Wednesday Morning Study Group

Book cover: The Rag Race

Wednesday Morning Study Group

Wednesday Mornings, 11 am – 12 pm

Topic: Jewish History

Group meets every Wednesday morning*

Current Book: The Rag Race: How Jews Sewed Their Way to Success in America and the British Empire (The Goldstein-Goren Series in American Jewish History) – Adam D. Mendelsohn

“Drawing upon the social and economic historiography of Britain, Australia, and the United States, this book weaves together disparate historical threads into a seamless narrative with a compelling argument. Making shrewd use of historical comparison, it illuminates the interplay of inherited culture with historically contingent structures of opportunity. The result is a book studded with insight, and written with wit and style.”- Jerry Z. Muller, author of Capitalism and the Jews

“Mendelsohn joins the scholarly debate over the roots of Jewish economic success in the U.S. This he does with great style and energy, offering vivid descriptions, telling detail, and clear arguments, all based on meticulous research. This is a superb book that is a model of comparative and transnational history. It should be read not only by historians of American or modern Jewry, but by historians of immigration, business, fashion, and urban life.”-American Historical Review

The maturation of a post-Marxian “economic turn” in the field of Jewish history has been in the making for quite a while now. Adam Mendelsohn’s new book on the garment trade in America, Britain, and the British Empire is not just a worthy contribution to this growing stream of scholarship; it is, in many ways, a milestone. It is not “just” about the dynamics of consumer patterns, or labor history, or ethnic networks, or Jewish-Gentile relations, or the globalization of commercial activity. It is about all of these at once. The Rag Race, a painstakingly researched work of comparative social and economic history, deals with what is arguably the keystone in the entire structure of nineteenth and early twentieth-century Western Jewish economic history: THE industry that was almost legendary for providing jobs and an entrepreneurial niche for hundreds of thousands of immigrant Jews on both sides of the Atlantic. Mendelsohn shows just how much about the “rag race” we did not really understand before. – Eli Lederhendler, American Jewish History

“Deeply researched and beautifully written, The Rag Race returns to a classic topic—the story of Jewish immigrants in the clothing industry—to shed entirely new light on the route that led from the sweatshop to success. Moving the conventional starting point backward, from the turn of the twentieth century to the early 19th century, Mendelsohn demonstrates how early differences in Jewish settlement and the structure of the garment trade led to divergent Jewish trajectories on both the U.S. and British sides of the Anglophone world. An outstanding example of comparative history, The Rag Race offers insights that any scholar or student of immigration will appreciate.” – Roger Waldinger,Distinguished Professor of Sociology, University of California, Los Angeles

“The Rag Race offers an impressively researched comparison of the workings of this niche in two different nations.” – The Journal of American History

“With this gracefully written monograph, deeply researched on three continents, Mendelsohn joins a cohort of scholars writing Jewish economic history through a transnational lens.” – Choice

“In The Rag Race, Adam Mendelsohn traces the intertwined fates of the Jewish community and the garment industries in America and Britain…Like any good historical writer, he turns documents and data into relatable human stories.” –

“Mendelsohn’s argument is enlightening and persuasive at every turn.” –Winterthur Portfolio

“The Rag Race traces the involvement of Jewish immigrants in the shmatte business, and draws connections between that involvement and the economic ascent of Jews in America.” – New York Jewish Weekly

“An inquiry into the wellspring of modern Jewish economic success, [The Rag Race] attends to the origins of the garment industry, poking around in the dusty, and often little-known, corners of a global exchange based on kinship and the Jewish collective…The Rag Race is a remarkable achievement, a testament to the vitality of the historical imagination.” – Jewish Review of Books

About the Author

Adam D. Mendelsohn is Director of the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research and Associate Professor of Historical Studies at the University of Cape Town. He is the co-editor of Jews and the Civil War: A Reader (NYU Press, 2010) and of Transnational Traditions: New Perspective on American Jewish History.

Get the book

The Rag Race is available at, in bound, Kindle or Nook editions, or Barnes & Noble will order it for you. Class meets every week on Wednesday from 11:00am-12:00pm at Temple Sinai. For a fun read into stories of our past, please join us when you can. If you don’t have a book, not to worry, you can listen too.

Help support Temple Sinai with your purchase

Temple Sinai partners with Amazon Smile! Once you register for this program, we will receive 0.5% of all your qualifying Amazon purchases. It’s simple! If you already have an Amazon account, browse to and log in as you normally would, then search and select Temple Sinai in South Burlington as your charity of choice. Everything else is the same familiar Amazon. It’s a great, painless fundraiser. Thank you!

*Check weekly announcements or the online calendar in case of cancellation or change in schedule.