Jews Without Money is based on its author’s own childhood, Michael Gold. It re-creates the Jewish immigrant Lower East Side in Manhattan in which he lived, and it provides insight into the life of first- and second-generation Jewish Americans around the turn of the twentieth century. Gold does a wonderful job at putting the reader right in the middle of the sights, smells and sounds of people who may be materially poor, but very rich emotionally. The book paints for the most part a bleak picture of Jewish immigrant life in America, a picture that will remain bleak, the book’s ending implies, until the workers’ revolution occurs.
In this paper I will discuss few issues that come up in the book and in the documents that we have read over the past month, along with a brief summary of the book as well. As the central character and narrator, Mike grows and learns more and more about the struggles that his parents and their neighbors undergo to earn a living.
Mike’s father had been a housepainter, but he is disabled by a fall and by lead poisoning. At one point in the book, Mike finds him trying to earn money selling half-rotten bananas. We find out Mike’s mother is the central figure in the family.
She supports them by working in a cafeteria and cleaning various apartments. After and before work, she takes care of her ill husband and children. On a terribly snowy winter day, Mike’s younger sister, Esther, goes out into the streets to collect wood for the stove where she is run over by a truck and dies. A lawyer comes to their home and says that if the mother and father sign a paper, he will get them a thousand dollars from Adams Express, the company that operated the truck. Herman wants to sign the lawyer’s paper, but Katie throws him out of the house. It is, she says, “blood money.
” Repeatedly, Mike learns how terrible life is for people in America without money, especially Jews. They need to cope not only with poverty but also with anti-Semitism. When Mike uses a dirty word in school, his teacher washes out his mouth with soap, as well keeps calling him “Little Kike. ” Herman and Katie are furious because the soap the teacher uses was not kosher. When a politician sends them a Thanksgiving meal, Katie asks Mike to tell her the story of Thanksgiving.
After he narrates the tale of the Pilgrims, his mother decides that Thanksgiving is “an American holiday . . . and not for Jews. ” The family cannot even eat the beautiful, fat turkey because it is not kosher. When Herman seems to be doing well in the housepainting business and thinks he will begin to earn more money, he falls from a ladder and cannot work. After Esther dies, the mother also is unable to work. When the family is nearly starving, a man from the United Charities visits them and asks all kinds of personal questions, including whether Herman beats Katie. Herman throws the man out of the house. Mike concludes that “starvation was kinder” than organized charity.
Mike keeps hearing from those around him that the Messiah will come and lead the Jews to the Promised Land. He asks his neighbor, Reb Samuel, a very religious man, about the Messiah. Reb Samuel, who teaches Mike about Judaism, describes a “pale, young and peaceful” Messiah, but Mike prefers one who looks like Buffalo Bill and “could annihilate our enemies. ” At age twelve, Mike quits school to go to work. He finds a variety of unpleasant, sometimes hellish jobs and discovers anti-Semitism in employment. Even some businesses owned by Jews, he discovers, refuse to hire Jews.
One night, he hears a man on a soapbox declare that a world movement is coming to end poverty. Listening to him, Mike learns about the workers’ revolution, which he calls “the true Messiah. ” The revolution, he says, forced him to think, struggle, and live. The book then ends with the words, “O great Beginning! ” One of the first documents we read was “The Constitution of the United States of America (1789)”. The title of this document is almost self explanatory. We all know how this country was formed and how specific the founding fathers were.
Article VI states…freedom of religion as a basic law of the land. It goes on to say no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States (p. 457). In the book we do see religious freedom however we do see discrimination of it because it is a different religion then the majority. This is truly unfair and the author makes it clear. If the law states and accepts religious freedom why is it so hard to accept others differences and for them to come up in the society? They struggled a lot but in the end they over came the obstacle course.
With the law on their back, they are able to practice their religious views and make a difference in America. This story really makes you appreciate the issues that these poor Jewish immigrants faced and confirms that the American Dream certainly is possible as we have the luxury today in 2010 to evaluate the situations of many of these character’s descendants. These people worked hard and helped each other and therefore made better lives for their future generations. The most admirable character in the book is Katie. She shows kindness to all, even the prostitutes who live near their apartment.
When she works in the cafeteria, the other workers come to her with their problems. She remains gentle and concerned with doing the right thing, even though life for her is a constant round of work. The one time Mike sees her truly happy is when the family goes to Bronx Park and Katie takes the children to gather mushrooms in the woods. She accepts hardship and tragedy with dignity and grace. Only the death of her daughter Esther is too much for her. After Esther dies, Katie is defeated. As I think back about Katie there was one document that connected with me.
