Lower East Side
Beatrice Alexander, 1895 - 1990
Between 1880 and 1920, over two million Jews emigrated from Europe to the United States, representing nearly 10% of the nation's immigrants during those years. The vast majority of Jewish immigrants came from Russia and Eastern Europe. Pushed by anti-semitic violence and government policies that further undermined the Jewish community's precarious economic and social stability, migrants were also attracted by the allure of New World economic and political freedom.
Although Jews settled in cities and towns across the country, nearly one-half of the new immigrants settled in New York, and a large proportion of these first made their home on New York's Lower East Side. There, amidst a dense tenement population that included many other immigrant groups, they established a rich ethnic Jewish culture, recreating ties from their homelands and founding a host of new social, cultural, educational, economic, and religious institutions. A Yiddish theater and the Yiddish press evoked the old world even as they helped immigrants adjust to America.
Amidst often crushing poverty, the immigrants and their children did their best to take advantage of the opportunities American had to offer. Many unmarried young Jewish women helped support their families by working in suffocating sweatshops. Most married Jewish women opted not to work for wages, but helped sustain their families by taking in boarders and managing their households. As children learned English and began to adjust to their new surroundings, conflict often erupted between the immigrant and more Americanized generations; changing gender norms were prominent among the tensions distancing Old World and New World customs and cultures.
- For more information, see Susan A. Glenn, Daughters of the Shtetl: Life and Labor in the Immigrant Generation (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990); Sydney Stahl Weinberg, The World of Our Mothers: The Lives of Jewish Immigrant Women (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1988); Moses Rischin, The Promised City: New York's Jews 1870-1914 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962); Selma Berrol, East Side/East End: Eastern European Jews in London and New York, 1870-1920 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994); Irving Howe, World of Our Fathers: The Journey of the East European Jews to America and the Life They Found and Made (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976).