Living in America:
The Jewish Experience
Life in the United States was not always what Jewish immigrants had imagined before they emigrated from their native land.
Many would soon find out that the streets were not really paved with gold. They would discover that if they were to succeed in the "golden land" and create a better life for themselves and their family, they would have to work very hard.
Most who arrived at Ellis Island first
went to live on the Lower East Side of Manhattan where, at one
time, 540,000 people lived in very overcrowded conditions,
often in tenement buildings, in an area of the city no larger
than one-and-one-half square miles.
There were many who found work in the U.S. as tailors, toiling for years in front of their own sewing machine doing work 'piecemeal.' There were also seamstresses and dressmakers, butchers and bakers and merchants of goods.
There were various obstacles that often blocked the path to
success for many who came and those who wished to come to the
United States. When immigrants looked for work, jobs were
often hard to come by, especially those with good wages,
respectable hours and proper working conditions. Also for many
years there existed an anti-immigrant sentiment. Many of those
who were already U.S. citizens feared that the great wave of
immigrants would take jobs away from them. This fear had
political ramifications and would greatly influence
During the first half of the twentieth century especially, the
Jewish family was often was mired in conflict. Such discord
would often exist between parents and their children, between
a husband and his wife, where old world values and the desire
to live by these values often clashed with the culture and
demands of the society they were now living in. Many, not just
those American first-born, wished to fit in to this new
American culture and enjoy the freedoms that it provided. This
would cause a conflict with those who wished to maintain a
traditional way of life. Though this conflict did exist, many
parents still hoped that living in the U.S. would afford their
children greater opportunities and a chance at financial
success. Within this exhibition, you will read and also hear
through short audio clips testimony of some of those who lived
through these difficult times.
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