Communities and Enclaves: Where Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Muslims Share the Neighborhoods
Livezey, Lowell W., Cross Currents
An afternoon walk along Devon Avenue on Chicago's Far North Side gives one a tangible sense of that abstract concept "social diversity." Devon offers a glimpse of the neighborhoods that make up the community areas of Rogers Park and West Ridge (known locally as West Rogers Park), which we discuss here together simply as "Rogers Parks." The area lies between Lake Michigan on the east and the North Shore Channel on the west at the northern boundary of the City of Chicago, about two and a half by two miles in size. Its total 1990 population of 125,000 showed a slight increase from ten years previous, a fact that could be claimed by very few Chicago neighborhoods. The positive population trend was due to a combination of immigration (34 percent of the residents are foreign born)and in-migration from other parts of the city (mostly blacks and Hispanics moving to a better neighborhood). The residents of these neighborhoods represent an extraordinarily wide range of the racial and ethnic groups, social and economic classes, and religious faiths of the Chicago metropolitan area. And because many small shops along Devon are operated by the local residents and cater to them, the street provides a colorful lens on the cultures of the people who live nearby.
Research by the Religion in Urban America Program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, from 1993 to 1998, provides the basis for my analysis of the religious dimension of local culture during that time. I argue that cultural innovation by religious organizations has encouraged the formation and maintenance of ethnoracial enclaves, which in turn characterize the diversity of Rogers Parks.
The walk eastward from Kedzie Avenue along Devon is a good way to enter the discussion. In the segment between Kedzie and California Avenues, which is officially designated Golda Meir Boulevard, Jewish residents can easily find most of the supplies needed for observance of the halachah (Jewish law) as interpreted by Orthodox rabbis. Here one can buy a wide variety of kosher groceries, choosing among alternatives that have been approved by different Jewish authorities determining what is kosher. And if there is any doubt about the requirements of observance, the beth din (rabbinic court) is nearby, not far from the mikvah (ritual bath) and the Kollel (a major center for adult religious study). Moreover, this part of Devon Avenue goes through an eruv, a geographic area constituted under Jewish law as the legal equivalent of the household - with the result that observant Jews can legally carry things on the Sabbath and on the High Holy Days.
Of the many Jewish institutions in Rogers Parks, we studied three in depth. Ezra Habonim is a Conservative congregation, the result of a merger of two German-speaking congregations. Although the older generations of its three hundred members are Germans and Austrians, it seeks to attract younger Jews of any nationality. The Sephardic Congregation is a community of about 250 Sephardic families who have come, either directly or by descent from immigrants earlier in this century, from the various Mediterranean countries in which the Spanish Jews settled. The congregation practices Orthodox observance, so most of its members live close enough to the synagogue to walk to services. Finally, we studied The Ark, a social service agency that follows halachah and conducts Shab bat services for staff, persons in their shelter, and many recent Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
The time was when the Jewish dominance of Devon Avenue extended much further east than the corner of California Avenue, but now the brown sign indicating the honorary street name shows the next segment to be Gandhi Marg, and the vegetarian groceries, South Asian spices, and silk saris set the tone. The religious symbolism of the community is not as obvious as on Golda Meir Boulevard, in part because Indian culture involves many different religions-- Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism, Jainism, and Christianity. …