Cincinnati. I was disappointed, though, to find that the book doesn’t contain some kind of preface by Wise laying out his aims or a rationale for an American siddur.

Click here to see the online version.

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