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Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Housemans and Kellermans were German Jews

The movie Dirty Dancing has an ethnic subtext. The movie takes place at the Kellerman resort, where the Jewish and Gentile characters can be distinguished by their functions. Most of the guests are Jews, whereas many of the workers and entertainers are Gentiles.

The Jewish characters can be further distinguished from each other by their ancestries. In 1963, when the Dirty Dancing story took place, most American Jews had descended from one of three major waves of Jewish immigration.


1) America's Sephardi Jews had descended from the Jews who had been expelled from Spain in 1492. From Spain, some of those Jews had resettled in northwestern Europe. Some of their descendants had immigrated to America, beginning in the 1600s. Since Sephardi Jews had been the first to settle in America, their descendants generally were the most assimilated, educated and prosperous of American Jews.

In a previous article, I argued that the Dirty Dancing character Robbie Gould was a Sephardic Jew whose family name was Scottish (Gold) and whose ancestors had been involved somehow with Scotland.


2) America's German Jews had descended from Jews who in Europe had assimilated into German culture and spoke German (not Yiddish) as their native language. Because of political turmoil in Central Europe during the mid-1800s, many Germans emigrated during that period, and many Jews joined that emigration to America. There those German Jews dispersed widely and sparsely throughout America. They worked predominantly as peddlers and shopkeepers in small towns in rural areas. Since the German Jews settled in America a couple centuries after the Sephardi Jews, their descendants are somewhat less assimilated, educated and prosperous than Sephardi Jews.

In this article here, I will argue that the Dirty Dancing characters of the Houseman and Kellerman families were German Jews. Their ancestors in Europe perhaps had been domestic servants of wealthy German families. The very names Houseman and Kellerman suggest that the ancestors had been butlers, wine stewards or coal shovelers who worked in wealthy German families' homes or cellars.


3) America's Eastern European Jews had descended from Jews who in Europe had spoken Yiddish as their native language and had been quite culturally distinct from the main populations of Slavs, Hungarians, Romanians, etc. Eastern European Jews had immigrated massively to America in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They had concentrated themselves in large Jewish neighborhoods in large cities. Compared to the previous two Jewish immigration waves, the East European Jews were the least assimilated, educated and prosperous.

In a following article, I will argue that the Dirty Dancing characters the Schumachers and Pressmans were Eastern Eastern European Jews. The family names suggest that the ancestors had made shoes and ironed clothing in Yiddish workshops.


4) America's Soviet Jews comprised the fourth wave of Jewish immigration to America, but this wave happened after the Dirty Dancing story, which took place in 1963.


As I differentiate American Jews, I am speaking in generalities and in regard to 1963.

I do not assert that the screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein (a German surname) consciously differentiated her story's characters in accordance with the three immigration waves. However, she grew up in America's Jewish society, and her subconscious mentality is naturally saturated with such differentiations, which influence the stories she tells.


In my article here, I next will describe the ethnic category "German Jews". Most of this description might seem irrelevant to the movie Dirty Dancing, but I will be guiding you toward my ultimate discussion of the movie's golf-course scene.
Jake Houseman playing golf in the movie "Dirty Dancing"
My description of German Jews will be relevant also to my discussion of the Kellerman family's hotel business.


The website Jewish Women's Archive includes an article titled the German Immigrant Period in the United States. The article describes especially the roles, activities and influences of the women in the German-Jewish immigration wave. in the mid-1800s. In general, the German-Jewish women immigrated years later than the men, who stereotypically had to establish themselves first as peddlers and shopkeepers. The article includes the following passages:
The period 1820–1880 has generally been considered the era of German Jewish immigration to the United States. In these sixty years, the bulk of the 150,000 Jewish immigrants who came to the United States hailed either from areas that, in 1871, would become part of a unified Germany, or from a range of other places in Central and Eastern Europe that later in the century adopted either the German language or various aspects of German culture. ...

