THE DOWNTOWN JEWS: Portraits of an Immigrant Generation by Ronald Sanders

THE DOWNTOWN JEWS: Portraits of an Immigrant Generation

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A misleading title, since the keystone portrait, the outstanding artifact in this sensitive example of ""ethnic archeology,"" is the personality and career of Abraham Cahan, guiding spirit for over fifty years of New York's jewish Daily Forward, a Yiddish language newspaper. It is Mr. Sanders' implicit view that within the affinities of Cahan and the Forward lie strong clues to American-Jewish identifications from, the 1880's through World War II, with a hint of some present cultural dilemmas. Leaving Russia in 1882, with a Russian revolutionary ideology welded ironically to a Jewish destiny, Cahan and his fellow foreign-born intellectuals naturally slipped into a role of filling the ""moral vacuum"" left by a displaced rabbinate. In the early, generally leaderless, struggle of Jewish labor, Cahan developed a lively reputation for exhortatory forensics in Yiddish-a twist away from intellectual dialectic. After investigating the volatile political and social temper of the Lower East Side community at the time, Sanders follows Cahan's writing career in Yiddish and English, from socialist morality tales to the landmark novel, The Rise of David Levinsky. (Cahan was aided and sponsored by William Dean Howells, wh om he admired for his social realism.) As events and changes consolidated political and cultural forces, Cahan and the Forward moved along from a ""period of youthful exuberance through a time of social upheaval into. . . an attitude of moderate establishmentarianism, and to a certain spiritual disappointment that went with it."" A uniquely focused reflection of a culture in the career of one of its prime movers.

Pub Date: Dec. 3rd, 1969
Publisher: Harper & Row