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Book Notes: Lower East Side Memories: A Jewish Place in America, Hasia R. Diner

William D. Rubinstein

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Lower East Side Memories: A Jewish Place in America, Hasia R. Diner (Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2000) xiii + 219 pp., ISBN 0-691-09545-0. There is a general, but not universal, rule of life that the more appalling the slum in which one spent one's childhood, the greater the nostalgia one feels for it in later life. American Jewish memories of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the main initial place of residence for hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants, is no exception. In Lower East Side Memories Professor Hasia Diner shows how the Lower East Side entered the collective memory of American Jews as a place of hope, the gateway to the goldene medina, as potent a symbol of American Jewish upward mobility in freedom as the Statue of Liberty in New York harbour. This work is not a study of Jewish life in the Lower East Side or a replica? tion of Irving Howe's World of Our Fathers, but an examination of how, since the Second World War, American Jewry came to view the Lower East Side in nostalgic and wondrous terms, so that today there are literally hun? dreds of walking tours of a place where virtually no Jews have lived for decades. This nostalgia for the Lower East Side is particularly ironic in that the average American Jewish immigrant probably spent no more than twen? ty years or so there before moving on to the next focal point of Jewish resi? dency, usually in Brooklyn or the Bronx. One reason the Lower East Side looms so large in American Jewish nostalgia is that bad as it was, it was immeasurably better than the horrendous shtetl or town left behind in Eastern Europe. Apart from being free of Cossacks and Black Hundreds, in New York one was free also of the traditional rabbinical establishment of Jewish Eastern Europe, in a land which was secular by law. British Jews will recognize something - but only something - of this in their memories of the East End. Here, however, there was perhaps too much of Mosley and the Blitz, and the journey to Golders Green or Hendon too short, to make remembrance of the East End more sweet than bitter. William D. Rubinstein 215</page></plain_text>