Ronald Sanders (19321991) was at one time the editor of the Jewish monthly Midstream. He held a master’s degree in history from Columbia, taught at Queens College, and was named to the B. G. Rudolph Chair in Jewish Studies at Syracuse University in 1988. Among his books are The High Walls of Jerusalem, Lost Tribes and Promised Lands: The Origins of American Racism, and Shores of Refuge: A Hundred Years of Jewish Emigration.
The Downtown Jews: Portraits of an Immigrant Generation (Barnes & Noble Rediscovers Series)by Ronald Sanders, Hasia R. Diner (Foreword by)
To most Americans, New York City’s Lower East Side around the beginning of the twentieth century evokes a series of clichés. Colorful pushcart peddlers, raucous street urchins, rags-to-riches stories of a one- or two-generation rise from poverty. All this, of course, is part of the story, but in The Downtown Jews, Ronald Sanders goes beyond/b>/i>
To most Americans, New York City’s Lower East Side around the beginning of the twentieth century evokes a series of clichés. Colorful pushcart peddlers, raucous street urchins, rags-to-riches stories of a one- or two-generation rise from poverty. All this, of course, is part of the story, but in The Downtown Jews, Ronald Sanders goes beyond the clichés. He tells the sometimes harsh, sometimes humorous, multifaceted story of the Americanization of the Jewish immigrant.
The book centers around the life of a remarkable figure, Abraham Cahan (18601951)journalist, catalyst, agitator, and premier novelist of the sweatshop and ghetto life. When Cahan became the editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, it was a minor Yiddish-language newspaper; at its peak, and his, it had one of the largest circulations of any newspaper in America. Both as editor of an influential newspaper and writer of the groundbreaking novel The Rise of David Levinsky, Cahan was pivotal to the Lower East Side experience. Flamboyant, imaginative, and egocentric, he exemplified, led, and transcended his generation.
Sanders masterfully portrays Cahan and his times. Here are the unceasing ideological battles, the birth of organized labor in the garment trades, the rise of the Yiddish theater in America, and, ultimately, the fall of Yiddish as the mother tongue. In the process of assessing Cahan’s career, Sanders also takes the measure of an important aspect of American life, the “melting pot,” and illuminates the Jewish immigrant experience in New York.
The Downtown Jews was originally published in 1970 and revised in 1987; this reissue has a new foreword by Hasia R. Diner, professor of Hebraic and Jewish Studies at New York University.
Praise for The Downtown Jews:
“An exemplary account of the Jewish Lower East Side in the half-century that ended with World War I.”The New York Times
“The Downtown Jews takes us into that setting and the life of the downtown ghetto, brings alive the individuals involved... the victims of pogroms, poverty, and persecution who had come to the golden shorepoets and peddlers, intellectuals and garment workers, actors and laborers.”Los Angeles Times
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