November 19, 2014
A rare partial dissent from the conventional wisdom that Jews would never have built their own country clubs if not for anti-Semitism appeared in an elegy in D Magazine entitled “Goodbye, Columbian.” Curt Sampson wrote sadly of the Dallas country club that ran out of money, dropped its Jewish-only policy in 2007, and was now letting in golf-crazy gentiles such as Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and PGA legend Lee Trevino (who enjoyed finally being allowed to be a member of the club where he once worked on the maintenance crew). Sampson observed:
Why Jews felt compelled to band together was simple: they enjoyed their own company, and the other clubs were not letting them in. … Not that there aren”t abuses in this sliver of society”try joining Dallas Country Club, Mr. Goldstein!”but there is joy in banding together with people who look like you and talk like you and believe what you believe. We get enough melting pot in public schools and at the Cowboys game.
Despite the paucity of public information about Jewish clubs, Hillcrest, which is across the street from 20th Century Fox studios, is an exception because the movie industry has been so well documented. In short, the Hillcrest Jews had a blast being extremely Jewish at Hillcrest. Stephen Birmingham, author of the 1967 bestseller “Our Crowd:” The Great Jewish Families of New York, wrote in his follow-up, The Rest of Us: The Rise of America’s Eastern European Jews:
But in Los Angeles, as in other cities, the leading Christian club, the Los Angeles Country Club, would not accept Jews … So the Jews of Hollywood had formed Hillcrest, a country club of their own. … Since it was newer, its facilities were far more modern and luxurious than the Los Angeles Country Club’s … It was just as exclusive as the Los Angeles Club and membership was rigidly closed to Christians, though many, including Joseph P. Kennedy, tried to join. Its initiation fee of twenty-two thousand dollars was the highest in the country … Jokes and insults were swapped in Yiddish, a language never used in the office or on the set.
Interestingly, Jews were even more ferocious discriminators than gentiles. “A Study of Religious Discrimination by Social Clubs“ was published in 1962 by by the Anti-Defamation League of the B”Nai B”rith. The surveyed reported on 803 country clubs, of which 224 (28 percent) were open to Christians and Jews alike. (Probably most of these were founded by Christians.) Of the 505 clubs that considered themselves Christian, 89 (18 percent) let in some number of Jews. In contrast, of the 74 Jewish clubs, only three (four percent) let in any non-Jews. Sports Illustrated pointed out:
The ADL report concluded that although “the extent of discrimination against Jews by clubs is far greater than the levels of discrimination against Jews in other areas such as education, employment, housing and public accommodations,” the fact that a significant number of clubs “were “Jewish clubs” that discriminate against Christians is eloquent testimony to the further institutionalization of religious prejudice. When, as and if Jewish community relations agencies conclude that the problem of the “Christian club” merits their attention, they will inevitably have to cope with the other side of the coin”the “Jewish club.””
Hillcrest was one of the more tolerant Jewish clubs, admitting Lebanese-American television star and philanthropist Danny Thomas as its first Gentile member only a few decades after its founding. Jack Benny quipped that if they wanted to get credit for not discriminating, they should have picked somebody who looked less Levantine.
Interestingly, Christian clubs were slightly less discriminatory against Jews in the South, following a pattern of Jews being not rebels and dissidents in the old South (as many Jews assume today) but instead popular members of the local white establishment. For example, Augusta National, now the most exclusive club in America, is said to have always had local Jewish families as members, even when its Northern national membership of CEOs weren”t inviting their Jewish peers to join.
But an even bigger surprise I discovered in my research is that these common memories of grandpapa’s application for membership being turned down for ethnic reasons generally didn”t involve Jews trying to get into gentile country clubs. Instead, Eastern European Jews were typically shot down by German Jewish country clubs who saw the nouveau riche immigrant Jews as pushy and crass Al Czerviks.
Sports Illustrated reported in 1962:
In larger cities one sometimes finds two or more Jewish clubs, the top one composed principally of German Jews who tend to find eastern European Jews unacceptable.
For example, Birmingham, Alabama long supported two standoffish Jewish country clubs. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica:
Since Jews were frozen out of local country clubs, they established the Hillcrest in 1883 for German Jews, and the Fairmont in 1920, for East European Jews. They merged in 1969, forming the Pine Tree Country Club, which opened its membership to non-Jews in 1991.
Stephen Birmingham writes:
But now, in nearly every American city of any size, there were at least two Jewish country clubs”the “good” one (German), and the less good (Russian). In New York, the best Jewish country club was the Germans” Century Country Club in suburban White Plains [now Purchase]. The second-best was the Russians” Sunningdale Golf Club in Scarsdale.
