Foreword and Notes by Harry Golden
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Edition description:||Schocken Books paperback ed|
|Product dimensions:||5.18(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.62(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I hope that you will advise me in my present difficulty.
I am a “greenhorn,” only five weeks in the country, and a jeweler by trade. I come from Russia, where I left a blind father and a stepmother. Before I left, my father asked me not to forget him. I promised that I would send him the first money I earned in America.
When I arrived in New York I walked around for two weeks looking for a job, and the bosses told me it was after the season. In the third week I was lucky, and found a job at this I earn eight dollars a week. I worked, I paid my landlady board, I bought a few things to wear, and I have a few dollars in my pocket.
Now I wasn’t you to advise me what to do. Shall I send my father a few dollars for Passover, or should I keep the little money for myself? In this place the work will end soon and I may be left without a job. The question is how to deal with the situation. I will do as you tell me.
Your thankful reader,
The answer to this young man is that he should send his father the few dollars for Passover because, since he is young, he will find it easier to earn a living than would he blind father in Russia.
I hope that you will give me the opportunity to tell the world about my sufferings.
Two years ago when I was barely nineteen, I left my home in a small town in Russia. I had read many books that stimulated my imagination and I dreamed of becoming a countess, or at least a millionaire.
After my father died, my mother received a letter from his brother in America, saying that, since he heard times were bad for us, he wanted me to come to him. Later we would also bring my mother over. He wrote that he was wealthy, and with him I would live like a princess. My mother and I agreed that I should go to the rich uncle, and I left for America.
From the day I arrived, my uncle was exceptionally good to me. When I entered the world of luxury I felt that all of my dreams were coming true. His wealth and his indulgence excited me, and as I now recall, I didn’t care that he was becoming more and more familiar in his attitude to me. I didn’t even feel misgivings when my uncle became more intimate with me or when he seduced me. Any regrets I had were submerged in my infatuation. I became his constant mistress.
About eight or nine months ago a young couple came from New York to the town where my uncle lives. Since the man had a brother in town, a man with whom my uncle had business dealing, I became acquainted with the young couple. The man was handsome, polite, decent, and my uncle thought highly of him. The only thing against him was that he spoke like a Socialist.
One day when the young man was in our house, my uncle suggested that he become my tutor. He remarked that I was still “green” and knew very little English. The young man became my tutor, and I am not ashamed to say that I cherished the opportunity to spend time with him. The man interested me more than his English and his whole education. In time, however, his good manners and polite attitude awakened in me an interest in learning. He taught me not only English, but an understanding of life and man’s struggle for justice. He helped me understand the meaning of Socialism.
His sweet wife, too, became my teacher and I learned a great deal from both of them. But hear how I repaid them for their kindness.
Suddenly I realized that I was pregnant. I told my uncle I was to become a mother, and to my astonishment he answered cold-bloodedly that something would be done about it. I didn’t want to undergo such a criminal operation, and told him I would tell everyone the truth. He said, “Fool, who would believe you!” (He was a prominent man and a trustee in the synagogue.) Soon he came up with another suggestion: he would say I was seduced by my tutor.
Naturally, I could not agree to the vile proposal, to smear the good name of such a decent and innocent person. My uncle ignored me, however, and carried out his evil plan. He declared that the man was never to come to his house again, because I had said that he had seduced him. I had neither the opportunity or courage to clear the innocent man, and I was tormented. Once the young man forced his way into my uncle’s house. From my rooms I heard him shouting that I should confront him before everybody and say he was guilty. I started toward the room with the impulse to cry out that he was innocent, and I wanted to tell everybody of my uncle’s wickedness. But I was overcome by emotion and fell to the floor in a faint.
The same day I was taken to the hospital in a critical condition. And thus, because of me, was a decent good man’s reputation sullied. When I left the hospital, I did not return to my “rich uncle.” I live alone now, lonely and poor. My aim in life is to announce to the world who was guilty in my misfortune and to clear the name of my good teacher. Maybe I’ll have the chance to fall at his feet and beg him for forgiveness. I beg you to publish my letter in the name of the innocent man.
We print this letter primarily I the interests of the innocent young man. If the letter writer’s uncle is really as she pictures him, he is one of the degenerate creatures on earth. Nevertheless, the writer of the letter should never have been allowed this false accusation to be made against the young man.
