Research Blog 5 – Jonathan Rachlin

Following this week’s individual meetings, I looked into the work of Jewish historian Harry Boonin.  Boonin’s book, The Jewish Quarter of Philadelphia, focuses on the development and dissolution of a Jewish neighborhood in Old City Philadelphia between roughly 1880 and 1930. The Jewish Quarter was originally composed of Eastern European Jews who lived in poverty and worked long hours in crowded sweatshops.  However, Jewish Quarter residents began to advance in the garment industry and migrated to surrounding outskirts and suburbs by the early twentieth century.  Boonin argues that this advancement, combined with legal restrictions on Eastern European immigration, led to the collapse of the Jewish Quarter by 1924.

Boonin’s Jewish Quarter provides important information on not only Philadelphia Jewish history, but how the City’s Jewish population changed (socially and geographically) over time.  The book coincides directly with the heyday of the SPHAS, who were active between 1917 and 1958, but experienced the most success and notoriety during the 1930s. Boonin’s work also adds another layer to the story of Philadelphia Jewish basketball, as it illustrates the environment and community structure from which most players, coaches, and managers came.  Although Boonin is not specifically focused on basketball or athletics in general, I think his work will serve as valuable secondary source material for the final paper.

In addition to Boonin’s book, I also read an article published by Professor Rebecca Alpert, titled “Social Justice, Sport and Judaism: A Position Statement.” While the piece is thematically focused on the application of Jewish theological values to competitive sports, Professor Alpert makes the argument that basketball, more than any other sport, allowed American Jews to participate in American culture without abandoning religious connections.  Although this sub-thesis makes up only a small section of Alpert’s article, the SPHAS are used as an example of a team that retained their Jewishness while adapting to American life.  I plan on reaching out to Professor Alpert this week with a few questions about why basketball, in particular, allowed for this unique situation and to find out more about how teams like the SPHAS countered the popular stereotype of the weak, uncoordinated diaspora Jew.

Leave a Reply