Birmingham observed in “Our Crowd”:
For years the Century was an almost exclusively German club, with an unwritten rule against “Orientals.”
The Century Country Club built its first golf course in 1908 (Sunningdale’s course opened in 1918), but didn”t begin to admit Russian Jews until after World War II. Birmingham notes in The Rest of Us:
Bastions of German-Jewish supremacy were falling on all sides by the 1940s. … At the Century Country Club, which considered itself not only the best Jewish club in New York but the best Jewish country club on earth, and where the anti-Russian bias had been all but written into the bylaws for generations, a few Russians were now being cautiously taken in as members, and one of the first of these, in 1948, was the Flatbush-born Dr. Herman Tarnower, the son of Russian immigrants.
Presumably, the imperious Dr. Tarnower was expected to never bring scandal to the club. His later publication of the bestselling The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet, however, set him on the road to national celebrity, murder by his jealous mistress Jean Harris, and commemoration in the greatest of all Seinfeld episodes, “The Summer of George,” in which (among much else) Kramer is handed a Tony Award for a Broadway musical about the Tarnower murder, “Scarsdale Surprise“.
If we go even further back into the past, did German Jews start their own country clubs solely because of golf Nazis? Or did German Jewish financiers build their discriminatory country clubs to strengthen their ties of friendship, business, and marriage?
After all, country clubs existed in the U.S. even before golf arrived in 1887. A major reason was to provide young people with romantic grounds, resembling the country estates in Jane Austen novels, upon which to stroll about and fall in love with suitable marriage partners.
And German Jewish bankers were famously endogamous. The most famous family of all, the Rothschilds, kept business in the family by practicing not just marriage between first cousins, but even uncle-niece marriage. (By the way, here’s Jonah Hill in The Wolf of Wall Street explaining to DiCaprio why he married his own cousin.)
The 1968 Commentary review by Marshall Sklare of Birmingham’s “Our Crowd” begins with a discussion of how profitable this endogamous clannishness had been to the German Jews of Wall Street:
Ten years ago, Barry E. Supple, an economic historian then teaching at Harvard, published a scholarly article which demonstrated that in the 19th century a significant share of American investment banking was concentrated in Jewish hands. In reviewing the history of such banking houses as Kuhn, Loeb; J & W Seligman; Goldman, Sachs; and Lehman Brothers, Supple drew attention to the fact that it was not only common for the children and relatives of the partners of a given firm to marry each other, but that marital alliances frequently occurred among, as well as within, the different Jewish banking houses.
Indeed, Supple’s careful analysis showed that the role of marriage in business went even further than this. The scions of banking families would marry the offspring of the owners of large German-Jewish companies in a variety of fields, and these companies”some of them later to become the country’s leading department stores and mail-order firms”would then raise capital through the banking houses with whom they had formed family connections. …
The Jewish firms had no monopoly over corporate financing, for Gentile houses”led by Drexel, Morgan”controlled a substantial share of the banking business. The Gentile houses, however, lacked the network of kinship ties which Supple uncovered in his patient genealogical probing. … it was his intention to show that the Jewish firms, and not their Gentile counterparts, constituted the “ideal type” of business combination prior to the rise of the mammoth corporation. He was particularly impressed by the tightly knit social network created by the Jewish firms around family, temple, city clubs, and philanthropic organizations; and he viewed their clannishness as “a valid and often necessary means of creating an identity of interests and attitude most conducive to business activity and development.”
Under such a system, it makes all the sense in the world to form country clubs with potential in-laws and keep out families you don”t want your children to marry into.
The enormous resentments engendered in the first half of the 20th century by German Jews blackballing Russian Jews have been almost forgotten as their descendants have patched over these rifts by coming to an unspoken agreement to blame it all on the gentiles.
Henry Kissinger observed that Israel’s foreign policy often seems less intended to advance Israel’s interests abroad than to heal domestic divisions among Israeli Jews by giving them somebody foreign to hate. While nearby Levantine countries such as Syria and Lebanon have suffered hideous civil wars, the fractious Israelis have managed to successfully direct their animosities outward. Similarly, the current American Jewish obsession with golf Nazis has less to do with whether Jews in ages past actually wanted to join stuffy WASP clubs than with healing gaps within the Jewish community by castigating Christians.
Indeed, this displacement process may be observed in many aspects of American social history, which has been repeatedly rewritten to foster Jewish solidarity by projecting blame for grievances held by one set of Jews against another onto the majority culture.
A future article, for example, may explore the Friedan-Steinem-Firestone-Abzug generation of feminists from this subversive perspective.