Tag Archives: European Jewish immigrants

The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902: Immigrant Housewives and the Riots That Shook New York City Book Review

Food is more than the nourishment our body needs to survive. It tells the story of the people who prepared it.

The Great Kosher Meat War of 1902: Immigrant Housewives and the Riots That Shook New York City by Scott Seligman was published last year. One of the major tenets of traditional Judaism is keeping kosher. That means that certain foods are off limits. Meat and dairy dishes cannot be combined in the same meal. There must be two sets of dishes and two sets of preparation tools. Most of all, the only acceptable meat is kosher. The problem with kosher meat is that it is more expensive than its non-kosher counterpart.

In May of 1902, many Jewish families who resided in New York City were poor immigrants, barely struggling to get by. But in spite of the hardships, they were determined to maintain their traditions. That included the food they purchased and consumed. When the price of the animal based proteins rose beyond what many could afford, women took to the streets, believing that price gouges were responsible for the increase. What started out as a non-violent movement turned into a battle for the hearts and minds of the community. Led by women who lacked the education and opportunities of their uptown peers, it is a story of not just economic survival, but the average person fighting against the powerful.

This book is obviously a niche subject and right up my alley. This is my history and the women I come from. Instead of keeping silent, they stood up for themselves and their community. In doing so, these women blazed a path and helped to created the blueprint for the modern non-violent protest that we see today.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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The Treatment of the Haitian Immigrants is Wrong and Un-American

America is made for and by immigrants. With the exception of being Native American, most of us can say that at least one person in our family came from another part of the world. The problem is that there are many people who forget this, or even worse think that they can amend our immigration policies to fit their racist ideals.

The truth is that no one wants to leave their homes if it is not necessary. If we live in a nation with a stable economy and political system, feel safe, and have access to education, jobs, and other opportunities, there is no need to go. But there are many places around the world in which life is harder than it needs to be, forcing many to flee in hopes of finding what they did not have in the land of their birth.

Last week, as Haitian migrants gathered at the US/Mexico border, they were attacked by law enforcement on horseback. Some were whipped as they tried to get away, creating reminders of the treatment of runaway slaves who were caught before they could reach freedom.

I can’t blame these people for wanting to leave Haiti. Between multiple natural disasters and the presidential assassination of Jovenel Moïse that has resulted in chaos and lawlessness, what reason is there to stay? We have every right to protect our borders and make sure that those who we allow to enter are not going to make trouble. But at the same time, we should be treating them as human beings. We are not obligated to let everyone into the country. But we are obligated to give them a chance.

This is not the America I know. The America I know welcomed my relations more than a century ago, providing safety and the chance to thrive that did not exist in Europe. If we do not at least attempt to live up to our promises and our values by letting at least some of the Haitians at the border into the country, we will be nothing more than a fraud and a lie. That is nothing short of heartbreaking and disgusting.

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Here, Right Matters: An American Story Book Review

Sometimes, fate gives us a choice. When our conscious speaks, we can either listen to it. The other option is to do nothing.

Former US Army Colonel Alexander Vindman tell his story in his new memoir, Here, Right Matters: An American Story. Published earlier this month, the reader is taken into his world and the Biden-Ukraine conspiracy as he experienced it. Born in 1975 in the former Soviet Union, he emigrated with his widowed father and brothers in the late 1970’s. Raised in the Brighton Beach section of Brooklyn, he joined the military as an adult.

On July 25th, 2019, Vindman had to make a decision. He could stay silent as a certain former President acted in a way that was completely unprecedented (not to mention cross a moral and legal boundary). Instead, he spoke up. This, as we all know, led to the impeachment trial and the public slander of Vindman by certain people in the government and the press.

This book is amazing. It counters the lies and the trash that accuses him of being disloyal and unappreciative of what this country has given him. He was willing to forgo his career and his reputation to stand up to a President who is not only a con-man, but had no intention looking out for anyone except for himself.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World Book Review

One of the major tenets of Judaism is “tikkun olam“. In English, it means “repair the world” and in our modern lingo, it is social justice.

Hasia R. Diner‘s 2017 biography of the late businessman and philanthropist, Julius Rosenwald is entitled Julius Rosenwald: Repairing the World. Born in 1862 to Jewish immigrants, his early years were modest. As an adult, he took over the helm of Sears, Roebuck & Company and made it the retail giant of it’s day. He also ahead of his time in the manner that he treated his staff and his approach to those who were not as fortunate as he was. Instead of putting his names on buildings and using his wealth for conspicuous consumption, he was passionate about giving back. In addition to supporting his co-religionists, he supported the African-American community in a way that many Caucasians did not in that early 20th century.

Before reading this book, I had no idea who Rosenwald was. He is one of those figures in Jewish history who is not as well known as others of his day. This is a quick read (in a good way) and a story that I think is inspiring for us all, regardless of faith or family origin. It shows that it is possible to be a mensch and not give into the preconceived notions of other people.

Do I recommend it? Yes.

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Letters Across the Sea Book Review

War has a way to pulling us apartment, forcing us to see someone else as “the other”. It can also bring us together and remind us of our common humanity.

Letters Across the Sea, by Genevieve Graham, was published earlier this year. In Toronto in the summer of 1933, Hannah Dreyfus and Molly Ryan are best friends. Both the grandchildren of immigrants (Eastern European Jews and Irish Catholic respectively), they are friends in a time in which antisemitism is rising in their hometown. Though Molly only sees her BFF and has a crush on Max, Hannah’s big brother, other people are not so tolerant of their differences. Things come to a boil in August during the Christie Pits riot, forcing Hannah and Molly to go their separate ways.

