*Starred Review* The Jewish immigrants who fled Eastern Europe found refuge in New York's Lower East Side. Between 1881 and 1910, 1,562,800 Jews entered the country. They learned English and discovered in their new land a place of unparalleled freedom and opportunity. But the Lower East Side, Epstein points out, was also a place of poverty, sweatshops, crime, and tiny, vermin-infested tenement flats. He explores why the immigrants left Eastern Europe, how they came here, and what they found when they arrived. He describes their journey in steerage, their life in tenements, and their search for jobs. Also under discussion are Yiddish theater, journalism, and literature, as well as such famous personalities as Jacob Adler, George Burns, Fanny Brice, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Sholom Aleichem, Eddie Cantor, and Jack Benny. Part of the book's fascination is the multitude of black-and-white photographs of shoppers and vendors on Hester Street, poorly dressed children at play, visiting nurses crossing over rooftops when going from tenement to tenement, a union protest, and tailors at work in sweatshops. Words and pictures combine to make this book a foremost chronicle of Jewish immigration. Cohen, George
In 1880, there were approximately 7.7 million Jews in the world, of which 75 percent lived in Eastern Europe and 3 percent in the United States. That picture dramatically changes in 1880 with the arrival of millions of Eastern European Jews to the United States, many of whom settle in New York City on the Lower East Side. These changes are described by Lawrence J. Epstein in his new book. Epstein tells us: 'By 1920 there were about 3.6 million Jews on these shores, making up 3.41 percent of the U.S. population; 22.86 percent of the Jews in the world now lived in America.' Epstein’s goal is to provide the reader with 'experience more than analysis' of life on the Lower East Side, and he does that through detailed descriptions of living, courting, loving, marrying, raising a family, going to school, working, praying, politicking, organizing, and enjoying oneself in those crowded streets and tenements. Poignant and humorous archival photos and excerpts from memoirs, novels, scholarly texts, letters, musical scores, and the Jewish Daily Forward
are cited and help recreate the vibrancy of the period. The book is not mere romanticized nostalgia. It contains incisive analysis of the socio-historical context of the immigration to the Goldene Medina
and how it transformed the lives of the immigrants, world Jewry, and the United States. The book is both fun and informative. Lawrence J. Epstein has published many books on Jewish culture, including A Treasury of Jewish Anecdotes
and The Story of Jewish Comedians in America.
Archival sources, references, index, notes." (American Jewish Studies, Winter 2007)