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Chapter 4 - Education and Occupations of the Immigrant B'nai Khaim They came here, 93 of them; for the most part without money, without skills and without friends in America. To make a living they had to start at the bottom among strangers in a strange land speaking a strange tongue. In this chapter we observe how these 93 immigrant B'nai Khaim fitted themselves into the American environment. We compare their education and occupation in the old country and the new. We do not follow through their vicissitudes, triumphs and failures: that would require another book. We do note a few cases, however. The materjal for the chapter came, in the main, from answers to a questionnaire I circulated (May 1963) among the then still-living first-generation American B'nai Khaim and, in cases of the no-longer living, among their immediate descendants. In only a few cases did we (my "lieutenants," that is) have to resort to more distant sources. By these means we obtained information for 85 of the 93. The eight we missed were among the several who would not participate at any stage of the study, or for whom no one could speak reliably. As was the case with most immigrants of the time, the B'nai Khaim who came here before World War I were mostly unmarried males or married males without their families. There were seven such married males, and 14 of the 19 unmarried B'nai Khaim, eight years old and over, were males. After that war all married males came with their spouses, and about as many unmarried females (17) came as unmarried males (19). The rest were married females who came with children to join husbands and fathers. The few that came after World War II, except one male, came as families. Seventy of the 93 immigrant B'nai Khaim were born in the Yustingrad-Knyazhe-Uman triangle; 13 were born in towns and villages within a day's journey by horse cart from this triangle, in Bershad, Okhmatova, Korsun, Oukhrimova. Eight were born in the Kishinev-Odessa area, and two young children were born in Israel, to which their parents had migrated after World War I. In age, our immigrants ranged from two to 73 years. With very few conspicuous exceptions, they all possessed about the same degree of semi-illiteracy. By occupation, again with a few exceptions, they fell within a narrow range of petty tradesmen and small shopkeepers, including one saloonkeeper. Among the exceptions in this instance were two blacksmiths, two ropespinners, a cabinetmaker, a Rabbi and a young Hebrew teacher. The first B'nai Khaim to settle permanently in America was Zeide Beryl's eldest granddaughter (A2 B1 C1). She came here with her four children in 1903, two years after her husband, and made her home in Brooklyn, NY. Two more children were born to them here. However, since this family had been living in a city approximately 140 miles from the Yustingrad center of the mishpokhah and had had little contact with it, their emigration to America had no influence on later emigrations of the B'nai Khaim. Members of this family were among the least cooperative on the project. "I want to forget my miserable childhood," one of them declared, in refusing to participate. The next B'nai Khaim to emigrate was my cousin Zalman (A2 B4 C2), who came to Chelsea, Massachusetts, in 1905, but stayed scarcely two years. Everything in America seems to have offended his religious, social and moral sensibilities. Jews in America, he wrote home, trimmed their beards, like goyim, and were not scrupulous in observing the dietary laws. They worked on the Sabbath day and tended to disregard the lesser of the Jewish holidays. Besides, he found home-life in America quite indecent. For instance, he wrote, husband and wife sleep in the same bed even during her "period." Women did not go to the mikvah"unsanitary!" they said. Yet in their home, he observed, the w.c. was right off the kitchen where you cooked, ate and entertained! Not at all like in Sokolievka, where you eased yourself squatting in the backyard without proclaiming your bodily needs to your guests! So, after two years of distress under these and similar indignities, he returned home to his wife and children, his beard untrimmed. There he remained until 1921 when, with other victims of the pogroms, he and his family made their way to Palestine. His children and grandchildren are now prosperous burghers in Israel. Their menfolk are clean-shaven; they do not obserVe the dietary laws, and they work on the Sabbath day. The next B'nai Khaim to come here on a permanent basis was myself (A2 B2 C4). By the time I was 17 I had become convinced that I would never gain entrance to a gymnasia in Tsarist Russia and decided to emigrate to America in search of an education. In America, I day-dreamed, I'd "work eight hours, sleep eight hours, and study eight hours a day." But the letters cousin Zalman wrote home from America stood in the way. The family would not give me the money to take me to America. Aunt Yenta (A2 B4), Zalman's mother, wept at family councils: "He would only become a goy there." In the end, early in January, 1906, I said goodbye and, with four and one-half rubles in my pocket and a pillow to pawn, I set off, bumming my way the next two months as far as Grodek, a county capital in Galicia, Austria-Hungary. There I had to stop, My shoes had given out and my tattered overcoat offered little protection against the raw winds blowing from the Bukowina mountains. I had given my pillow to the agent who had arranged for me to "steal-the-border," and sold my phylacteries to buy food. I had to earn some money now and