The first phase of the move to America from any town or region began first with the young men. .... After achieving some economic stability in America, men frequently returned to their hometowns to find a bride. Other Jewish men in America relied upon the mails to propose marriage to a young woman from the home village, or they relied upon friends or male relatives who were journeying back to Europe, asking them to contract a match for them in absentia. .... In most American Jewish communities, the majority of the women arrived later than their husbands ....

Poor Jewish women in Europe had traditionally worked as domestic servants, while others sewed for a living with their families or on their own. .... Because so many of these immigrants were unmarried and arrived unencumbered by parents or children, they could take advantage of economic opportunities wherever they arose. .... The German Jews fanned out into almost every state and territory of the United States. ...

Although primarily going to agricultural areas, the male German Jews who “pioneered” and the women who joined them somewhat later did not do so as farmers, but as small-scale entrepreneurs ready to serve the needs of the rural population. Americans in the hinterlands had little access to finished goods of all sorts, since few retail establishments existed outside the large cities. Jewish men overwhelmingly came to these remote areas as peddlers, an occupation that required little capital for start-up and that fit the life of the single man.

In the large regional cities, Jewish immigrant men would load themselves up with a pack of goods, weighing sometimes as much as one hundred pounds, and then embark on a journey by foot, or eventually, if a peddler succeeded, by horse and wagon. So widespread was Jewish peddling that in 1840, 46 percent of all Jewish men made a living this way, and by 1845, the number climbed to 70 percent. .... Typically these immigrant peddlers decided to marry at the point at which they had graduated from peddling to owning a small store. ...

The Jewish women who came to America in the years 1820 to 1880 came from the exact places and classes as did the men. ... most of these women labored in family stores and shops. ... The smaller the store, the more likely wives, and then daughters, worked. Indeed, men may have timed their marriage with getting off the road and into a shop precisely in order to have the services of a wife to operate the business jointly with them. ... The success of stores in which clothing was both made and sold along with other kinds of miscellaneous goods depended equally upon the labors of men and women, adults and children. A man could not really envision such a store without a family.....
In these circumstances, some German-Jewish families eventually established boarding houses and ultimately developed them into large hotel businesses.
Married women and widows appeared in many community and family histories as operators of boarding houses. Recognizing the need for feeding and lodging the stream of single men migrating to America, Jewish women turned their homes into businesses. Boarding operations supplemented income from other family enterprises, or provided the family’s sole support. These Jewish women combined their domestic activities of cooking and cleaning with the imperative for making a living.
In these circumstances, German-Jewish women found themselves taking initiative in charitable activities and becoming leaders in charitable organizations.
When husbands died, wives often carried on family businesses on their own. This widespread phenomenon was particularly significant, because given the nature of the migration process, men tended to marry women significantly younger than themselves, thus making the probability of widowhood higher and accentuating the need for women to be self-supporting. ....

Jewish women in particular suffered from financial distress and insecurity. Their high rates of widowhood caused a good deal of that distress. Indeed, in most communities, widows made up a disproportionate share of the Jewish indigent. ... In almost every Jewish community special charitable events and organizations turned their attention to alleviating the special suffering of Jewish women.

The specific problems of the Jewish female poor pointed to another aspect of Jewish women’s lives in America in the mid-nineteenth century: the creation of philanthropic and communal organizations by women, usually, although not exclusively, for women. The creation of these organizations, which in many communities called themselves Ladies’ Hebrew Benevolent Associations .... [were funded] by the women [who] supported the relief of female poverty and distress. Additionally, the women sponsored various fund-raising events, many of them quite American in format, like “dime parties,” theatricals, and “strawberry socials.” ...

The women may have opted for the more general type of organization because they did not belong to the congregations, which represented the most crucial and common division for the men. .... Because many of the Jewish communities in America had experienced periods of time in which women constituted a minority, the women gravitated toward each other, ignoring all sorts of other divisions, in search of female companionship. ...

