A Passing Era
I'm speaking at lunch today to a business club here in town. My usual lunch address covers local politics and business, and/or information technology, but today I think I'll do something different. Since Leah died I've been thinking about the twilight of the German-Jewish gentry of the South. I'm going to talk about that today and probably turn it into a newspaper column as well.
Many Americans don't know that Jews, a lot of them immigrants from Germany, were in the South before the Civil War, and that they had a role in rebuilding the region after Reconstruction. (Of course, many Americans don't know that there is more than one flavor of Jew, and cluelessness about the South is rampant in this country--including in the South.)
In some places, including Greensboro, the role of these German Jews was a leading one. There emerged a class of provincial aristocrats who for a few generations at least comprised an interesting sub-culture of useful, public-minded people--and sytlish, educated, and worldy people, too.
That era has passed, and that's not entirely a bad thing--it's partly a result of the success of the German Jews in making this a nice place to live, for Jews and everyone else. And it's a demographic inevitability, given the small proportion of American Jews who came here from Germany. Of course, some of us are left, but for the most part we are faded copies of our forebears.
I'm skipping the lunch portion of the meeting, because I'm going to eat afterward with Charles D. Cunningham, III, Ph.D., a scholar of critical theory who is visiting Greensboro. We may discuss his work on popular culture of the Depression era, but we will probably just trade gossip about our childhood friends and bitch about the job market for Ph.Ds and business writers.