to think through the next steps. I obtained a job as a sales-clerk in a hardware store for which I was given room, board and a gulden a week, and settled down to await financial help from home to enable me to continue my journey. I figured that once I had traveled so far the family would realize I was in earnest and see me through. This they finally did. After four months of correspondence my father arrived in Grodek with fare money to carry us both to America. We landed at Ellis Island July 21, 1906, six weeks after my 18th birthday. Our first destination was Chelsea, where Zalman lived, but we did not plan to remain there long. Somewhere in America my father had a younger sister, Sarah Feldman, who had emigrated to America some 30 years earlier and whose children were all born here. They would help us to a start in the new world, we speculated, and especially help me to get the education denied me in Russia. My father, however, did not know her address, but only that she had once written him from a city that sounded like Boofollo and that her first-born was a son named Kalman. Upon the advice of seasoned immigrants, my father inserted an ad in a national Jewish daily, listing these identifications and expressing the hope that his sister would write him. In a very short time came a letter from a kosher butcher in Buffalo. He knew my aunt and her family, and he knew Kalman and his wife. But Aunt Sarah, now a widow, was living in Cleveland near one of her married daughters. He would get her address and send it to us. He did so, and my father at once wrote to his sister. Meanwhile, in Chelsea, Father and I went to live in a rooming house and started to work in a rag shop alongside cousin Zalman. Father and I had arrived in Ellis Island with 65 kopeks between us. (What little money he had left after paying for the steamship tickets was stolen from him in Hamburg, our embarkation point.) A representative of the Jewish Immigrant Aid Society, predecessor of H.I.A.S., who was stationed at Ellis Island, wired my cousin of our plight and he promptly wired back $5.00 to pay our way on a freighter to Fall River and from there by rail to Chelsea. We arrived at Chelsea on a Thursday; blinked at America Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and on Monday started to earn our keep sorting and picking rags. I had been hinting that I wished for a job that would leave me time to resume my education. "In America," my cousin made clear, "one must first learn to work for a living." My wage at the ragshop was 75 cents a day. After a week I moved on to a cleaner job in a shoe factory, buffing soles for $6.00 a week, a padrone regularly deducting $1.00 for getting me the job and, presumably, for teaching it to me. After three weeks I rebelled against this system and found a job in a sodapop bottling factory at a full $6.00 a week, washing bottles and delivering them in a crate to a bottling cage. But here, too, I lasted only about three weeks. One late afternoon, as I delivered a crate at the cage, a bottle burst under soda-gas pressure and flying glass hit me. It turned out to be a minor accident-the glass splinters missed my jugular vein by several millimeters. A company doctor removed the chips, sewed up the gash and sent me home, telling me not to worry. But I had had my scare and moved to a safer job in a tanning factory. Here I tacked pickled hides on a drying frame one day and removed them when dry the next day or the day after, and day-dreamed of the great opportunities awaiting me in Cleveland among my American cousins. By this time, Father had received a railroad ticket from his sister and went off to Cleveland, Aunt Sarah, it turned out, was too poor to send tickets for both Father and me. In fact, the money for Father's ticket was advanced by her son-in-law, a small manufacturer of workmen's shirts and overalls. (Later I worked for him at $4.00 a week, 11 hours weekdays and 8 hours on Saturdays;) So I worked on in the tanning factory, saving for railroad fare to take me to Cleveland. I got there October 1, 1906. Already in his letters to me, however, my father hinted at the meager prospects for my ambitions amidst my aunt's family. He found them extremely narrow in their educational outlook. None of them had gone to high school. "Not a single doctor, not even an advocat among them," he wrote me in obvious disappointment. When, two years later, George Bellamy of the Hiram House, together with a retired high school teacher who tutored me free in high-school subjects, arranged for me to enter Hiram College, Aunt Sarah solicitously wanted to know if "college" would teach me "at least to become a bookkeeper." After two years at Hiram I transferred to Western Reserve University in Cleveland, from which I graduated in 1913. In Cleveland I earned my keep by teaching "English to foreigners" in the evening public schools. The first year at Hiram I pumped the Chapel organ for my tuition and earned my meals by washing dishes and scrubbing floors in a dormitory. A grant by the Jewish Education League of Cleveland helped me through the second year at Hiram and paid my tuition at Western Reserve. This is how Cleveland became my home town in America and the first home for most B'nai Khaim who followed me before World War I. Before long some of these "Cleveland B'nai Khaim" moved to Buffalo, Chicago and Philadelphia, and new immigrants joined them in those cities. After the war, Buffalo, Cleveland and Chicago received most of the new immigrants. Today the B'nai Khaim, foreign-born and American-born can be found in 26 towns and cities, stretching, literally, from