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)
"Professor Epstein's warm and accessible book, amply illustrated and with informative sidebars, provides a fine armchair tour of the Lower East Side. Colorful primary source materials help illuminate the forces that drove immigrants to the gateway neighborhood; the challenges that awaited them there; and the fertile ground for political, religious, and artistic innovation that the district offered."
—Amy E. Waterman, director, Eldridge Street Project
"The mythical Lower East Side becomes a flesh-and-blood, heart-and-soul reality again in Epstein's book of anecdote, image, and scholarship."
—Lawrence Bush, editor, Jewish Currents
"Offering story after fascinating story, Larry Epstein takes readers on a voyage . . . the difficult and often heroic journey of the immigrant to America. In these pages, readers will learn insights, history, and lessons not just about the immigrant experience but about how America became America."
—Gil Mann, author, How to Get More Out of Being Jewish Even if . . .
"If you want to smell the brine from the pickle barrels and taste Katz's corned beef with deli mustard on club and listen again to the myriad voices of the pushcart sellers and junkmen crying, 'I cash clothes!'—you'll have it all in this new book about the Old East Side, the crossroads of the Old World's foothold in the New."
—Stanley H. Barkan, poet and publisher, Cross-Cultural Communications