On the "Native Shrewdness" of Jewish Hoboes

[A] steady stream of Jewish hoboes, jocularly known in their own circles as "trombenicks," knocks at the doors of charity day in and day out, begging for food, clothing and shelter...As in every other walk of life, the Jew has fully contributed his peculiarly characteristic subtlety, native shrewdness, and quaint dry humor to the already baffling person of the hobo, like pungent oil poured over an inextinguishable flame.

Thus wrote Ralph Astrofsky in March 1928, in the Jewish Social Service Quarterly (now the Journal of Jewish Communal Service).

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 From the J-Vault: "Trombenicks" or Jewish Hoboes (1928)

Astrofsky is writing not as a disconnected observer, but rather as a social services worker who has been immersed in helping Jewish hoboes:

I have interviewed two thousand men in some four years, listened to their hard luck stories, heard them tell their experience in their colorful language, and observed the reckless disregard of the accepted conventions and open contempt for the contented and respectable wage-earners by the more misanthropic vagrants...

"Nature won't let me break away," "Jerusalem Slim" told me. He was one of a large and poor family who had to leave his home at the age of fifteen to support himself, and he has been a hobo since. "In school, some guys were naturally born math sharks, but nuts, say, in history. Well, I'm the nut in the course of life. But I should worry. Some guys can even beat life and play tricks on it, but I'm always the grand joke. Maybe, if I was a fink (professional strike-breaker) I could make enough money to settle down. But I got my principles. Oh, well, I guess I'm a bum and ain't got no excuse."

Unafraid of sweeping generalization, Astrofsky compares Jewish and Gentile hoboes:

The Jewish hobo who, in spite of himself, drifts into vagabondage, becomes more enthralled to the road after each futile effort to free himself, but unlike his Christian companion, still expects at some future date liberation and a home through marriage. Your Gentile hobo loses hope, fills his stomach with rotten liquor at every opportunity, and shoots needles into his arms to relieve his aching heart. The Jewish tramp will take refuge in metaphysics or "riddles," as he calls it, break up a game of dice to which he is not adapted, and start a poker game instead...

Unlike the Gentile hobo, the "trombenick" does not allow himself as readily to become the victim of an older and unscrupulous tramp of homo-sexual tendencies, commonly known among them as a "wolf." Sex perversion is generally frowned upon by Jewish hoboes, although they freely indulge their normal desires in the cheapest brothels where they never once fail to admonish an inhabitant of their own faith for her disgraceful profession.

The whole piece, written shortly before the onset of the Great Depression, is fascinating reading. In the following years, Astrofsky followed it up with Homeless and Transients, Report of the National Committee on Transients, and A National Approach to the Transient Problem.

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To learn more about Jewish homelessness and poverty in the greater New York area in our times, visit the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty.

Event: Is Jewish Education Broken?

Image- Speakers Lab

Is Jewish Education Broken? debates new visions for liberal Jewish schools in the 21st century. Presented by Speakers' Lab, a new public programming initiative of the Posen Foundation, with Tablet Magazine and The New School for Public Engagement, Jewish Cultural Studies Program.

As enrollment declines in liberal Jewish schools, scholars and educators are asking critical questions about the relevance of Jewish education to today's students. Is Jewish Education Broken? will explore current models and challenges facing liberal Jewish education, and propose new curricula and educational models for teachers and administrators for the future. Concerns and topics will include:

  • The discrepancy between 20th century Jewish educational models and 21st century perspectives on Jewish life.
  • The teaching of Jewish culture as ahistorical and disconnected from contemporary life.
  • The role of Jewish schooling in Jewish continuity.
  • Concerns about using the American school model to teach Jewish culture.
  • The rise of new and informal Jewish educational models.
  • The challenges of teaching minority education in America.

Panelists:

  • Zvi Bekerman, Director of the Melton Centre for Jewish Education, Hebrew U.
  • Benjamin Jacobs, Assistant Professor of Social Studies, Education and Jewish Studies, NYU
  • Jonathan Krasner, Associate Professor of the American Jewish Experience, HUC-JIR
  • Tali Zelkowicz, Assistant Professor of Education, HUC-JIR.
  • Moderator: Bethamie Horowitz, Research Assistant Professor, NYU.

Free and open to the public. Seating is limited and pre-registration is encouraged. Sign-up at www.speakerslab.org or by calling 212-564-6711 x305.

Steven M. Cohen on President Obama's Drop in Share of Jewish Vote

Haaretz

From Haaretz, in an article behind a paywall:

Steven M. Cohen, a prominent sociologist of American Jewry and director of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive at New York University said it was important to put the Jewish vote in context with the trend of a downturn of support for Obama among the broader white vote in the election. Obama’s share of the white vote dropped from 43 percent in 2008 to 39 percent in this election, mostly because of the economy. “Whites votes for Obama dropped by four percent and Jewish vote for Obama dropped by five percent. Statistically that means there is no difference. And compared to whites, Jews are just as firmly in the Democratic camp as they were in 2008,” he said, citing a Workman’s Circle survey released in July that he conducted that indicated Jews make their voting decisions primarily based on views on economic justice and social inclusion.

If you're a Haaretz subscriber, you can read the rest of the article here: Sibling Rivalry: American Jews spar over the meaning of the Jewish vote

Browse BJPA for: Elections; Political Behavior; Voting Patterns