Maine to California, to Florida and Texas. If mobility is a characteristic of the dynamism of Americans, then the B'nai Khaim achieved this habit at a very early stage of their Americanization. The education of most B'nai Khaim upon arrival in the United States was minimal. The few who had lived in the big cities and, therefore, were more literate constituted a conspicuous exception. All males above the age of four had attended kheder where laboriously they learned to read, although not necessarily to understand, prayerbook Hebrew. Some had gone beyond this elementary level and learned to translate from the Hebrew of the Torah. A very few had gone beyond that to learn to read the Talmud (in Hebrew and Aramaic). The kheder did not teach writing, not even Yiddish, the mother tongue, nor any secular subjects such as arithmetic, for instance, until well into the first decade of this century. It was not until then, also, that girls were first admitted to kheder. Everybody above kheder age learned to speak goyish, the peasant jargon of the Ukraine. Virtually none could speak, read or write Russian except the few who had lived in the big cities. Now the oncoming war and the Revolution brought big-city knowledge into the shtetl. The generals spoke Russian and so did the revolutionists. Until that time, as a matter of fact, Russian and secular learning were virtually taboo in the shtetl; at any rate it was so in my town in my day. At about the turn of the century itinerant teachers would come to town for a season to give private lessons in Russian, arithmetic and geography for 50 kopeks a week per pupil. I was 11 or 12 when I began these lessons, and that became the immediate cause of my break with kheder. One day I brought my Russian primer to kheder. The melamed was outraged at this desecration of his sacred precincts. He pronounced the book trefposle-a profanation-threw it out of the window, dipped the tips of his "soiled" fingers in the glass of water at his side to decontaminate them and cuffed me. Smarting from hurt and humiliation-no melamed had ever cuffed me before-I walked out of the room, picked up the book and went home. I never again entered a kheder. I was about fed up with kheder, anyway. The endless repetition of trivia was becoming intolerably boring. In contrast to shtetl Jews, city Jews had a greater tolerance for secular learning and even encouraged it, although they had all begun their education in a kheder. Nearly all B'nai Khaim reared in Uman, Kishinev or Odessa spoke Russian and were conversant with secular subjects. They developed appreciation of cultural values beyond the constrictions of the kheder. We shall find echoes of this awareness later in their American home. The fact is that of the 24 B'nai Khaim who came here before World War I at the age of eight or over, only four claimed to be able to read Russian "well" and only three to speak it well. They were even less proficient in their knowledge of Hebrew. Of the 17 males, only three claimed to be able to write Hebrew; these included the Rabbi and his Hebrew teacher son. Only one claimed to be able to speak Hebrew. Of the seven females, only one claimed to be able to read Hebrew, and only "fairly" well. All 24 could speak Yiddish, of course, but only 15 or 16 could read their mother-tongue. Taking all these scores together, it can be said that most of the B'nai Khaim who came here before World War I were semi-illiterate. On the average, this can be said also of those who came after the war, despite the fact that several of them had come with "big-city" learning. The large contingent of virtually illiterate females who had come to join their pre-war emigrant husbands diluted the group's level of literacy. During the years of anguished waiting, there could have been little zest to acquire literacy; foremost for these women was the problem of survival. The first measure of adjustment of non-English-speaking immigrants to the American environment is the command they achieve over the English language-speaking, reading, writing. The extent to which they achieve these facilities in large part determines their economic achievement potentials and, always, the degree of intelligent participation in and identification with the new culture. Obviously, the extent of command over the English language, and the rapidity with which it is acquired, is greatly affected by prior educational levels, by age at arrival and by the content of the old home cultural values. With regard to the age factor, we find it logical to treat separately those who came here before the age of eight (there were 12 of them) and, in several other subgroups, those who came here after that age. Clearly, with respect to their educational and occupation potentials the 12 immigrants must be treated apart and placed alongside native-born children, with due regard to differing influences of immigrant and American home cultures and family economic capability. Two of the 12 were girls. Both of them subsequently graduated from high school; one went on to become a schoolteacher and the other a bookkeeper. Of the ten boys, five achieved high professional status: one became a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, one an anaesthesiologist, and two became lawyers. One of the lawyers earned such high esteem in his community (Cleveland) that, upon his untimely death in March 1963 at age 58, the courts closed for a half-day to permit judges and lawyers to pay homage at his funeral. The fifth of this group was, at the time of this inquiry, a student of architecture and civil engineering. He has since (1965) graduated