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Roads Taken

Roads Taken: The Great Jewish Migrations to the New World and the Peddlers Who Forged the Way

Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Roads Taken
    Book Description:

    Between the late 1700s and the 1920s, nearly one-third of the world's Jews emigrated to new lands. Crossing borders and often oceans, they followed paths paved by intrepid peddlers who preceded them. This book is the first to tell the remarkable story of the Jewish men who put packs on their backs and traveled forth, house to house, farm to farm, mining camp to mining camp, to sell their goods to peoples across the world. Persistent and resourceful, these peddlers propelled a mass migration of Jewish families out of central and eastern Europe, north Africa, and the Ottoman Empire to destinations as far-flung as the United States, Great Britain, South Africa, and Latin America.Hasia Diner tells the story of millions of discontented young Jewish men who sought opportunity abroad, leaving parents, wives, and sweethearts behind. Wherever they went, they learned unfamiliar languages and customs, endured loneliness, battled the elements, and proffered goods from the metropolis to people of the hinterlands. In the Irish Midlands, the Adirondacks of New York, the mining camps of New South Wales, and so many other places, these traveling men brought change-to themselves and the families who later followed, to the women whose homes and communities they entered, and ultimately to the geography of Jewish history.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-21019-4
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xxii)
  5. Road Maps: An Introduction
    (pp. 1-12)

    “The Jewish peddler of recent centuries,” wrote Israel Abrahams, a distinguished British Jewish scholar, “was no coward; had he lacked courage he must have remained at home.” Abrahams’s few words—delivered in 1896 as a rebuke to Anatole Leroy-Beaulieu, a French Catholic historian and writer who had recently claimed that Jews shunned “arduous physical undertakings” because they tended to be “ averse to dangerous occupations”—not only revealed an element in the strategy Jews employed in their quest for rights and respectability at the end of the nineteenth century, but it focused attention on the most humble and, literally, most...

  6. 1 Road Warriors: The Migration and the Peddlers
    (pp. 13-50)

    Of the world’s approximately ten million Jews in the period from the end of the eighteenth into the early twentieth century, nearly five million left their homes, the communities of their birth, and went out into the world in search of new places to make a living. They moved mostly from rural areas to cities, from places of low and declining productivity to regions shaped by the commercial and industrial revolutions, beginning at the end of the eighteenth century as they sought out environments throbbing with new opportunities. Of those five million Jewish women and men, half of world Jewry,...

  7. 2 Road Runners: Jewish Peddlers in Their New Worlds
    (pp. 51-83)

    Just as peddling helped launch the modern Jewish exodus out of old homes, so too, it drew the Jews into a wide new world. Peddling’s fundamental characteristics enabled them to achieve their migrations’ goals. While not all Jews peddled upon arrival in new lands, such a large number did that it constituted a mass experience which served the economic and political needs of nearly all, including those who did not pick up a pack and take to the road. It literally opened doors for them, although not all succeeded at it. Some failed miserably, and a scant few experienced meteoric...

  8. 3 Along the Road: Jewish Peddlers and Their New-World Customers
    (pp. 84-114)

    When J. Ida Jiggetts wroteReligion, Diet, and Health of Jewsin 1949, she felt the need to explain why “I, a Negro, am sufficiently interested in the Jewish people to study and write about them.” She invoked her experiences growing up in the American South, citing her memories of “the visits of a Jewish peddler who sold beautiful linens, shawls, china, and other goods.” The weekly visit of the peddler sparked her interest “in the labels I read on the merchandise,” and she found fascinating “his explanations of the folkways of those countries from which the goods had been...

  9. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  10. 4 Road Rage: Jewish Peddlers and the Perils of the Road
    (pp. 115-154)

    The 1904–1905 volume of theAmerican Jewish Yearbookpointed out that during the past year “no startling tragedy” had befallen the Jewish people. After documenting some acts of violence against Jews in some expected hot spots—Poland, Bessarabia, Morocco—Yearbookeditors pointed to one event of that year in one of the Jews’ new-world homes that startled them. They considered what transpired in Limerick, Ireland, “less shocking” than the others, “but more surprising by far.” In this Irish city a “thunderbolt from the blue [was] launched by Father Creagh,” a Redemptorist priest who instigated a campaign against the small...

  11. 5 The End of the Road: Life After Peddling
    (pp. 155-199)

    Sigmund Eisner, age sixty-five, died on January 5, 1925, in the town where he had lived for decades, Red Bank, New Jersey. He had arrived from Bohemia in 1881 so poor that he had to borrow a dollar from a cousin to get started, beginning his American life as an on-the-road peddler. He passed away a wealthy merchant, a clothing manufacturer whose factory churned out uniforms for the Boy Scouts of America. Many soldiers of his adopted land wore the shirts and pants produced in his plant.

    His story had all the makings of the quintessential American success story, a...

  12. Legacies of the Road: A Conclusion
    (pp. 200-212)

    Peddling gave millions of Jews from North Africa and the Ottoman Empire, from the Czarist lands and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, from the Germanic states and Alsace, a chance to spread out to a bigger new geographic canvas. It structured their first footsteps in the British Isles, Sweden, and North, South, and Central America, as well as southern Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Some of these places housed tiny, relatively inconspicuous Jewish communities before the peddlers’ mass arrival. They offered the peoples of these places an instant on-the-ground immersion course in Jews and Judaism, lessons offered on the spot in the...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 213-238)
  14. Index
    (pp. 239-247)