American Jewish women in this period, immigrants from various parts of Central Europe, created a wide range of charitable enterprises, and funded and operated them as well. In America, Jewish women in various communities created orphanages, day nurseries, maternity hospitals, soup kitchens, shelters for widows, and the like. ...

The organizational activities of Jewish women in America may have been inspired by the activities of charitable activism of Protestant women in their communities. Or it may have been in part modeled on the activities of the upper-class Jewish women and others from the Sephardic congregations ...

The origins of the wide range of associational activities of Jewish immigrant women in mid-nineteenth-century America may actually have grown out of the migration experience itself. Young women and men came to America and had to create communities from the ground up. Without the support of parents and other family members, they were forced to create new kinds of institutions to deal with the problems engendered by their move.
Because the German Jews dispersed so sparsely throughout rural America, they eventually abandoned many traditional religious attitudes and practices. So-called Reform Judaism developed in Ohio and the other Midwest states.
The period of the German Jewish immigration also changed women’s relationship to Judaism as a religious system. .... Public Judaism in Europe functioned as an all-male preserve. Migration to America challenged the dichotomization of Judaism into a public and private sphere, which roughly corresponded to the male and female. The migration made the observance of private Jewish ritual life, which is most closely tied to women’s activities, more difficult and less often observed.

Communities struggled with the problem of securing kosher food, and even in communities where kosher meat was available, high levels of community conflict ensued over the punctiliousness of slaughterers and butchers. ....

The shopkeepers and petty merchants who made up the vast majority of American Jews did not adhere strictly to restrictions of Sabbath activities either. Instead, under the pressures of the American marketplace, where, for example, stores were usually closed on Sundays, they worked on the ... "day of rest". ....

But, over the course of the period 1820 to 1880, Jewish women came to assume a more public presence in the observance of Judaism. .... American Jewish women began attending synagogue on a regular basis much more often than they would have had they remained in Europe, and indeed many commentators decried the fact that women worshipers often outnumbered men on any given Sabbath morning. ....

... the fact that in the years of the German Jewish immigration Jewish women came to predominate as worshipers may have laid the groundwork for a challenge that did take place in future decades. It may also be that the emerging female majority at Sabbath services influenced leaders of the Reform Movement .... They may have hoped that moving toward family pews, as opposed to retention of sex-segregated service, would bring the men back to services. ....

Jewish women in the middle decades of the nineteenth century began to make themselves more publicly visible as Jews and as the defenders of Judaism. Jewish women, for example, began to produce religiously inspired literature in almost all of the Jewish publications ...

By their behavior, Jewish women in America in the period 1820 to 1880 shared much with other American women. Both Jewish and Christian women responded to the same social and cultural contexts of industrializing America, in which men came increasingly to define their worth and identity in terms of the acquisition of wealth and less in the realm of the sacred. ...

The era of the German Jewish immigration brought approximately 150,000 Jews to the United States from Central and Eastern Europe. Women accounted for half of the immigrants, and they played a key role in the functioning of a family economy that allowed for steady and modest economic mobility, for the formation of communities from the ground up, which in turn provided services for the needy and for the emergence of a modern, American Judaism.

Stephen Birmingham, a writer who specializes in the lives of wealthy people, has written a series of three books about the wealthy descendants of the first three Jewish waves of immigrants into America.

1) His book about Sephardis is titled The Grandees: The Story of America's Sephardic Elite.

2) His book about German Jews is titled Our Crowd: The Great Jewish Families of New York.

3) His book about Eastern European Jews is titled The Rest of Us: The Rise of America's Eastern European Jews.

The second book, Our Crowd, argued that German Jews who prospered in America organized clannish institutions that facilitated the inter-marriage of their children within their ethnic-social class. Children of rich German-Jewish families were supposed to marry other children of such families. Birmingham's argument was evaluated by sociologist Marshall Sklare in book review written in 1967. Sklare wrote:
... The scions of [Jewish] banking families would marry the offspring of the owners of large German-Jewish companies in a variety of fields, and these companies — some of them later to become the country’s leading department stores and mail-order firms — would then raise capital through the banking houses with whom they had formed family connections. ... The tightly knit social network [was] created by the Jewish firms around family, temple, city clubs, and philanthropic organizations ....

