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During the late 19th century, before immigrating to America, many European Jews were socially active, speaking out about inequities of the day. When they arrived in America, many brought a tradition of political activism drawn from such diverse groups as socialists and anarchists. Reinforced by editorials in the Yiddish newspapers, Jewish Americans began to speak out against inequities in America.
Some protests affected the immediate interests of the Jewish community. One early example was the Kosher Meat Boycott of 1902, which happened when many Jewish women in New York became furious that the price of kosher meat increased from twelve to eighteen cents per pound.
After the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in 1911, Jewish activists worked long and hard to enact better working conditions for garment industry employees.
Other protests addressed broader demands for social and political justice. The Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s gripped the Jewish American community who understood the need for equal rights for all citizens. Like black leaders, Jewish Americans wanted the letter and the spirit of Constitutional law to be followed. They gave their support and marched alongside African-Americans, becoming deeply committed to and directly involved with the movement.
When the March on Washington forced a torn nation to look at itself in the mirror in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., provided the powerful words that still inspire the nation. Rabbi Joachim Prinz, a Holocaust survivor and fervent supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, also spoke to the marchers on that day. Rabbi Prinz reminded the marchers that Jewish Americans believed in their cause for civil rights. In part, he said, It is not merely sympathy and compassion for the black people of America that motivates us. It is...a sense of complete identification and solidarity born of our own painful historic experience.... The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful, and the most tragic problem is silence.
Beginning in 1970, Jewish Americans became deeply involved with women's rights and Soviet Jewry. Jewish American women were at the forefront of the women's rights movement and Jewish Americans consistently reached out to Jews in the Soviet Union who were not allowed to emigrate. In December of 1987, more than a quarter of a million people gathered in Washington on behalf of Soviet Jewry. After the Cold War, Jewish Americans offered assistance to Jews fleeing Eastern Europe and seeking to resettle in the U.S. or Israel.