Jews and Booze

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Marni Davis examines the long and complicated relationship Jewish Americans had to alcohol during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the years of the national prohibition movement’s rise and fall. In Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition Davis shows that alcohol commerce played a crucial role in Jewish immigrant acculturation and the growth of Jewish communities in the United States.


Marni Davis

Comments [9]

Eric Wilson

This was fascinating! I can't wait to read Dr. Davis's book, "Jews and Booze."

Jul. 23 2012 07:43 PM

Maybe if you got off your butt and did something of worth besides spewing racist crap, Lenny would do a Sarah-centric show. (Not bloody likely)

Jul. 12 2012 04:09 PM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Sarah? What?

Jul. 12 2012 12:56 PM
Steve from Sundown, NY

Schapiro's Wine on the LES had a neon sign until the mid 90's:
"Wine so thick you can almost cut it with a knife."

Jul. 12 2012 12:56 PM
opal from NYC

My father was an Orthodox Jew, and during the mid-1930s, he would bring home 100% slivovitz in an unmarked bottle. In-between fish and meat courses he would drink and give the kids a little schnapps because he said it was good for the digestion.

Jul. 12 2012 12:52 PM
Sarah from LEs

They account for 1% of the population but Lenny sure does have a lot of jewcentric shows/guests!

Jul. 12 2012 12:47 PM

I think that, unlike Irish, Russians, to lesser extend Ukrainians and Poles, Jews have some genetic resistance to alcoholism. Although there are some heavy drinkers among Jews, their percentage is rather low. This resistance is/was an important component of a job requiring producing/selling alcohol.

@jgarbuz Independent from Jews hired by Polish nobility to supervise their peasants, there were other Jews who operated "shinok" or "korchma" - a local watering hole. Part of that operation was also a pawn shop, where locals would pawn their belonging for drinks. Naturally, this set-up was viewed as a source of ruin by Ukrainian peasants, who were also heavily taxed and exploited by their Jewish supervisors during the day and loose their last belonging at night.

Jul. 12 2012 11:59 AM

In Eastern Europe the Polish nobility had large estates in the Ukraine, and they used Jews in many cases to supervise these estates for them. Grain surpluses were turned into alcohol and that is how the Jews got paid, given the right to sell it. The Ukrainian peasant uprising against their Polish "Pan" (lords) naturally turned against the Jews who were the most visible and naturally hated group, and certainly the most targeted particularly during the massive peasant uprising under Bogdan Chmielnicki in which up to 150,000 Jews were massacred in ruthless pogroms in the 17th century. So hatred between Jews and the Ukrainians was a festering sore ever since.

For the Jews who were banned from all guilds and from owning land themselves, doing this supervisory work for the Polish nobility was the only opportunity for making a livelihood. When the Russians came into control, the Jews were confined and fell into poverty in the "Pale of Settlement" beyond which Jews could not venture. In the "shtetls" or small villages, Jews were often grain merchants and moneylenders (as was my mother's first husband) who bought the grain from the farmers, advancing them monies for the next harvest, and turned surplus grains into alcohol to be stored often secret spots underground. IN WWII, some Jews were saved after promising the peasants that they would turn over their hidden alcohol to them. My mother was saved this way, but the buried alcohol had already been uncovered and looted, so the good Christian farmers who saved my mother never got the recompense she had promised them. All they got was a tee-shirt saying, " I save Jews and all I got was a lousy mitvah." God bless their souls.

Jul. 12 2012 11:13 AM
Gerald Fnord from Palos Verdes, Ca

Back in many places in the Old Country, wasn't it true that only nobles had the right to distill, and (not wanting to do any work) they farmed this right out to their court Jews?

Very few Jews, of course, were court Jews, but perhaps this established the idea that this was a way to make your way in an hostile world.

My mother laughed once when discussing the Bronfmans' distilling history, because 'bronfen' is a Yiddish word for whisky.

Jul. 12 2012 10:30 AM

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