Since I been a Forward reader from the early days, I hope you will allow me to unburden my heart in the “Bintel Brief.”
Nineteen years ago, when I was a child, I came to American. Later I was married here. I was never rich financially, but wealthy in love. I loved my husband more than anything in the world. We had seven children, the oldest is now thirteen. But God did not want us to be happy, and after years of hard work, my husband developed consumption.
When does a working man go to Colorado? When he has one foot in the grave.
When I began to talk to my husband about his going to Colorado, he answered that he couldn’t leave me alone with the children, and he kept working till he collapsed. When I was pregnant with my seventh child, I finally sent him away.
As time went on, he wrote me that he was feeling better, and no one was as happy as I. I counted the minutes till I could be with my husband again. Meanwhile, I had a baby and had to make the bris alone. When my baby was three months old, I took my seven children and went to my husband.
My husband told me he had opened a small business in Colorado, and hoped to make a living. But I heard him cough, and when I questioned him, he answered with a bitter smile that there was no cure for this illness. I immediately saw my tragedy and wouldn’t let him work. I went out peddling with a basket, and left him at home with the children. I tried to make a living, I got a little aid, but my husband became gradually weaker.
For about fourteen months my husband didn’t leave his bed. I was willing to do the hardest work to keep him alive. I fought my bitter lot like a lion, to chase the angel of death from my husband, but alas, he won. I was left along and poor, with seven little orphans. With my husband’s death my spirit and courage died, and I neglected my house and children.
My friends were afraid I might go mad, and they convinced me to go back to New York. I arrived at ten o’clock of a rainy November night and stood in the street with my children, broken and tired, with no place to go, my tears mingling with the falling rain.
Imagine how I felt then—I set out with the children to seek my husband’s sister. I cannot describe the scene when I came to her that night and told her of the death of her only brother. I had decided that if she would not take me in, I would throw myself into the river.
But I found comfort with his poor sister. She kept me and the children four weeks, and during this time I placed four of the children in an orphanage. I am now left with three, but I cannot earn a living. If I were to go back to Colorado with the three children, I could make a living peddling, and could possible plan a future for the four when they got out of the orphanage. There they would have the fresh air, here I am afraid they might inherit their father’s sickness. But it is hard for me to leave the four. I am brokenhearted every time I go to see them. I live here in dreary infested rooms, I can’t earn a living, and my heart draws me there, where my husband died. Of what use is the great city with its people when for me it is narrow and dark?
With tear-filled eyes I beg you, dear Editor, to advise me what to do. Maybe through you I will find solace for my broken heart.
Your constant reader,
A Young Widow
We believe the writer’s duty demands that she go to Colorado to work there with the hope that in a short time she will be able to have her four children from the orphanage with her. Her devotion to her children will help her overcome her troubles and give her consolation.
What People are Saying About This
"A Bintel Brief was a part of my life at a time when anything that is a part of your life is of crucial importance . . . Isaac Metzker has reminded me of a debt I can never repay. Maybe you will help me. By reading this wonderful, wonderful book. Anti telling other people to read it. You will be doing them and every other American a service."
—Jerome Weidman, The New York Times Book Review
"The letters reveal a rather wide range of opinion, but one constant throughout the years seems to have been ethical perplexities, and it is impressive that no many readers wrote in not to be told that they were right, but to find out what, in the opinion of the editors and the other readers, was right."
—The New Yorker
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Despite its small size (214 pages), A Bintel Brief contains the very essence of Jewish-American New York. Between its pages the culture, society, ideals, hopes and dreams of immigrants struggling to call America their own come pouring out. As a section in the Jewish Daily Forward newspaper, the Bintel Brief was a section of letters to the editor, edited by Isaac Metzker. Many of the letters were based on ethical conundrums; people seeking advice on issues like relationships, work ethic, and the daily struggle to make ends meet. The writers of these letters placed a high value on the opinion of the editor, seeking his advice, his blessing, his approval. However, some are attempts at communication with a missing loved one; a calling out of sorts. The Bintel Brief was a vehicle for exposing mistreated spouses, publicizing petty family arguments, and searching for loved ones.