Good Americans: Italian and Jewish Immigrants during the First World War

By Christopher M. Sterba | Go to book overview

7
“New York Jewry Must Do Its Duty”

New York Jewry's response to the home front effort was a good deal more complicated than the Italian experience in New Haven. For the overwhelmingly Orthodox Jewish immigrant population, the government's secular demands inevitably created a number of cultural and religious problems. The Yiddishes Tageblatt, one of the Orthodox newspapers, found itself acting as a mediator on repeated occasions. In May 1918 the paper had to clear up confusion about the International Red Cross. Many immigrant Jews thought the Red Cross was a Christian organization because of its emblem and ignored its pleas for contributions. The Tageblatt's editors had to insist that all donations would go to help needy Jews and Gentiles alike. “And let it be said right here that no contributor to the Red Cross need wear the button,” the paper urged, “or place in the window of his home the little poster with the Red Cross on it. Let no Jew or Jewess be deterred from giving to the Red Cross because of that symbol.” A few months later it was not the immigrant Jew who needed to be educated, but the leaders of the city's Fourth Liberty Loan campaign. When organizers held a parade on the Lower East Side on a Saturday, the Sabbath day when much of the area's population did not carry money, bond sales were disappointing. The Tageblatt publicly scolded the campaign managers: “Let whoever is in charge, profit by this lesson and in future pay regard to the religious convictions of the people of the neighborhood. Tactlessness always recoils upon the heads of those guilty of such errors.” 1

Cultural misunderstandings like these mirrored a deeper discrepancy between downtown Jewry and the federal government. Not only did cultural and religious differences set many of New York's eastern European Jews apart from the rest of the nation but so did their attitudes on the war. While most of the country was supporting the war effort or at least acquiescing to it, the city's new immigrant Jews were vocal about their pacifism and had political strength. As we have seen, they provided the People's Coun

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