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Jewish Immigration


Jewish immigration to the U.S. occurred in three stages: Sephardic Jews from Iberia and Brazil during the Colonial and Federal periods; German Jews during the 1840s; and Eastern European Jews between about 1880 and the First World War. Each group brought with it specific attitudes about the emerging divisions within the faith and the role of temple in civic life. None of the sources I found said very much, if anything, about emigration from places like France or Britain. So I’m relatively comfortable taking some latitude considering emigration outside those general parameters.

The discovery of the M. Zilbermann auto agency (in New Orleans) and his identity as Michel Zilbermann opened the door for consideration of emigration from France and the possibility that a major cultural event like the Dreyfus Affair could have stimulated it. Zilbermann arrived in Louisiana in 1904, uncannily close to the dates of the Dreyfus case and its eventual resolution by 1906—which divided French culture and exacerbated a streak of antisemitism that has resisted extinction.

Michel Zilbermann was a child of Leon and Doris Zilbermann, born at Paris, France on 04 March 1877, so his arrival at the Port of New York in September 1903 makes him twenty-six. He must have settled in New Orleans soon after, because he married Rachel Pailet there in the spring of 1904; their son Rene was born in ’05. Two sons were born at New Orleans: Rene in 1905 and Leon in 1922. But there is also evidence of an extended family into the third generation and their distribution across the United States. One wonders: 1) what was the motivation for emigration? and 2) what was the family’s status in France, i.e., what resources could they have brought with them for a new start in the U.S.? The sophistication of the auto agency in Louisiana speaks well for their achievement.

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