Non­fic­tion

My Future is in Amer­i­ca: Auto­bi­ogra­phies of East­ern Euro­pean Jew­ish Immigrants

Joce­lyn Cohen and Daniel Soy­er, ed. and trans.

  • Review
By – October 18, 2011

Nine bio­graph­i­cal essays, cho­sen from over 200 entries for a con­test con­duct­ed by YIVO in 1942, make up this engross­ing book. The top­ic was Why I left Europe and what I have accom­plished in Amer­i­ca.” The writ­ers were men and women who arrived in Amer­i­ca from the 1890’s to the 1920’s. 

In vivid detail, yet with a mat­ter-of-fact tone, the sto­ries describe the seem­ing­ly insur­mount­able obsta­cles and hard­ships endured by immi­grants both in Europe and in Amer­i­ca. We read about home school­ing, ched­er, and match­mak­ing in East­ern Europe; about the cir­cum­stances that prompt­ed the exo­dus to Amer­i­ca; about the plan­ning and the actu­al voy­age. We learn about immi­grant life in New York City, Prov­i­dence, Bal­ti­more, Den­ver, Pitts­burgh and Mon­tréal; about sweat­shops and unions, trades and busi­ness­es, courtship and mar­riage, assim­i­la­tion and Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty. Near­ly all the writ­ers end their essays with fears and hopes for the fam­i­lies they have left behind in Europe.

The plain-spo­ken lan­guage makes it easy to iden­ti­fy with the authors. I found myself think­ing I could be read­ing the sto­ries of my own grandparents. 

Miri­am Brad­man Abra­hams is a Cuban-born, Brook­lyn-raised, Long Island-resid­ing mom. She is Hadas­sah Nas­sau’s One Region One Book chair­la­dy, a free­lance essay­ist, and a cer­ti­fied yoga instruc­tor who has loved review­ing books for the JBC for the past ten years.

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