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Gaining Independence

Introduction

As you read through the documents, keep these general questions in mind:

  • What makes a person independent?
  • What words or phrases do the authors/narrators use to describe their identities as workers?
  • How do the workers in these texts form their American Jewish identities? Point to specific examples.

Rose Schneiderman explains keeping some of her earnings

I learned to use the machine in three or four weeks and after a trial period with Cornelia [the woman who got her the job], I was on my own. The first week on the job I earned six dollars, more than twice as much as I had earned at Ridley’s. However, Mother was far from happy. She thought working in a store much more genteel than working in a factory. But we needed that extra money. When I gave her five dollars out of my first pay, she wanted to know where the envelope was. I told her that I had it and that I had taken out a dollar for my own expenses. She didn’t like this, either. She thought that as a dutiful daughter I ought to hand over all I earned and let her give me what she thought I needed for the week. I didn’t agree, so we continued in my way. That was my first revolt toward independence.

Details
Rose Schneiderman and Lucy Goldwaite, All For One (New York: Paul Eriksson, Inc. 1967), 43-44.

Discussion Question

Why is it important to Schneiderman to keep a portion of her earnings? What changes in her relationship with her mother because of this?

Bread Givers Excerpt: "I am an American!"

I wanted back the mornings going to work. And the evenings from work. The crowds sweeping you on, like waves of a beating sea. The shop. The roar of the rushing machines. The drive and the thrill of doing things faster and faster. The pay envelope. The joyous feel of money where every little penny was earned with your own hands. …

“A young girl, alone, among strangers? Do you know what’s going on in the world? No girl can live without a father or a husband to look out for her. It says in the Torah. Only through a man has a woman an existence. Only through a man can a woman enter Heaven.”

“I’m smart enough to look out for myself. It’s a new life now. In America, women don’t need men to boss them…Thank God, I’m living in America!...I’m going to make my own life… I’m going to live my own life. Nobody can stop me. I’m not from the old country. I’m an American!”

“You blasphemer!” His [the heroine’s father] hand flung out and struck my cheek. “Denier of God! I’ll teach you respect for the law!” I leaped back and dashed for the door. The Old World had struck its last on me.

Details
Anzia Yezierska, Bread Givers (New York: Persea Books, 1925) pp. 129, 137.

Discussion Questions

  1. What does work offer the narrator in this story? How does her description of life in the garment shop differ from others you may have encountered?
  2. How does the narrator describe what being American means to her?
  3. How does she differentiate herself from her parents, particularly her father?

Letter from "J.B."

Dear Editor,

I am a Russian revolutionist and a free thinker. Here in America I became acquainted with a girl who is also a free thinker. We decided to marry, but the problem is, she has Orthodox parents, and for their sake we must have a religious ceremony. If we refuse the ceremony we will be cut off from them forever. Her parents also want me to go to the synagogue with them before the wedding, and I don’t know what to do. Therefore I ask you to advise me how to act.

Respectfully,

J.B.

Answer:

The advice is that there are times when it pays to give in to old parents and not grieve them. It depends on the circumstances. When one can get along with kindness it is better not to break off relations with the parents.

Details
From A Bintel Brief: Letters to the Jewish Daily Forward by Isaac Metzker, translated by Isaac Metzker, copyright 1971 by Isaac Metzker. Foreword and notes copyright 1971 by Doubleday, a division of Bantam, Doubleday, Dell Publishing Group, Inc. p. 53.

Discussion Questions

  1. How does J.B. relate to the conservative traditionalism of his parents’ generation? Why is he conflicted?
  2. Do you agree with the advice given in the “Answer”?

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Gaining Independence." (Viewed on October 25, 2014) <http://jwa.org/teach/livingthelegacy/documentstudies/gaining-independence>.

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