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My Future Is in America: Autobiographies of Eastern European Jewish Immigrants

Jocelyn Cohen
Daniel Soyer
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 329
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  • Book Info
    My Future Is in America
    Book Description:

    In 1942, YIVO held a contest for the best autobiography by a Jewish immigrant on the theme Why I Left the Old Country and What I Have Accomplished in America. Chosen from over two hundred entries, and translated from Yiddish, the nine life stories in My Future Is in America provide a compelling portrait of American Jewish life in the immigrant generation at the turn of the twentieth century.The writers arrived in America in every decade from the 1890s to the 1920s. They include manual workers, shopkeepers, housewives, communal activists, and professionals who came from all parts of Eastern Europe and ushered in a new era in American Jewish history. In their own words, the immigrant writers convey the complexities of the transition between the Old and New Worlds.An Introduction places the writings in historical and literary context, and annotations explain historical and cultural allusions made by the writers. This unique volume introduces readers to the complex world of Yiddish-speaking immigrants while at the same time elucidating important themes and topics of interest to those in immigration studies, ethnic studies, labor history, and literary studies.Published in conjunction with the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-7295-9
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. A Note on Annotations and Transliteration
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: Yiddish Social Science and Jewish Immigrant Autobiography
    (pp. 1-17)
    Jocelyn Cohen and Daniel Soyer

    The life histories in this book are the product of a remarkable collaboration between a scholarly institution and an immigrant community. In 1942, the Yiddish Scientific Institute (known by the acronym YIVO)—which itself had relocated to New York from Vilna, then part of Poland, only two years earlier—called on Jewish immigrants to write their autobiographies.¹ The call took the form of a contest: the writers were to send their manuscripts to YIVO, which would then judge them and award prizes. In response, more than two hundred Jewish immigrants took part in the contest by writing their life stories....

  6. Chapter 1 Success or Failure?
    (pp. 18-34)
    Minnie Goldstein

    My parents and I were born in Poland. I am a sixty-year-old woman. I have always liked to dress neatly and cleanly. I love to take long walks in the fresh air. In the summer I love to bathe and swim in the ocean. People tell me that I do not look older than forty-eight. My mother brought me to America when I was twelve years old. I was married in America.

    As far as I recall, my parents and their parents were all natives of Warsaw. I was born to respectable parents. My grandmother and grandfather had a large...

  7. Chapter 2 Why I Came to America
    (pp. 35-105)
    Ben Reisman

    I was born in Kalush, Galicia, eighteen Polish miles from Lemberg and four miles from Stanislav.¹ The population consisted of nine or ten thousand people, including around four thousand Jews.

    I come from an old, pious Hasidic* family. My father, a learned Jew, made a living as a teacher of young men of marriageable age. At least that is what I was told, because I don’t actually remember my father. He died when I was eleven months old. I was told that I was born in 1876. I had no brothers, just two married sisters. The older one lived in...

  8. Chapter 3 I Have Nothing to Complain About
    (pp. 106-123)
    Shmuel Krone

    Written with God’s help, Friday, the week of the Torah* portion that begins, “Korakh, the son of Izhar,” 5702 , Denver, Colorado.¹

    I, Shmuel Pinkhes, son of Mordecai Krasnitske of blessed memory, known by the name of Krone, was born to poor parents in the year 1869 in a small town, Verkhovichi, Grodno Province, District of Brest. My father was a sexton and a traditional teacher, a Kobriner Hasid* who believed that, as it states in the Gemara*: “Hanina . . . has to subsist on a kab of carobs from one week end to the next.”² That means, one...

  9. Chapter 4 Why I Left My Old Home and What I Have Accomplished in America
    (pp. 124-159)
    Aaron Domnitz

    I want to make use of the autobiographical form, so I will skip many, many things that have occurred in my life. I will record only those details of my childhood that have in my consciousness some connection with my later urge to travel somewhere. Ruminating over my past has renewed in my memory several details that at one time made a strong impression on me, and I portray them here. These too would be interesting for a historian who might sometime ruminate over old documents and want to form a complete picture of the people who took part in...

  10. Chapter 5 What Drove Me to America and My Experiences in Europe and America
    (pp. 160-188)
    Rose Schoenfeld

    It was not one thing but several that drove me to America, as I will relate.

    I was born on the first of the month of Kislev, 1 1884 , in Drogobych, Galicia (fig. 11 ). My father, Yehude Shrayer, was a great Talmudist.* He studied until his wedding at the age of sixteen, when he married my mother. He was descended on his father’s side from the aristocracy of Drogobych. The Shrayers were the richest family and all of the town’s industry lay in their hands. On his mother’s side, he was descended from rabbis, assistant rabbis, and ritual...

  11. Chapter 6 My Future Is in America
    (pp. 189-203)
    Rose Silverman

    One can answer the question in just a few words: because things were bad for me and hardship drove me to leave my old home. It’s just that simple.

    But I want to return to that time many years ago to recall my childhood, which, it seems, I never had.

    At three and a half years of age I lost my mother. I was the fourth of six children, three sons and three daughters. The youngest was six months old. I was born in Berdichev, Kiev Province. I believe that all six children were born there. To this day, I...

  12. Chapter 7 The Movies Pale in Comparison
    (pp. 204-232)
    Bertha (Brukhe) Fox

    My husband is a member of the Workmen’s Circle.* Just now, reading over the Workmen’s Circle periodicalDer fraynd[The Friend; fig. 15 ] after a day of housework, I noticed the announcement about the contest, “ Why I left the Old Country, and what I found in America.”¹ To answer in a few words: I went through so much that all the movies I have seen pale in comparison. If I were to make my own movie, it would be much more vivid. And what did I find in America? A great deal: material contentment, free schooling, free lectures...

  13. Chapter 8 Why I Left the Old Country and What I Have Accomplished in America
    (pp. 233-287)
    Chaim Kusnetz

    Duboy is a village in Minsk Gubernia, Pinsk District,seven versts* from the station at Vidibor, twenty-oneverstsfrom Stolin (formerly Russia, later Poland). About thirty Jewish families lived there, among about five hundred gentile households.

    Duboy had two blacksmiths, both Jews. One of them, Dovid Shloyme, was my father’s father. This Dovid Shloyme was an outstanding scholar, and besides studying on his own—he studied not only at home, but also in his smithy while the iron was heating—he also studied with the most eminent householders of Duboy. When he got married, the landowner gave him a present:...

  14. Chapter 9 I Haven’t Lost Anything by Coming to America
    (pp. 288-310)
    Minnie Kusnetz

    I was born in 1912 in the town of Ruzhany (fig. 20 ), Grodno Province (formerly Russia, now Poland), to pious and genteel parents, though they were not wealthy. My father was a carpenter and barely made a living for the family. We were three girls and two boys. I, one of the three girls, was the fourth child. My mother helped my father earn a livelihood, trading grain, honey, and various other things.

    When my oldest sister turned eighteen she went to America with my mother’s mother, who was a widow. Her children in America had sent my grandmother...

  15. Glossary
    (pp. 311-318)
  16. Index
    (pp. 319-328)
  17. About the Editors
    (pp. 329-330)