How We Lived, 1880-1930: A Documentary History of Immigrant Jews in America

How We Lived, 1880-1930: A Documentary History of Immigrant Jews in America

How We Lived, 1880-1930: A Documentary History of Immigrant Jews in America

How We Lived, 1880-1930: A Documentary History of Immigrant Jews in America

Excerpt

Through a matching of word and picture we have tried in this book to evoke an intimate yet objective sense of life in the immigrant Jewish milieu during the late years of the nineteenth century and the early years of this century. The task is more difficult than might be imagined. Not that there is any shortage of materials-- on the contrary, we could easily have brought together three or four times as many documents as we have here. The problem is rather that the immigrant Jewish experience, significant as it was for the history of this country and crucial for the lives of most American Jews, is in danger of becoming a myth, often a sentimentalized myth, and thereby unavailable to serious historical understanding.

All sorts of cultural barriers and confusions of attitude stand in the way. There is first the impulse to forget, a wish to brush aside the ordeals and indignities of an earlier moment, sometimes a touch of shame at lowly origins and plebeian styles. It is an impulse as understandable as it is deplorable, and one that we ought to resist in behalf of personal--we might even say, cultural--honesty. Resist it, first of all, in ourselves, in that touch of snobbism from which few human beings are exempt. There is next, and right now more noticeable, the impulse to prettify the immigrant experience, a wish to make the past seem all quaint and "colorful," with our own little fiddlers on our own little roots. Finally, of course, this too is a mode of forgetting and repressing.

With every ounce of our strength, we have resisted both of these impulses, and have tried instead to show the life of the immigrant Jews with its beauties and its blotches alike. We are interested here in the unvarnished truth, not in any self-serving little fables about "two cents plain." We have therefore used journalists and memoirists who see, and make others see, life as it is free of prejudice and sentimentality. And we have selected pictures that convey objective truths and human values beyond the boundaries of mere illustration. Given the scope of our subject, this book cannot be complete, but we claim that it is reasonably representative.

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