Yenta Laureate of the Lower East Side
If we are to judge what is Jewish by what Jews do (or don't do), we might conclude this week that Jews apparently welcome the New Year with apples, honey, and signs about where women should stand.
On March 25, 1911, in the span of 20 minutes, 146 people lost their lives to a fire that swept through one of New York’s largest garment shops. Almost all of the victims were young women, some literally just girls. Most who died were greenhorns, new immigrants, who didn’t know better or have any choice but to work there. Typically they worked with relatives or people from their hometowns (landsleit) who had recruited them. Two-thirds were Jewish; the other third were Italian and, of course, all who worked there were poor.
Recently, I saw Eleanor Reissa, a talented and well-known Yiddish actress and performer, sing "My Yiddishe Momme" to a standing ovation. Mind you, the crowd was entirely over seventy and the children of Polish Jewish immigrants to North and South America. To help pass the time, I thought about that nice tough character, Sophie Tucker, who made the song into a bi-lingual top five hit in 1928.