From the J-Vault: "in his own language"

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"For the success of this work of Americanizing and educating the immigrant," writes Rabbi Henry Cohen, "one thing is essential. You must go to him first in a friendly and democratic way in his own language."

As you may have seen, our March newsletter featured a Reader's Guide to Jewish Languages, in connection with an upcoming event on Dual Language Public Schools. (March 26th, from 3 to 5. Click here to RSVP.) At the event, educators and scholars will discuss issues of language and education, especially as they relate to issues of culture and identity in the United States. This installment of the J-Vault explores related concepts.

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This week, from the J-Vault: The Immigrant Publication Society (1915)

You ask me to give you an account of our new society. I am very glad to do so, particularly at this time, when the need of making all our immigrants a vital part of the nation is greater than ever before...

For the success of this work of Americanizing and educating the immigrant, one thing is essential. You must go to him first in a friendly and democratic way in his own language. This is the only way to reach him. Every stress must of course be laid upon the necessity of his learning English, and simple and practical books on learning it must be promptly offered him. But to the cleverest, the simplest English book is at first impossible. Not everyone has the gift of languages. Some few never learn any English at all, but, fortunately, experience gives abundant proof that the immigrant can absorb the spirit of the new country through his own language...

The first step in so essentially a patriotic American work was the preparation, curiously enough at the suggestion of the Royal Italian Immigration Commission, of an Immigrant's Guide, telling the newcomer the things which he needs to know, and which he knows he needs... The success of this "Little Green Book," as it was at once called, was immediate. With the cordial help of many interested Jewish societies, it was soon carefully adapted in every detail for the use of the English - speaking immigrants.

Describing the success of the book, and bolstering his case for the need of a new organization dedicated to publishing non-English books, Rabbi Cohen noted that the New York Public Library was in the midst of a sharp rise in demand for Yiddish books.

But ordinarily the librarian in opening a department in a foreign language is forced to depend upon a chance adviser, with consequences that are sometimes amusing, sometimes really disastrous. The problem presents serious difficulties. How can the librarian be sure of giving the immigrant the best books and papers in his own language, not only for his pleasure, but very practically to help him, explaining America and its opportunities, putting before him the means of learning English, of becoming an American citizen, and of satisfying many of the most important necessities of his new life? How can the librarian be sure that she is not innocently placing on the shelves books that are atheistic, anarchistic, propagandizing, indecent or simply "trash?" What hooks should she buy first? What size are they? What do they cost? How shall the foreigner be taught the privileges and rules of the library?...

How remarkable a thing it is that the first popular Yiddish bibliography published in America should be printed at the insistence of American librarians—one of a series that Mr. Anderson, with the practical experience of New York, says, are: "Exactly what we need to help us make the immigrant understand America and its institutions."

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Featured: When Illegal Immigrants Are Jews

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In the June 2011 issue of Sh'ma, immigration lawyer Douglas Hauer notes that illegal immigration is a "Jewish issue" not merely because of American Jewry's history with immigration, but also because of the present situation of many Jewish illegal immigrants:

What both sides of the debate seem to agree on is that illegal immigration is not specifically a Jewish problem... Few associate the names Bernstein or Cohen with being an illegal immigrant. But we should. Although little is written on illegal Jewish immigrants, they exist. They are also invisible.

As an immigration lawyer, I have met Jews who are living without lawful immigration status. They are from Israel, Romania, Russia, Latin America, Canada, and other places. What they share in common is an inability to become legal residents of the United States. A future green card is precluded. Many came lawfully on visas, but lost their status after a layoff or the breakup of a marriage. There are no statistics on illegal Jewish immigrants. Their Jewishness is erased when they are counted with other illegal immigrants.

How would any of us react if a family in our congregation were to be arrested and detained for overstaying a visa? I have met entire families in the Jewish community who face exactly this risk in America, the Goldene Medina — the land of golden opportunity...

...Absent from any statistical data is important information about the subjective fear of bureaucracy that inhibits some of these individuals from seeking any resolution to an expired visa... Our U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have become especially zealous in the past few years. Just last month, I spent many hours at an airport while my client, a Holocaust survivor from Israel, was interrogated about her visa and her intention to stay here only temporarily. It is hard to justify interrogating an Israeli Holocaust survivor on the pretext of security or law enforcement. Even as a lawyer who practices in this field, I am intimidated by the behavior of our government officials. This feeling of intimidation must be so much more personal and frightening for Jews who have experienced persecution...

