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How to Become Jewish Americans?

The «A Bintel Brief» Advice Column in Abraham Cahan’s Yiddish «Forverts»

Series:

Magdalena Ewa Bier

Created by Abraham Cahan in 1906, the advice column A Bintel Brief ran as the most enduring feature of the New York Yiddish newspaper Forverts for over seven decades. This study takes a closer look at the letters and responses to A Bintel Brief thereby revealing the hardships of uprooted Eastern European Jews. In an uncharted environment they turned to the column for guidance. In his answers, the editor of The Bintel Brief was always sympathetic, yet pragmatic, encouraging assimilation and ethnic group solidarity, thus paving the way for the readers to become accepted Jewish Americans.
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1. Introduction

Extract

1.  Introduction

Verther redaktor fun “forverts”! Ikh bevunder dem shtarken tsutroyen un gloyben, vos ayere lezer hoben in dem “bintel brief.” Mir kumt for, az bay aykh zitst der hekhster rikhter fun land un mishpt ale sorten pasirungen fun leben mit seykhl, mit yoysher un mit treyst vort.1

In the quote above, taken from the popular A Bintel Brief column in the Yiddish New York newspaper Forverts, a young man expresses his admiration and respect for the editor. After its first publication on January 20th, 1906, the A Bintel Brief column ran as the most enduring feature of the Forverts2 for over seven decades. Roughly 55,000 letters appeared in the newspaper, followed by empathetic pieces of advice from the editorship. A Bintel Brief offered the readers of the Forverts the opportunity to write about whatever problems bothered them in their lives. Then selected letters were printed together with the editor’s advice. The problems the writers described in their letters were far more than cries for help or justice. In the column, the editor offered a variety of stories, ranging from tragic autobiographical accounts to amusing short anecdotes from Jewish immigrant life. What they all had in common was their richness in detail which made those stories such a success. Ninety years after the first published letter and twenty-seven since the last, Jeffrey Shandler in his article for the English version of the Forverts, The Jewish Daily Forward, recalls how to many readers A Bintel Brief...

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