The book does not denigrate the German-Jewish upper class; its bias lies in quite the opposite direction. ... These German Jewish families are more than a collective American success story. At the point in time when they were a cohesive, knit, and recognizably distinct part of New York society, they were the closest thing to Aristocracy — Aristocracy in the best sense — that the city, and perhaps the country, had seen. ...

The German-Jewish families were the true aristocrats of their time because their way of life was morally superior to that of the Gentiles. Everywhere in this book he [Birmingham] sees Jewish modesty in contrast to Gentile display, Jewish innocence in contrast to Gentile decadence, Jewish concern with community in contrast to Gentile concern with self. .... It is from the Jew, with his love of family, that the Gentile can learn to appreciate the pleasures of the simple life. ....

In the past, much of the cohesiveness of “the crowd” was connected with Familiengefühl, but today “family feeling” constitutes a very shaky basis for preserving the identity of a group. ... While long on family loyalty, the German Jew has always been short on religious enthusiasm. Moreover, his adherence to German culture has been dealt a severe blow by this century, and even his interest in philanthropy has created identity problems. With Jewish neediness on the wane, it becomes ever more difficult to justify the primacy of specifically Jewish charitable activities ...

One kind of clannish institution that wealthy German Jews established was the golf-course country club, where Jewish young people could socialize with each other. The sport of golf became popular among Sephardic and German Jews in the 1920s and 1930s. These two Jewish groups collaborated to establish golf-course country clubs, which excluded Eastern European Jews, who were considered to be uncouth.

During the 1920s and 1930s, about 30,000 American Jews played golf.  Jews were more likely than Gentiles to play golf. Some Jewish country clubs and golf courses were among the best in America. During those decades, Eastern European Jews were largely excluded from the Jewish clubs and therefore did not adopt the golf as a sport.

In an article titled The Myth of the Golf Nazi, essayist Steve Sailer, an expert in the architecture and ethnography of golf courses, offers four truths about Jewish golf-course country clubs.
First, as early as 1925, a higher percentage of Jews than Gentiles may have belonged to country clubs.

Second, Jewish country clubs were, on average, more luxurious and expensive than Gentile clubs.

Third, a 1962 study by the Anti-Defamation League found that Jewish country clubs were more discriminatory than Christian clubs.

Fourth, historically, Jewish applicants were mostly excluded for ethnic reasons by Jewish country clubs.
Why have a higher proportion of Jews than Gentiles belonged to country clubs? Because, with the possible exception of a couple of decades around 1900, Jews in America have always tended to be richer on average than gentiles.
Sailer's article about Jewish golf-course country clubs received much discussion at this webpage.


In 1962, the magazine Sports Illustrated reported:
In larger [American] cities, one sometimes finds two or more Jewish clubs, the top one composed principally of German Jews who tend to find Eastern European Jews unacceptable.
The Encyclopedia Judaica provides an example of such separate country clubs in the city of Birmingham, Alabama:
Jews were among the first settlers [in Birmingham], but Jewish communal life did not begin to develop until 1882 when Birmingham had a population of 3,086. That year, Temple Emanu-El [with a German Jewish Reform congregation] was formed. ....

An influx of East Europeans arrived from 1900 to 1920. Most of the immigrants had a poor command of English and were impoverished .... In 1892, an Orthodox congregation was established ...

After 1920 several important changes took place in the Jewish community. ... There was the beginning of a united, local Jewish community, despite the continuance of a sharp division between the German Jews and the East European Jews. ...