...We need broad, sweeping immigration reform. Punitive state laws, such as Arizona’s AZ SB 1071, which would require law enforcement officials to collect racial and ethnic information from each pedestrian or driver of a vehicle they stop, are driven by populist sentiments and angry voters, not by justice. These laws target primarily Latino communities and are unconstitutional. Instead of repairing a problem, these laws are costly, and they produce litigation. Our community needs to speak out against these laws. We should do so as Jews and as fair-minded Americans, and especially on behalf of the invisible illegal Jewish immigrants who have no voice.

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From the J-Vault: Arab-Jewish Relations, Pre-Statehood

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On a day which saw comedienne Sarah Silverman offer her prescription for Middle East peace at the Israeli Presidential Conference -- a conference whose theme is "Tomorrow" -- let's take a look back at the Israel of yesterday, through the eyes of one of America's most important Zionists: Henrietta Szold.

This week, from the J-Vault: Recent Jewish Progress in Palestine (1916)

While Szold's report is mostly concerned with immigration figures, economic development, urban planning, village life, and other such logistical concerns, one section discusses relations between Arabs and Jews, and makes the reader long for an alternate and peaceful past that did not occur:

In general, the relation between Jews and Arabs is not unsatisfactory, in spite of the friction that occurs at certain points of contact. The reasonable expectation is that it will improve, because the mutual respect is increasing. The Arab has begun to recognize the value that has accrued to him and the land by the presence and the activity of the Jew. He already pays him the flattery of imitation. In some places he has adopted the modern methods and implements introduced by the Jew. On the other hand, the Jew recognizes that the Arab may be his teacher in all that relates to the soil. His fiber is, as it were, habituated to it. He knows it by instinct. For instance, the primitive plow of the Arab husbandman, wielded by his predecessor on the soil three thousand years ago, it was thought must be baniyhed beyond recall. More careful investigation has demonstrated that on some soils deep upturning is harmful; the superficial scratching of the wooden plowshare with its small iron attachment is exactly what is needed. Such recognitions of mutual helpfulness will multiply and make for a better understanding and neighborly tolerance. But that the relation is an aspect of Jewish colonization that will require wisdom and tact and statesmanship can and should not be minimized; nor are the leaders of Palestine public opinion guilty of neglect in this particular.

Szold goes on to describe the presence of a significant number of Russian converts to Judaism. She also predicts that Yemenite Jews, who are "tenaciously and loyally Jewish, intellectually alert," but "Arabic in speech and habit," will be "a cement between Arab and Jew, between the industrially-minded Jew of the city and the agriculturally minded Jew of the country, between Sefardi and Ashkenazi."

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From the J-Vault: American Jewish Politics 100 Years Ago

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On a day when the Israeli Prime Minister will address the U.S. Congress, it is worth zooming out to look at Jewish involvement with American government from a more distant perspective -- to ask, for example: with what were American Jewish political advocates concerned a century ago?

Let's find out.

This week, from the J-Vault: The Government of the United States and Affairs of Interest to the Jews (1911)

This excerpt from the American Jewish Yearbook contains the following interesting items, among others:

Sen. Lee S. Overman (N. C.) introduces bill (S. 4514), providing for a $10 head tax, an educational test, the production of certificate of good character, the possession of $25, and other restrictive features [for immigration policy]...

Sen. Joseph F. Johnston (Ala.) submits a report (No. 81), on the bill (S. 404) introduced by him on March 22, 1909, for the proper observance of Sunday as a day of rest in the District of Columbia...

Rep. Adolph J. Sabath (111.), in a speech in the House, denounces the Immigration Commission for its "libel" on the Jewish people in its report on the White Slave Traffic...

After debate, in the course of which Senators Bailey (Tex.) and Money (Miss.) pay tribute to Jewish people, Senate passes bill (S. 404), introduced by Senator J. F. Johnston (Ala.), on March 22, 1909, for the proper observance of Sunday as a day of rest in the District of Columbia, amended so as to exempt from its penalties persons who observe as a day of rest any other day of the week than Sunday...

Rep. Everis A. Hayes (Cal.) introduces bill (H. R. 21,342), providing that the naturalization laws shall apply only to " white persons of the Caucasian race."...

Rep. Everis A. Hayes (Cal.) introduces bill (H. R. 24,993), providing that Section 2169 of the Revised Statutes, which accords the right of naturalization to "free white persons " and Africans, shall not be construed so as to prevent "Asiatics who are Armenians, Syrians, or Jews from becoming naturalized citizens."

