The Boom and the Bust: The Jewish Community of Portsmouth, VA, 1910-1930
Gunn, Allison R.
Rozenblit, Marsha L
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In 1917, Jews came in large numbers to Portsmouth, VA, for the economic opportunity offered by a booming World War I economy and the new market the war workers offered. Between 1907 and 1918 alone, the Jewish population grew by an astonishing 1,042%. The community declined rapidly, however, immediately after the war. The primary reason for the decline of the community was economic. Jews came to Portsmouth, not as laborers, but as retailers and business owners. They therefore relied upon a large, stable, local market which dissipated in the Interwar period. Studying Portsmouth reveals the foundational dynamics between Jewish communities and the local economy. In the period, American Jews relied on specific economic niches such as retail to prosper. When an economy was unfavorable for such businesses, Jewish communities did not thrive.