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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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5. The Situation of Russian Jewish Immigrants in America


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5.  The Situation of Russian Jewish Immigrants in America

5.1  Separating the Desirables from the Undesirables: The Dillingham Commission

Until the beginning of the 20th century, Americans did not view assimilation as a process that needed to be enforced and therefore did not demand great national solidarity.326 Rather, assimilation would come readily under the exposition to American institutions and contacts with American society.327 Nevertheless, in its strongest form, Americanization was equalled to anglo-conformity, demanding “the complete renunciation of the immigrant’s ancestral culture in favor of the behavior and values of the Anglo-Saxon core group.”328 Those, resisting integration into American society could be rejected while the rest of the immigrants would blend into American society. Large-scale immigration of groups with no Protestant background starting in the mid-1800s changed this relative complacency towards assimilation in America: the growing number of Irish, German and until then relatively unfamiliar groups from Southern and Eastern Europe, including Jewish immigrants from the Pale with a culture total foreign to Americans.329 A large share of those immigrants, especially the Irish, Italians and Russian Jews moved to urban areas in the United States, overcrowding the poorest parts of the cities. Internal migration of people to northern cities, massive economic growth and the effects of modernization on the complex social framework of American society complicated the situation further.

With a growing number of immigrants settling in urban slums, municipal reformers started to connect poverty, crime and political corruption...

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