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Special J-Vault for Yom HaShoah

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This Monday, May 2, marks Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. In honor of this important occasion of communal memory, we have prepared a special installment of our J-Vault series, which highlights historical materials in BJPA's holdings.

The publications below, written by American Jewish communal professionals in 1937 - 1939, offer a fascinating (and sometimes chilling) glimpse into American Jewish perceptions of the situation of Europe's Jews during a time when Nazi antisemitic persecutions had begun to unfold, but had not yet nearly reached their horrific apogee. They are all from the journal Jewish Social Service Quarterly, which is now the Journal of Jewish Communal Service.

This week from the J-Vault: Publications from the late 1930s

Jewish Morale in the Present Situation (September 1937)
Distressed by the oppression of German Jews, Morris D. Waldman nonetheless held out hope for the project of emancipation and Jewish integration into Diaspora societies. He saw in certain Jewish and Zionist perspectives echoes of the Nazi "theories that the Jews are a distinct race, alien, unadaptable in the western world". "Despite intolerable provocation," he wrote, "...we must place our faith in the substantial values of civilization and submit to the restraints of civilized people."

Jewish Problems and Activities Overseas (September 1937)
Joseph C. Hyman described the coordination of Jewish relief efforts abroad. "The tragedy that is today taking place in Germany," he wrote, is "symptomatic of almost world-wide anti-Jewish activity."

Race and Race Prejudice (December 1937)
Franz Boas endeavored to "show the absurdity of the whole race-theory which is the basis of Nazi political theory." He also discussed prejudice in America: "Unfortunately, we are not free of tendencies that point in the same direction. Prejudice against the Negro is the most striking and probably most dangerous one."

Problems of Minority Groups (September 1938)
 Oscar I. Janowsky described in depth the situation of Jews and other vulnerable minorities in the Europe of 1938. "The Jew is attacked first because he is the weakest and safest enemy," he wrote. But "Behind the smokescreen of anti-Semitism, the liberties of all are destroyed... So long as Nazism and Fascism prevail, there will be no peace for the true Christian, for the true scholar, for the true proponent of a better world, any more than for the Jew."

 The Social Pathology of the Refugee Problem (March 1939)
Melvin M. Fagen examined the web of causes he perceived to be behind the crisis facing Jews. "Though our course is not clear," he declared, "and the future uncertain, there is one thing we can do, one duty we owe to ourselves and to posterity. It is to know why these wars have come about, why the refugee problem or the Jewish problem or the problem of Fascism arises."

Jewish Ideology in the Present Crisis(March 1939)
"[S]ince 1933, millions of Jews have been deprived of either their lives or the means to their livelihood," wrote Ira Eisenstein. "Political rights and economic opportunities have been ruthlessly taken from them and, at the present writing, it appears that no less than four million Jews in Central Europe alone will be compelled to migrate from the lands in which they and their ancestors have lived for centuries." Unaware that the immediate future would yield events far more monstrous than these, Eisenstein nonetheless realized that the happenings of his day would necessitate a reconsideration of the "various alternatives, which Jewish thinkers contemplated as the solution to the so-called Jewish problem during the whole post-emancipation era". Strikingly, he wrote: "It is not assimilation which has failed; it is democracy which has failed, that very democracy which made possible assimilation."

 

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We welcome your reactions in the comments section below.

Have a meaningful Yom HaShoah.

From the J-Vault: Immigrant Jewish American Farmers

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The year is 1902, and Jewish organizations are welcoming poor Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and teaching them a new way of life -- a new way to think about being Jewish, a new vocation, and a new relationship to the land. They are teaching these new immigrants to be farmers.

This description, however, has nothing to do with the kibbutz movement, or with the Yishuv (the pre-1948 Zionist Jewish community in the land of Israel). The land to which these Ashkenazic-refugees-turned-yeoman-farmers had immigrated was America.

This week from the J-Vault: Agriculture, A Most Effective Means to Aid Jewish Poor (1902)

"Whenever one of the Jewish poor drifts into a smaller community," writes Rabbi A.R. Levy, "and there applies for help to the Jewish residents, he is generally shipped to the nearest large city where, it is assumed, he must find work in the sweatshop or in the factory." This is undesirable, Levy explains, not only because the lifestyle is inherently unpleasant, but because the tightly packed "ghetto" life in urban centers mixes poorly with the character traits Levy perceives in Eastern European Jewish immigrants. (Levy's condescension to his immigrant kin is sadly characteristic of the attitude of many early 20th century Jews born in America.)