Six years later, World War II is on the horizon. After years of toiling at any job she could get, Molly has finally gotten her dream job as a journalist. Men from across the country have enlisted. Among them are Max and Molly’s brothers. When the letters from the soldiers start to arrive, Molly must contend with the past and the unspoken truth that has been buried since that night in 1933.

This book is amazing. Graham’s eye for the historical facts while creating a fictional world is top notch. I was fully invested in the story, hoping that Molly and Max would get together while praying that the male characters would come home. It was a history lesson in the best way, learning about this time in Canadian history without feeling like the reader is sitting in a university lecture hall.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely.

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The Third Daughter: A Novel Book Review

History seems to always have a way of teaching the current generation, that is if they are willing to listen.

Talia Carner‘s 2019 novel, The Third Daughter: A Novel, was published last fall. In 1889, Batya is a fourteen year old Jewish girl trying to escape Europe with her family. The many pogroms that have turned her world upside down. Along the way to hopeful freedom, a handsome and wealthy man presents himself. He wants to marry Batya and give her a new life in America.

It seems like a fairy tale ending to what has been a horrific experience. But like many fairy tales, it is nothing but a sham. Batya is sold into prostitution or “white slavery” along with thousands of other young immigrant women in Buenos Aires.

As the years pass, she adjusts to her forced circumstances, but still dreams of the day when she will be reunited with her family. When an opportunity appears to become a Tango dancer, Batya takes it. It is also an opportunity to get justice for herself and the other women forced to earn their living on their backs.

Previous to reading this book, I thought white slavery was a story told to young girls to keep them chained to the patriarchy. To say that I was educated by the novel is an understatement. I thought that I knew almost everything there was to know about Jewish immigration around the turn of the 20th century. I was wrong.

I loved this book. It was well written, entertaining and educational without hitting the reader over the head.

I recommend it.

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Thoughts On Last Night’s Syria Strike

Last night it was announced that US, UK and France successfully hit its targets in Syria. The airstrike was in response to the chemical attack on the citizens of Douma last weekend.

While the airstrike does it’s job in sending a message to the Syrian regime, there is a component missing that is ignored at least by the current administration: the Syrian refugees who are being prevented from entering the United States. So far this year, only 11 Syrian refugees have been allowed to enter the country.

Since you know who took office last year, the parallels to Nazi Germany have been spoken of frequently.

In May of 1930, the St. Louis sailed from Hamburg to Havana. Most of the passengers were Jews, looking for sanctuary from the destruction and prejudice they were experiencing in Europe.

To make a long story short, the ship was stuck in limbo. Only a handful of the passengers were allowed to disembark in Cuba. America refused to open her doors to those who were still on board. As a result, the ship has to return to Europe. While some of the allied countries took a few passengers, the rest were sent back to Germany. 254 of the passengers were killed in the Holocaust.

While I cannot disagree that we need to protect our borders, we need to open our country up to those who are suffering the most. Military strikes send a message, but so does opening the door and welcoming a people who have lost nearly everything.

But then again, this administration, like the one that turned away the St. Louis seems not to care.

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The Boston Girl Book Review

Growing up seems to be a universal story. No matter where we are from or who we are, the process of growing and changing is not without it’s pitfalls.

Anita Diamant’s new book, The Boston Girl is the story of Addie Baum. Told from the perspective of an older Addie, she tells her granddaughter Ava the story of her life starting in 1915. In 1915, Addie Baum is the youngest child of Eastern European Jewish immigrants who are still not entirely sure that immigrating to America was the best decision. Exposed to the opportunities that America offers, Addie grabs the world by the tail and does not let go. Along the way, she makes friends, lives through life changing historical events and makes a few mistakes, but in the end, she looks back on her life with satisfaction.

I liked this book, but I like Anita Diamant as a writer. She knows how to write complicated, interesting human characters that the audience can relate to. Addie is representative of many young women of the first half of the last century, especially the American born children of immigrants. These young women, who are American by birth, are not burdened with the immigrant status that their parents and older siblings who were born in Europe have. The world is their oyster and they want to explore that world.

I highly recommend it.

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Three Minutes in Poland Book Review

Glenn Kurtz had what many would consider a normal childhood. The grandson of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, he grew up in the security of post World War II America.

In 1938, Glenn’s paternal grandparents, David and Liza Kurtz embarked on a grand tour of Europe with their friends. Part of their trip included visiting the shtetl’s that their families called home for generations. They documented their trip on film. Years later, Glenn discovered the film in his parent’s Florida home. Not knowing the treasure he possessed, Glenn donated the film to the Holocaust Museum.

Several years later, he receives a very interesting telephone call. The woman on the other end of the telephone explains that one of the young boys whose image was captured in the film is her 86 year old grandfather. Maurice Chandler was given them name of Moszek Tuchendler at his birth. Mr. Chandler originated from Nasielsk, Poland, the town that Glenn’s grandparents stopped at during their trip. Mr. Chandler was the only one of his family to survive the war.

Glenn Kurtz’s new memoir, Three Minutes In Poland: Discovering A Lost World In A 1938 Family Film. The book follows Glenn as he meets survivors from Nasielsk and tries to piece together fragments of a world that no longer exists.

I loved this book. It drew me in immediately. Like Mr. Kurtz, I have familial origins in Eastern Europe. Unfortunately, due to time and the lack of information, many of us know only bits and pieces about lives our ancestors lived before World War II.  I was drawn into his quest to find out more about Mr. Chandler, his fellow survivors and the lives they lived before it was brutally ripped from beneath their feet.

I absolutely recommend this book.

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