TAKING ROOT by Milton Meltzer


Jewish Immigrants In America
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While the vivid, first-hand memories of struggle and triumph--of William Zorach, Maurice Hindus, Mary Antin, Abraham Cahan, and others--are the backbone of this sequel to his documentary World of Our Fathers (1974), Meltzer isn't content with celebrating the success stories. These are the immigrant milieux of Remember the Days (also 1974) reexamined in a harsher, sociological light: Meltzer focuses on the pressures toward Americanization that turned Mashkes and Yankels into Marys and Jims and on the process by which, in the words of historian Lucy Dawidowicz, "the freedom to make money became an obsession" for some. He shows how whole villages--and the attendant class conflicts--were often reassembled in American garment businesses, and he celebrates the success of Jewish socialists in organizing labor unions yet still questions whether the factory was in all ways a dramatic improvement over the sweatshop where, as in the factory the work was "more minute, more intense, and more monotonous." Similarly, the reminisces of those who found public education a thrilling opportunity are balanced by the caution that the schools still failed to equalize opportunities for Jews or any other group. And nostalgia for the old Daily Forward--recalled here along with the Yiddish theater and Essex Street cafes--is tempered by a reminder that the Yiddish press developed its own brand of yellow journalism. Although others have drawn on much of the same sources (Karp's Golden Door to America [p. 667, adult] is the most recent and rich), Meltzer's succinct and intelligent commentary can serve, simultaneously, as a popular introduction to the era and a reexamination of the melting pot myths. . . and it could be an agreeable bridge to the more than 75 titles in his well selected bibliography.
Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1976
ISBN: 0440984920
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1976


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