The better solution, according to Levy, is the one advocated by the Jewish Agriculturists' Aid Society of America.

Farm life works wonders, Levy reports:

A most marked and happy change in the character of our Jewish farmers ds the self-reliance they manifest... Our farmers go about their work with an air of self-reliance that is cheering and encouraging. It has been said that no work within the scope of human activity makes for the better in all that is good in human character as does tilling the soil. Our farmers are a telling testimony to the truth of this assertion.

Farm life also means isolation from other Jews, and from Jewish communities. Levy acknowledges this, but claims that such isolation has "proven to be of no damaging effect as far as the religious life and habit of the Jew is concerned." Indeed, being disconnected from traditional religious observance seems, to Levy, to be a positive rather than a negative factor:

No one will fail to recognize the virtue of the religious practices and habits of the Russian Jews as they are maintained by him in Russia. They are undeniably overdone and exaggerated, but they are eminently helpful to the life as it must be lived by him in Russia. For, where man's activity in the sphere of usefulness is so limited that he is forced to exist in idleness, it is the height of wisdom that he betakes himself to the field of religious enjoyment. Long and many prayers, many and extravagant ceremonies that require much time and attention are, under stated conditions, a true blessing... However, to follow up such ceremonies where divine and human agencies offer an opportunity for honest and useful toil, would lie working against the interest of religion and not for it... [T]he life of usefulness on the farm will wean him of, and bring him away from many a superfluous ceremony and obsolete observance, the practice of which is more in accord with superstition than with religion.

Read the whole article here.

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Immigration and the Jews, Cntd.

As I noted a week ago, "it is commonplace among American Jews on the liberal side of the political spectrum... to declare that their support for liberal immigration policies is tied to their Jewish heritage, and to Jewish communal memory of the experiences of the many impoverished Jews who immigrated to the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in search of freedom and opportunity."

Well, maybe the BJPA blog has a reader or two in 1600 Pennsylvania Ave; as the JTA notes, today the President made the very same point.

Immigration and Law Enforcement

The Anti-Defamation League recently filed an amicus brief supporting a federal lawsuit hoping to strike down Arizona's "ill-conceived and misguided" new immigration law:

[T]his bill drives a wedge between the Latino community - whose members are frequent targets of bias-motivated violence - and those local law enforcement agencies entrusted with protecting them. The bill is a manifestation of anger and frustration, fueled by exaggerated fears of violence and passed against a backdrop of increasing xenophobia.

Since the ADL was founded in the wake of the lynching of Leo  Frank, an act of vigilante "law enforcement" which also took  place "against a backdrop of increasing xenophobia", it is natural that the organization should take interest in issues such as this.

It is commonplace among American Jews on the liberal side of the political spectrum (a group which encompasses most American Jews) to declare that their support for liberal immigration policies is tied to their Jewish heritage, and to Jewish communal memory of the experiences of the many impoverished Jews who immigrated to the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in search of freedom and opportunity.

As often as this idea is used rhetorically, I wonder how often people actually consult the rich resources available in materials written about Jewish immigrants during this period. To do so might yield wonderful insights into present public debates about immigration.

You can dive quickly and easily into this treasure trove right now. Perform a keyword search in the search bar at the top right corner of this page. Or browse by topic, and select "immigration". (A sidebar on the left will allow you to filter by date.)

You might find something like "Immigration from the Immigrant's Point of View" from 1915, which argues against discussing immigration issues from the perspective of a polarized, overly simplistic and binary debate. (Gee, does that sound relevant?) Or something like "Jewish Delinquent Children" from 1907, which struggles to understand the problems of poverty and crime among the children of Jewish immigrants in New York City:

The children are on the streets nearly all day long, finding nothing to attract them in their dingy homes, and in the streets many bad habits are formed. The temptations of the penny theatres are very alluring, and many of the attractions there poison their minds and characters... they are the dime novel of the stage, they consist of moving pictures which appeal to the vicious side of life...

Sure, blame the media.

It's very easy to talk about "learning from history" -- much easier than actually to study history. That's one of the BJPA's reasons for existing: to more easily allow voices from the past to be active participants in the debates of the present. So what can you find in our archives, old or new, that illuminates this issue?