Authors Shuli Eshel and Roger Schatz collected these stories after Ms. Eshel, in cooperation with the Maxwell Street Historic Preservation Coalition, directed and produced the highly-praised documentary, Maxwell Street: A Living Memory, The Jewish Experience in Chicago. This book offers more detailed accounts of those stories and others collected from hundreds of people responding to the documentary's release.
Jewish Maxwell Street Stories, Illinois (Voices of America Series)by Shuli Eshel, Roger Schatz
Anyone who has seen Maxwell Street has a story about Maxwell Street. You didn't have to shop there, work there, or eat there. You didn't have to be Jewish. You just had to go there, or merely pass-by, in order to experience something that stuck in your mind forever. Only a few blocks south of Chicago's downtown, Maxwell Street was predominately a Jewish enclave,
Anyone who has seen Maxwell Street has a story about Maxwell Street. You didn't have to shop there, work there, or eat there. You didn't have to be Jewish. You just had to go there, or merely pass-by, in order to experience something that stuck in your mind forever. Only a few blocks south of Chicago's downtown, Maxwell Street was predominately a Jewish enclave, but you could also hear the Blues, bargain with Gypsies, and find bargain hunters from all walks of life. This book focuses on the stories of the last Jewish generations that lived and worked in the Maxwell Street market area. Beginning in the late 19th century, it was there that thousands of Jewish immigrants first grasped the American dream. The descendents of those first Jewish peddlers absorbed the legacies left them; some went on to be among the most notable and successful personalities of the 20th century. On Maxwell Street, the best merchandise was knowledge.
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I was at the Barnes and Noble store on Webster Street in Chicago, where I went to buy a copy of 'Eats Shoots and Leaves.' There was an autograph and reading session with the authors of 'Jewish Maxwell Street Stories.' I stopped to listen and I bought the book. I am not Jewish and never shopped on Maxwell Street. Still, it was a worthwhile parting of the twenty dollars. This is a very fine book, very readable, beautifully written, and contains one of the best and useful quotes I have ever heard...'The best merchandise is knowledge.' The book is funny, very much so, and for what basically is a local history book, it truly has, I would say, a universal appeal. Anyone who reads 'Jewish Maxwell Street Stories' will find something, several things, that he or she can use in their quest to live a good life. The stories are very moving, highly spiritual, and worth retelling to friends. It's a great party book.
My mother used to say if things don't work out you can always move to Maxwell Street. That was in the 1950s. I never saw Maxwell Street until 1970. What a lovely surprise to learn about the area so close to my former home, and the history of Jewish life there. I especially appreciate the quality of writing and the pictures. It brought that time and place to life from the stories I've heard. I feel the book is a great contribution to Chicago, to the West Side, and to the early Jewish immigrant experience.
I am a businessman. The book was given to me as a gift. What is most interesting to me is that this book of many stories, is, by default, a book on how to understand people, any people in the context of doing business. I am sure the author didn't intend that, but, that's what it is. At the same time, it is very moving and leaves lasting impressions. It is quite funny, even entertaining. But, if I was back teaching at the community college, I would list this book as one of the texts for business management. MBA's may understand formulas and theories, but, what this book offers, along with the enjoyment, are great lessons in dealing with customers. Imagine, a text book that is also a can't put down, enjoyable read.