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At the Edge of a Dream: The Story of Jewish Immigrants on New York's Lower East Side, 1880-1920 Hardcover – August 17, 2007


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (August 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0787986224
  • ISBN-13: 978-0787986223
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.8 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #494,775 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*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

Review

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)

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
*****
From the harsh realities of life for Jews living in Eastern Europe in the late 1800's to the day to day activities of life in and among the tenements of the Lower East Side of NYC -- including examining the importance of the store front Shuls or Synagogues, legacy of the shop owners, the theater, the gangs and crime and the newspapers as well as details of how each of the streets of the Lower East Side were named -- the author succesfully tells the story, his story and ours, of the challenges that shape a family's future and it's culture. This is a beautifuly written history lesson on immigrants in general and the lack of opportunity combined with oppression that ultimately leads to giving up one's culture for the potential of a life of opportunity.

Larry Epstein has written an extraordinary book, a must read for all those interested in how and why New York City and our nation grew, that comprehensively -- and painfully -- answers the question of why Jews immigrated from the area of Eastern Europe - known then as the Pale of Settlement - to the United States with specific reference to the Lower East Side of NYC, the first home of the author's ancestors in the States. In additon to teaching the reader the 'whys' of Jewish immigration from 1880 up until World War I, the book perceptively examines world wide Jewish demographic data that can only lead one to conclude that the Lower East Side of Manhattan was stunningly important to Jews, NYC, our nation and the world.

But Mr. Epstein does more than give us a history lesson, he opens another avenue of exploring how cultures grow and sustain themselves in the most egregious of times by examining the day to day life in the storied Lower East Side of Manhattan.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Max Bialystock on October 12, 2008
Format: Hardcover
At The Edge of A Dream is a very informative, entertaining, and easy-to-read book. Its formal 269 pages containing many b&w archival photos besides text, should educate and enlighten the reader, be they to any degree familiar with the subject matter or not. And the extensive Reference pages and Index which follow, should satisfy the curious and those with specific interests.

It is not this reviewer's purpose to echo what the Editorial Reviews as well as reviewer Gary E. Eddey have already written about this book. But I will "ditto" a point made by the author in his Introduction and Mr. Eddey makes in his review. That point being that this book transcends whether or not the reader might have familial roots with the subject matter.

Much of my personal enjoyment of this book stems from its anecdotal salt and pepperings throughout its pages. It acquainted me with insights about names that are familiar to me, such as how Meyer Kubelsky's father, having obtained a passport for his son to leave Lithuania for America, was thwarted by the authorities not allowing Meyer to leave, so his father, a tavern owner and wine shop proprietor, arranged for him to make his escape concealed under a cartload of empty bottles.

On Valentine's Day of 1894, Meyer and his wife, Emma Sachs, would welcome a son, Benjamin, into the world. Benjamin Kubelsky would gain fame as comedian Jack Benny.

A decade earlier, Sonia Kalish was born as her 17-year-old mother and two-year-old brother were enroute to their embarkation port. Sonia's mother, sensing that she was about to give birth, had the cart's driver stop and let her and her toddler son off, only to have the cartman leave her there by the side of the road. The desperate teenager found a house nearby and her baby was born.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Glenn Olf on September 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is good and easy reading for anyone from 7 years old up who wants to connect or understand more about their Jewish Roots. Or for that matter anyone who wants to know about the turn of the 20th Century immigrant experience on the lower east side. The pictures add reality to the words and stories.
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More About the Author

I am the author of "The Basic Beliefs of Judaism: A Twenty-first-Century Guide to a Timeless Tradition" as well as various other books about Jewish life and American popular culture.

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At the Edge of a Dream: The Story of Jewish Immigrants on New York's Lower East Side, 1880-1920
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