Since Jews were frozen out of local country clubs, they established the Hillcrest in 1883 for German Jews, and the Fairmont in 1920, for East European Jews. They merged in 1969, forming the Pine Tree Country Club, which opened its membership to non-Jews in 1991.
In other words, at the time of the Dirty Dancing story, which takes place in 1963, German Jews in Birmingham still excluded Eastern European Jews from their country club. Furthermore, at the time when the movie Dirty Dancing began playing in movie theaters in 1987, Jews in Birmingham still excluded Gentiles from their country club.

This country-club separation of German Jews from Eastern European Jews was true in many other American cities. The book Our Crowd, about wealthy German Jews, reported:
But now [in 1967], in nearly every American city of any size, there were at least two Jewish country clubs — the “good” one (German), and the less good (Russian [Eastern European]). In New York, the best Jewish country club was the Germans’ Century Country Club in suburban White Plains. The second-best was the Russians’ [Eastern European Jews'] Sunningdale Golf Club in Scarsdale. ....

For years the Century was an almost exclusively German club, with an unwritten rule against “Orientals” [Eastern European Jews].

The Century Country Club built its first golf course in 1908 (Sunningdale’s course opened in 1918), but didn’t begin to admit Russian [Eastern European] Jews until after World War II.

Bastions of German-Jewish supremacy were falling on all sides by the 1940s. … At the Century Country Club, which considered itself not only the best Jewish club in New York but the best Jewish country club on Earth, and where the anti-Russian [anti-Eastern-European] bias had been all but written into the bylaws for generations, a few Russians [Eastern European Jews] were now being cautiously taken in as members. 
Most Jewish country clubs practiced ethnic discrimination and exclusion according to a study done by the Jewish Anti-Defamation League in 1962.


A Golf Week article titled Demise of the Jewish Club, published in 2009, explains how people of undesired ethnicity were excluded from country clubs in New York state until the 1990s.
Jewish clubs surfaced in the early 1900s when overt discrimination was the norm. If your ethnicity or religious identity didn’t conform to the prevailing blue-blood ethos of the ruling “Social Register” crowd, you were out of luck. Or you formed your own golf club.

That’s exactly how Inwood [a Jewish country club] emerged in the southwest corner of Nassau County ...

"There were parties to introduce people, and we all lived in the same communities and soon enough knew who was who. A black box was passed around. Two black balls and you were out."

Not that aspiring applicants often were vetoed. Club candidates weren’t recommended nor sought membership unless acceptance virtually had been assured from the outset. ...

Such screening was commonplace at Jewish clubs ... At all high-end clubs, prospective members are invited by other members, and the club becomes an extension of the community.

For Jewish clubs, golf served as just one of many reasons for seeking membership. The club became a center for Jewish life, providing privacy so an extended family of sorts could celebrate holidays and dining, and pursue community service or charity work.

That kindred behavior often has led to distinct differences between Jewish clubs and other private facilities. Jewish clubs keep outside corporate outings to a minimum. They offer full-service meals all the time, not just on weekends. They usually keep a bigger staff, which typically translates into better service but higher costs for labor and benefits.

.... Jewish clubs consume less alcohol, lowering revenues from one of the most profitable components of any private-club operation.

At [the Jewish] Fresh Meadow Country Club in Great Neck .... the club is sticking to tradition and marketing its “Jewishness:” It offers a strict glatt kosher kitchen that enables Fresh Meadow to host upward of 350-plate weddings, bar mitzvahs and fundraising events. ....

[German and Eastern European] Jewish clubs have merged. In 2002, two historically Jewish clubs in Cincinnati with declining enrollments, Losantiville and Crest Hills, pooled their memberships to create a new entity, The Ridge Club, on the grounds of Losantiville. But such marriages still are rare, often preempted by logistical challenges or clashing egos. On Long Island, for example, North Shore Country Club and Engineers – just a mile apart – broke off merger talks.

