Page 17 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 12

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America! cried my mother, almost smothering us in her rapture.
All crowded and pushed on deck. They strained and stretched
to get the first glimpse of the ‘golden coun try / lifting their children
on their shoulders th a t they might see beyond them. Men fell on
their knees to pray. Women hugged their babies and wept. Child-
ren danced. Strangers embraced and kissed like old friends. Old
men and women had in their eyes a look of young people in love.
Age-old visions sang themselves in me — songs of freedom of an
oppressed people. America — America!”
But, after Anzia Yezierska lands in New York and, as a child,
has to go to a sweatshop in order to earn her bit of bread, sadness
comes over her: “Where are the green fields and open spaces of
America ?” she asks. “Where is the golden country of my dreams ?”
A generation later, Anzia Yezierska, as a woman of seventy,
asks the same question in her autobiography, entitled
Red Ribbon
on a White Horse
, a profoundly moving document of the travails
of the immigrant generation.
The first stage of idealization of America by the immigrants
was generally followed by a second stage, disillusionment. The
golden dreams of America as a veritable heaven on earth are
dissipated when the immigrant finds himself face to face with the
practical problems of earning his bread. The necessity of working
from dawn to sunset and even far into the night in a sweatshop
or as a peddler left the newly arrived person little leisure to enjoy
the vaunted freedom of America. In the writings of Abraham
Cahan, Morris Hillquit, Lillian Wald, Jacob Riis, and Hutchins
Hapgood are found harrowing descriptions of the life of the Jewish
masses on the East Side of New York. The Yiddish lyrics of
Eliakum Zunser, Morris Winchevsky, David Edelstadt, Isaac
Reingold, and Morris Rosenfeld mirror the disillusioned mood
of these masses. Zunser laments th a t in the Golden Land there
are men and women who collapse of hunger and families who are
thrown out into the gutter when their rent is unpaid. “Look
down upon New York’s Downtown, where the air is pestilential,
where human beings are pressed together like herring in a barrel . . .
Who can calmly watch children jump from streetcars with batches
of newspapers in their hands, risking their lives for a penny? The
b itter need in their homes takes them from school prematurely
and condemns them to coarseness and ignorance. Yet this is called
the Golden Land.” Morris Rosenfeld bewails the degradation of
the newcomers to machines. In his poignant lyric,
The Sweatshops
he writes: “ I work and work and work endlessly. I toil and toil
and toil ceaselessly. Why? For whom? I know not. I ask not.
I am an unthinking machine.”
The third stage in the adjustment of the newcomers was their