Out of the Shadow

Out of the Shadow: A Russian Jewish Girlhood on the Lower East Side

Copyright Date: 1995
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    Out of the Shadow
    Book Description:

    In this appealing autobiography, Rose Cohen looks back on her family's journey from Tsarist Russia to New York City's Lower East Side. Her account of their struggles and of her own coming of age in a complex new world vividly illustrates what was, for some, the American experience. First published in 1918, Cohen's narrative conveys a powerful sense of the aspirations and frustrations of an immigrant Jewish family in an alien culture.

    With uncommon frankness, Cohen reports her youthful impressions of daily life in the tenements and of working conditions in garment sweatshops and domestic service. She introduces a large cast, including her co-workers, employers, mentors, family members, and friends. In simple yet moving terms, she recalls how, while confronting setbacks caused by poor health and dilemmas posed by courtship, she finds opportunities to educate herself. She also records the gradual weakening of her family's commitment to religion as they find their way from the shadow of poverty toward the mainstream of American life.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7143-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Introduction to the 1995 Edition
    (pp. ix-xxii)

    “This is the story of a Russian Jewish immigrant girl who came to this country at the age of 12, and who, after years of hard work, privation, and perplexity, found a settled life.... It leads to no conclusion of arresting prosperity. It has in it few ‘high lights’ of any kind. It is just such a record as may be true of thousands of immigrant girls. Therein its greatest value lies.”¹ So wrote one reviewer, describingOut of the Shadow, the 1918 autobiography of an otherwise unknown Russian Jewish immigrant, Rose Gollup Cohen. Encouraged by a night-class instructor, Cohen...

    (pp. 7-66)

    I was born in a small Russian village. Our home was a log house, covered with a straw roof. The front part of the house overlooked a large clear lake, and the back, open fields.

    The first time I became aware of my existence was on a cold winter night. My father and I were sitting on top of our red brick oven. The wind, whistling through the chimney and rattling the ice-covered windows, frightened me, and so I pressed close to my father and held his hand tightly. He was looking across the room where mother’s bed stood curtained...

    (pp. 67-146)

    From Castle Garden we drove to our new home in a market wagon filled with immigrants’ bedding. Father tucked us in among the bundles, climbed up beside the driver himself and we rattled off over the cobbled stone pavement, with the noon sun beating down on our heads.

    As we drove along I looked about in bewilderment. My thoughts were chasing each other. I felt a thrill: “Am I really in America at last?” But the next moment it would be checked and I felt a little disappointed, a little homesick. Father was so changed. I hardly expected to find...

    (pp. 147-208)

    For days father kept asking mother to tell him about herself, home, our friends, and relatives. He never seemed to grow tired of hearing it and she repeated the same thing over and over again. And I walked to and from the shop, spent the day there, and what was left of the evening at home, as though I were in a happy dream. Often during these first days I feared that mother’s being here was only a dream. Often at such moments I watched her sitting at the window sewing, making a little shirt perhaps, out of a bit...

    (pp. 209-270)

    And now a new life began for us, and for the second time I became an important person. The children fairly strutted about and boasted about their “oldest sister.” And father talked to the members of his society of the coming engagement. How happy his face looked and how cheerfully he spoke! To him this was the beginning of a new life. He had scarcely ever known what it meant to be free from anxiety. First, from early childhood it was the fear of the army where he would be compelled to violate the laws against God: “Thou shalt not...

    (pp. 271-314)

    It was hard to get used to the old life again when I came home. It was all stranger than ever, the home, my people; their ways. The children’s faces looked lean and a little pale in spite of the sunburn from running about in the streets. Our couch now stood supported by a grocery box; the kitchen looked like nothing more than a black hole; the meals were chance and meagre—oatmeal gruel for dinner. I had good teeth and digestion and I craved substantial food, meat and potatoes. I craved variety.

    Once when I had first met Miss...

  9. Back Matter
    (pp. 315-317)