The German Jews' contempt toward Eastern European Jews provoked a counter-contempt. Eastern European Jews fostered a stereotype that German Jews were snobbish and pretentious. An article titled Tracing the Legacy of German Jews explains:
Frequently hailed (or envied) for their intellectual, cultural and economic achievements, the so-called Yekkes [German Jews] have just as frequently been derided as arrogant, assimilationist, uptight conservatives. Jokes and stereotypes are legion, many of which portray the quintessential German Jew in a three-piece suit (the term Yekke may come from the German word for jacket), overly concerned with the formalities of polite behavior.

Freud’s book Jokes and Their Relations to the Unconscious recounts numerous jokes about “Western” (i.e. German-speaking) Jews, which suggest that their refined “European” manners are only a facade ....

Even as Zionists in Israel, the German Jews found themselves parodied as too refined for local conditions, as in one joke: Two travelers in the desert see a long line of people and hear an indistinct buzz of voices; drawing closer, they find a group of Yekkes dressed in evening wear and handing bricks down a construction line, all while murmuring Danke schön, HerrProfessor, Bitte schön, Gnädige Frau.


Now I will apply the above information about German Jews to the movie Dirty Dancing.


Lisa Houseman seems to fit the negative Yekke stereotype -- snobbish and pretentious.

Baby Houseman seems to fit a positive stereotype of German Jewish women who commonly took initiative in charitable activities and strove to become leaders in charitable organizations.

It's likely that in the mid-1800s a Kellerman ancestor established a boarding house. During the following decades the Kellermans developed their boarding house into a resort hotel that specialized in hosting summer vacations for New York City's German Jews who could afford such vacations.

During the 1920s and 1930s, as golf became a popular sport among Sephardi and German Jews, the Kellermans bought nearby land and added a golf course to their hotel. Eastern European Jews were not forbidden to play golf, but they did not own golf equipment and did not know how to play.

During the 1940s and 1950s, Eastern European Jews increasingly vacationed at the Kellerman resort hotel. By 1963, when the Dirty Dancing story took place, Eastern European Jews perhaps comprised a majority of the guests. Even so, few European Jews played golf there. Golf was played there generally only by Sephardi and German Jews.


The Kellerman hotel was a nepotistic business. Max Kellerman was teaching his grandson Neil to manage the hotel. Max himself probably had inherited the hotel from his parents. This nepotism fits into the stereotype of German Jews running their family businesses in a clannish manner.

Since Neil Kellerman himself was a clannish German Jew, he felt that he should marry a fellow German Jew, such as Baby Houseman. He felt a special attraction to her, although she did not reciprocate.
Neil Kellerman trying to captivate Baby Houseman in "Dirty Dancing"

In 1963, Jake was about 45 years old. His oldest daughter Lisa was about 20 years old. Lisa was born about the time when Jake became a doctor -- in about 1943, when Jake was about 25 years old. Therefore Jake was born in about 1918.

As I wrote above, golf became popular among German Jews during the 1920s and 1930s. During those two decades, Jake's parents perhaps became regular golfers and joined a German Jewish country club. When Jake was a boy, he too began to play golf at his parents' country club.

Marjorie was a couple years younger than Jake. Her parents likewise played golf and belonged to the country club, and Marjorie began playing golf as a girl.

One purpose of German Jewish social organizations, such as country clubs, was to provide an environment where young German Jews could socialize and subsequently marry. Perhaps Jake and Marjorie met while playing golf at the same German Jewish country club. (That is a story ides for some fan-fiction article.)

Jake and Marjorie continued to play golf through their married life. In particular, they played golf together when they spent their summer vacations at the Kellerman resort. In the summers, the golfing weather in the Catskill Mountains was cooler than in New York City.

The movie Dirty Dancing does not show daughters Lisa and Baby playing golf. Probably, though, they owned the necessary golf equipment and knew how to play rather well.

When screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein (a German name) vacationed at such a resort during her youth, she and her parents probably played golf. Years later when she wrote a golf scene into the Dirty Dancing script, she simply was portraying the resort activities as she experienced them.


See also my article Interactions Between the USA's German Jews and Eastern European Jews.

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