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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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6. The Language of A Bintel Brief


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6.  The Language of A Bintel Brief

The previously mentioned term oysgrinen – an incorporation and change of the American greenhorn into Yiddish – demonstrates how quickly the new culture influenced Yiddish life in the United States through language. A fast acquisition of English constituted a certain way to social and economic advancement for immigrants.

6.1  Yiddish in the United States

According to the 1910 census, a total of 1,676,762 persons claimed Yiddish as their mother tongue in the United States.498 The greatest part of Yiddish speaking immigrants in the United States at the beginning of the 20th century came from the Russian Empire (including the annexed parts of eastern Poland). Over 50 per cent of immigrants from Russia claimed to speak Yiddish. From today’s perspective it is difficult to determine the exact number of Jewish immigrants from the Pale of Settlement who spoke only Yiddish in their daily life as the U.S. census does not differentiate between Jews and gentiles in the category “Country of Origin.” Consequently, Jews and Russians were listed in the same group. Nevertheless, estimates are possible, as a note in the census indicates: “To get the true number who are Jewish in stock this percentage must be increased by a small portion of those who were reported as Polish, German, or Russian, in mother tongue.”499 This statement reveals the assumption that Jewish immigrants from Russia rarely ever claimed non-Yiddish languages as their mother tongue...

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