THE GOLDEN DOOR TO AMERICA: The Jewish Immigrant Experience by Abraham J.--Ed. Karp

THE GOLDEN DOOR TO AMERICA: The Jewish Immigrant Experience

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A documentary history of the Jewish presence in America: personal reminiscences, official reports, newspaper accounts, and contemporary analyses from three centuries of assimilation into die goldene medina--the Golden Land--beginning with Peter Stuyvesant's unsuccessful 1654 attempt to throw a handful of Portuguese Jews out of New Amsterdam. The colonial experience of the scattered Jewish families was often forlorn and bewildering, but reasonably free of fear. The German Jewish immigrants of the mid-19th century achieved some visible prosperity in Eastern mercantile and professional strata--but more characteristic were the itinerant peddlers who roamed the new land from Boston to St. Louis, staggering under the double burden of the heavy pack and the ignominy of ""such a trade."" The great Eastern European influx after the 1880s furnishes most of Karp's material: contemporary descriptions of tenements and sweatshops (with wonderful excerpts from Hutchins Hapgood's The Spirit of the Ghetto); self-righteous perorations by Brahmin proponents of restricted immigration; excerpts from the Daily Forward's famous ""Bintel Brief."" There are recollections of the thankless self-education process (""As I struggled through The Vicar of Wakefield, I marked down the meaning of every word I did not know""); memories of defeated, alienated parents and vocational dead ends or of cheerfully struggling parents and modest success; accounts of breaks with religion or triumphant foundings of new shuln. This is a deftly constructed sampler rather than an omnibus; Karp's selections have a way of breaking off at tantalizing moments. But it is a lovely companion to Irving Howe's massive World of Our Fathers (1975), and an absorbing collection in its own right.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1976
Publisher: Viking