I cannot tell you what percentage of the population of Bristol, Connecticut, is Jewish. And in a town of over 60,000, I can not locate a temple or synagogue. Growing up in such a place, however, I cannot say that it was riddled with anti-Semitism. With so few Jews, exposure was too limited to really form any opinion. There were a few stereotypes, but no way to corroborate them. Jewish people and culture were an enigma, something I would only experience after moving to New York City.
My first college roommates were Jewish, my closest friends were Jewish, my first girlfriend in New York City was Jewish. The New England work ethic I inherited was akin to the Jewish work ethic, as was my interest in higher education. All my first and lasting impressions of the Jewish community were positive.
One out of eight New Yorkers is Jewish - just under 1 million in a city population of 8 million, or 12% (in the late 1950s, the Jews reached a peak of about 2 million, or approximately one fourth of the city's population). To know New York City, you must be familiar with Jewish culture - it is the fabric of the city. And if your going to be involved with any culture, of course that means learning about their food, language and religion.
I grew up with Franglais, an amalgam of French and English spoken in northern Maine, so Yiddish was right up my alley. I was quickly introduced to the requisite Yiddish, which has a wonderful collection of useful words and phrases, many with no good English synonym. Many Yiddish words have been adopted by New Yorkers as well as the general population in the United States.
babka, bialys, borsht, bubbellah, bupkis, challah, chutzpah, drek, farklempt, gelt, gesheft, goyem, kasheh varnishkes, kibbitz, knish, kvetch, latke, lox, matzoh, schmuck, schlamiel, schlamazel, shiksa, mazel tov, mensch, mishuggah, mitzvah, nebish, noodnik, nosh, oi vay, putz, schlep, schlock, schmutz, schnoz, schpeel, shabbat, shlub, shlump, shmaltz, shmata, shmear, shmo, shmooze, shnorrer, shrek, shtick, tchatzkah, trombenik, Yarmelkeh, yenta, zaftik.
When you've mastered some of the basic vocabulary and you're a little tired of academics and want to conclude your studies and put together some phrases, try Toches ahfen tish! :)
Photo Note: This is Central Synagogue at 652 Lexington Avenue at 55th Street. It is one of the oldest in the United States and has been in continuous use by a congregation longer than any other in New York City. It was built in 1872 in the Moorish Revival style, designed by Henry Fernbach after Budapest's Dohány Street Synagogue. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975.