Going to America, Going to School: The Jewish Immigrant Public School Encounter in Turn-of-The-Century New York City

Going to America, Going to School: The Jewish Immigrant Public School Encounter in Turn-of-The-Century New York City

Going to America, Going to School: The Jewish Immigrant Public School Encounter in Turn-of-The-Century New York City

Going to America, Going to School: The Jewish Immigrant Public School Encounter in Turn-of-The-Century New York City

Excerpt

America! An idea big enough to satisfy everyone's needs, a country defined by imagination, a place you could freely go to.

The emigration fever was at its height in Plotzk. . . ."America" was in everybody's mouth. Business men talked of it over their accounts; the market women made up their quarrels that they might discuss it from stall to stall; people who had relatives in the famous land went around reading their letters for the enlightenment of less fortunate folks; . . . all talked of it, but scarcely anybody knew one true fact about this magic land.

As conditions among the Jewish masses in Eastern Europe worsened in the decades surrounding the turn of the twentieth century, the dream of America was fortified. It was, perhaps, a necessary dream, not easily punctured by a growing awareness of the American reality and the difficulties of starting life anew in a strange land. East European Jewish immigrants apparently took little heed of the harsh criticisms of America as the land of the godless, a land where the Jewish world was made to stand on its head. Where once Jewish learning was expounded by rabbis, judges, and the learned, critics such as Moses Weinberger warned that in the new world it was now the province of shoemakers, tailors, and tanners. "Just as America could invent the telephone . . . so it can surely change the spirit of man by making the fools wiser, and the wise more foolish."

In Eastern Europe the education of Jews was a central communal concern. Learning focused upon the sacred--the encounter between man and God. In the United States, however, Jewish education was displaced to the margins of life by the secular studies of the public . . .

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