Julia Richman wrote Women Wage-Workers, and as I re-read the document, images of Katie’s hard work reappeared. In this document, the role of women in society surfaces and takes stand. “General advance in the education of women, the desire to give children greater educational advantages then the parents enjoyed, the financial value of women’s work, the frequent necessity for women to contribute to the support of families” are just a few things that the article touches up on but they all hit on what kind of character Katie is.
The Galveston Movement was a program operated between 1907 and 1914 to divert Jews fleeing Russia and Eastern Europe away from crowded East Coast cities. Ten thousand Jewish immigrants passed through Galveston during this era New York financier and philanthropist Jacob Schiff was the driving force behind the effort, which Schiff supported with nearly $500,000 of his personal funds. B’nai Israel’s Rabbi Henry Cohen was the humanitarian face of the movement, meeting ships at the Galveston docks and helping guide the immigrants through the cumbersome arrival and distribution process.
I found this document very interesting in a way that this was good and a bad idea at the same time. A major theme of the book is the unfairness of the American capitalist system that leads people to dream of financial success but prevents them from achieving it. The hard-heartedness of the capitalist system is best symbolized by the Adams Express truck that kills Esther and the lawyer who tries to make money from her death. The only character who is really happy in America is Harry the Pimp. The honest workers, however, “eat the bread of sorrow and shame in America.
” With so many Jewish immigrants in one place it’s a good start for all of them to achieve something in their lives but at the same time with so much diversity around them discrimination will be extremely high. By diverting people to the southern state they will struggle to adopted but at the same time the opportunities for success are greater then in the over-crowded cities. Also to relate the unfair American capitalist system the document, by Issac Rubinow, The Economic Condition of the Russian Jew in New York City, paints us a high-definition picture of the profession that the Jews take up in the city.
Even though the professions of teaching and medicine was high within still the “Russian Jews are on a much lower economic level, they belong to the “masses” then “classes”. With so many Russian Jews in the city the facts cannot be denied and the percent of professional jobs is indeed much smaller then the industrial wage-workers. One of my documents that stuck to me the most and make think about the main character of the book was A Reply to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport by George Washington. He accepts their welcoming letter and says how the citizens of this great nation accept other religious views.
“The citizens of United States of American have right to applaud them themselves for having given mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy, a policy worthy of imitation”. As this thought processed in my mind, something changed in our society in the start of the 20th century. The characters in Jews Without Money contribute to the growth of Mike. He runs wild in the slums of the Lower East Side, playing with his “Gang of Little Yids. ” He describes the bums, horse drivers, prostitutes, and workers who live in his neighborhood. His father becomes a figure of despair.
For Herman, nothing goes right. All of his get-rich-quick schemes go awry. Cruelly conscious of the need for money in America, he bitterly rejects the New World in which he suffers so much, at one point uttering, “A curse on Columbus! A curse on America, the thief! ”. This stuck in my mind for a long time as I tried to figure it out. When this nation was found, it was created based on equality for everyone but something went wrong. According to Mike and the people around him there is no feeling of acceptance, equality. He lost faith in this nation that was going to change his life for the better.
All the positives that have happened for the citizens of American didn’t do anything for him and his family. His father not being able to work and constantly ill, the death of his sister, hard working mother and all the other bad things around him, nothing good can happen to him. Mike sees hypocrisy in many, especially in the fat Chassidic rabbi imported from Europe at great cost to his relatively poor congregation. When the Chassids celebrate the coming of the rabbi, Mike sees the rabbi stuffing himself and thinks the rabbi will eat all the food at the celebration before the children get a chance to eat anything.
He mentions that possibility to Reb Samuel, who sends Mike home without having eaten any of the feast; but, Mike says, Reb Samuel should have listened to the wisdom of the little child. After a while, the rabbi accepts a better paying job at a wealthy congregation. Mike cannot understand America and the effect it has on people because to him it hasn’t brought happiness as it did to other Jews. Jews Without Money is an example of the proletarian novel, the novel by a member of the working class and about members of the working class. In this kind of novel, truth is supposed to be more important than art.
It is also a sensitive treatment of the life of a child in an immigrant neighborhood and I can relate to that as an immigrant of the 21st century. Some issues never go away but you can learn how to deal with them and hopefully learn what is better and incorporate the positives in your life. Over the entire book brings out many issues that we see keep re-occurring to this day. They might never go away but we can be aware and act different on them. After reading the book there was one quote that summed up many issues of the book and documents bring up; “Every persecuted race becomes a race of fanatics”
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