Investigating Jewish identity and the Incidence of Antisemitism in Muncie and Small-town Indiana

Jews have lived in Muncie before the city was incorporated in 1865. This anthropological study contextualizes this small, but strong, Jewish identity, in small-town America and examines it along with antisemitism in the much-needed research area of small-town Jewish populations in Indiana. For this study, I interviewed 12 Jewish individuals, including college students and faculty members at Ball State University and Muncie community members, about their Jewish religion, identity, and anti-Semitic experiences. The interviews were then transcribed and hand-coded for elements of Jewish life and identity, and the transcripts were developed into a word corpus analyzed using Sketch Engine to conduct text analysis related to the frequency of certain terms and their context. From this analysis, it was determined that Jewish individuals in Muncie understand it to be Christian-dominated area, not only because of public religious celebrations and feelings of differentness, but also because many people described experiences of being someone’s “first Jew,” or the first Jewish person they have met. While this experience is helpful in breaking down barriers of ignorance that may lead to anti-Semitism, it also serves to reinforce stereotypes because they are not what people expect or joke about as Jewish.

 

  • Paper Presentation
  • Anthropology
  • This presentation explores the results of an anthropological research study related to Jewish identity and anti-Semitism in Muncie, Indiana. Through interviews, transcription, and data analysis in this study, this associated paper presentation explore how Jewish identity may be influenced by living in a small-town, and how systems to combat ignorance about what Judaism is and being aware of the Jewish individuals in people’s lives, may help to combat systemic anti-Semitism.

2 thoughts on “Investigating Jewish identity and the Incidence of Antisemitism in Muncie and Small-town Indiana”

  1. Great presentation Emma! As an orthodox Jewish student myself, I found that your topic really connected well with me.
    I do have one question: did you find any major differences between the responses from interviewees from the Reform Temple verses those from the Hillel on campus? In my experience, these organizations tend to reflect somewhat different points of view, and I am just curious about your findings in this regard. Thank you!

    1. Thank you Calev! Thank you for your question and for viewing my presentation. From my interviews, I found that most of the people who were involved in Hillel at Ball State did not often attend the Reform Temple in Muncie, Indiana. While there were other students that were involved in the Temple, including those cantoring or taking on a leadership role during Shabbat services, many students involved Hillel were interested in finding opportunities to socialize with other Jewish students, mainly to combat feelings of loneliness or isolation on campus. Many people attending the Temple were attending for religious reasons and separated these experiences from their identity as a student on campus. There were a few moments during my research when the two groups got together, including when the synagogue hosted a Hillel event or a major holiday event for the students on campus.

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