Helping networks among the Jewish elderly poor

Eugene Litwak, Merril Silverstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


A major theme of this paper is that ethnic groups can be classified into two types modern and traditional The modern ethnic group recognizes the priority of universalism in the public sphere, the priority of ethnic particularism in the private sphere and the consequent need for different services to be provided by different groups. The traditional ethnic groups gives priority to ethnic particularism in both public and private areas and sees all services provided by one group The Jewish ethnic groups because of their persecution and their religious culture were located in occupations and a social world that segregate the public and private world Consequently they entered industrial societies with a modern ethnic structure that enabled them to adapt more quickly than those who migrated from agricultural communities with traditional ethnic norms. The norms of traditional groups are so inappropriate to an industrial society that their members typically abandon them through assimilation or in a minority of cases isolate themselves (e.g., Amish) The latter is associated with abandonment of higher secular education and higher income jobs Those arguing for ethnic assimilation derive compelling evidence from traditional ethnic groups (e.g., Italian) while those claiming ethnic viability focus on modern ethnic groups (e.g., Jewish). Poor people and people who are sick and old but who have a modern ethnic orientation also tend to have one informal group provide all services. But, unlike traditional groups, they are guided by poverty and illness rather than traditional ethnic norms. Data from a survey of 1,400 people 65 and older are presented to highlight Jewish ethnicity as well as document differences between modem and traditional ethnic groups. Three groups of poor Jewish elderly are identified. They are governed by different ethnic norms: some ultra orthodox sects (who atypically adhere to traditional ethnic norms), impoverished recent Russian immigrants, and Jewish elderly who are sick and single (both of whom have modern norms) Social policy for the delivery of network help under varying ethnic conditions are suggested.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3-50
Number of pages48
JournalContemporary Jewry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 1990
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Anthropology
  • Religious studies


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