Page 12 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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MURRAY BAUMGARTEN
Urban Failures, Fictional
Possibilities
S edu ced
BY
A m e r ic an possibility, driven by intolerable condi­
tions in Eastern Europe , millions o f Jews left the ir traditional cul­
tu re at the tu rn o f the century and headed for the fabled cities o f
the new world. Participating in the western en terprise, the Jews
helped to articulate its u rban parameters. What they had m an ­
aged in Warsaw, Prague, Vienna, Berlin, Amsterdam , Paris,
London, and Tel Aviv, they also achieved even perhaps more
quickly in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Providence, Chicago,
Cincinnati, St. Louis, and eventually Los Angeles and the San
Francisco Bay Area. T ransfo rm ing the ambiguous welcome they
received at Ellis Island into straightforward opportun ity , they
realized their desires by committing themselves to the democratic
enterprise.
Beginning by working for others they soon began to work for
themselves. Economic opportun ity , including the struggle to
form strong labor unions, soon gave them enough power to gain a
foothold in America and with it the beginnings o f a public voice.
I f national prom inence came late in the cen tury to individual
Jews, local urban power consolidated years earlier was the ir base.
Even those who shot the ir way to the top o f M urder, Inc., thereby
proclaimed the ir willingness to try the u rban American way.1
Embracing city life, American Jews found a modern fate. We
hea r its accents in the vitality with which Augie March addresses
us at the beginning o f his adventures. “I am an American,
Chicago born — Chicago, tha t somber city — and go as I have
taugh t myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own
1 See Daniel Bell, “Crime as an American Way o f Life: A Queer Ladder o f Social
Mobility,”
The End of Ideology,
Glencoe, Illinois: The Free Press, 1960, pp.
115-136. Also
Meyer Lansky: Mogul of the Mob
, by Dennis Eisenberg, Uri Dan,
and Eli Landau, New York: Paddington Press, 1979.
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