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How to Become Jewish Americans?

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


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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2. Jewish Immigration from Eastern Europe


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2.  Jewish Immigration from Eastern Europe

2.1  Russian Jewish Emigration to the United States

Jews from Eastern Europe emigrated to America in small numbers as far back as the Colonial period.63 Official immigration statistics recorded 256 Russians arriving in the United States in 1864. As a mass movement, Russian Jewish immigration began at moderate rates in the 1880s and reached its peak between 1903 and 1906 with about 118,000 on average per year.64

The sudden increase began in the last three decades of the 19th century.65 It remains difficult to arrive at exact numbers of Jewish immigrants from the Pale in those years, as Jews, like other immigrants from Russia, were classified as “Russians” in American records.66 The classification Hebrew for Jews was not introduced until 1899. However, historians assume that most Russian immigrants at that time were Jewish while gentile emigration from Russia remained comparably low. According to the historian Simon Kuznet, about 1.6 million Jews immigrated into the U.S. between 1880 and 1914, with about two thirds concentrated in the second half of that time span.67 These numbers are supported by the estimates of the United Hebrew Charities, as reported in the Jewish Encyclopedia of 1906.68 According to their records, 406,657 Jews from Russia arrived at Castle Garden and Ellis Island between 1884 and October 1903. They accounted for 65 percent of all Jewish immigrants at that time. The second largest group of Jews came from...

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