with distinction. This B'nai Khaim was born in Israel and brought here after World War II at the age of four. Of the other five boys, one became a pharmacist, one a chiropractor, one an office manager, and one a salesman. I have been unable to ascertain what became of the tenth boy. Of special interest in this recital is perhaps the fact that four of the five who achieved high professional status came from families whom we earlier marked as of comparatively high educational achievement in the old country, three of the four being grandsons of the arendar. Understandably, we do not come upon another such concentration of professional achievement until we reach the American-born B'nai Khaim. The higher the age at arrival the less possible becomes the formal education required for professional attainment. Only three immigrant B'nai Khaim, above the age of eight on arrival achieved professions. One, who came here in 1910 at age 17, became a physician. Another, who came here in 1906 at age 18, earned a master's degree in sociology and a Ph.D. in economics, became a college professor, served as economist in the federal government, has published two books since retirement and, at the moment, is writing this one. The third came here in 1925 at age 21. This means he was ten years old when the war broke out in 1914, and his schoolboy education could only have been sporadic. Yet, he came with a wide knowledge of the Russian language and Russian classics and, at the age of 21, set out to formalize his education in English. He completed high school and two years of college (evenings), while earning his keep doing "odd jobs, mostly menial," and became a professional translator. Later he served as translator for the State Department in Washington for 16 years. Now, retired, he does free-lance translating and is also a consultant in foreign language training in the public schools of a Washington suburb. The formal education of B'nai Khaim who came here at ages 8 to 15, was dictated by the req uirements of compulsory school attendance laws. Beyond that, the principal concern for most of them became how to earn a living, either for oneself or to contribute to the family income. Of the six males in this age group, four completed only from six to eight years of elementary school, one went through two years of college, and one graduated from Yeshiva and became a Rabbi. Two of the six are junk dealers; one runs a hand laundry, one is in the fur business, and one owns and operates a parking lot. Of the seven females in this age group, four had six to eight years of elementary-grade schooling, one had two years of high school education, and one attended business school for two years. The seventh, who was born in Israel and came here after World War II at the age of nine, is presently working for a Ph.D. in sociology while raising a family. With the group who came to this country at ages 16 to 20 the extent of formal education of the B'nai Khaim immigrants declines markedly. Earning a living now becomes the paramount objective in life. Besides the M.D. and the Ph.D. mentioned earlier, only one of the eight males in this age group attained as much as the equivalent of a high-school education. All had attended evening classes in "English for foreigners" for various lengths of time; one attended an elementary day school. Of the six beside the economist and the physician, one is in the installment sales business; one is a candy and tobacco wholesaler; two own scrap-iron yards; one is an operator in a dress factory; one became a housepainter and paperhanger. Only two of these B'nai Khaim, then, had become handicraftsmen. The frequent recurrence of the scrap-iron business among immigrant B'nai Khaim reflects their early concentration in the heartland of the American iron and steel industry. In New York, they might have become cloakmakers, as indeed many of them in this area did. In respect to formal education the females in this age group (16 to 20) fared better than the males. All but one of the seven girls had gone to night school to learn English. Five attended grammar school, three of whom completed eight grades and went on to high school, one of them for four years. All seven are now housewives, but one also models in a women's specialty shop; one owns and runs a gift shop at an airport, and a third is a seamstress. From here on formal education of immigrant B'nai Khaim rapidly recedes to the vanishing point. Only about one third in the group who came here at ages 21 to 30 attended night classes in "English for foreigners." One female went through seven and another eight elementary-school grades; none of the males went beyond the night classes. None of them went to high school except our translator, who happens to fall in this age group. In this age group we have the two B'nai Khaim who came here (in 1926) with the most formal education among the 93. One, a male, had graduated from an agricultural institute; the other, his wife (and cousin) had graduated from a gymnasia. In America; while taking college extension courses, the man was engaged in the furniture installment business. Now he is a realtor. All of the 16 women in this age group (21-30), are housewives, but several of them engage in other work besides: one of them runs a pastry shop; another is a seamstress, and a third runs a grocery store. Five are garment workers; one clerks in a shoe store, one in a drug store, and a third teaches Hebrew and singing. Among the ten males in this age group (21 to 30) we find, besides the translator and realtor, three scrap-iron dealers, two storekeepers, one installment merchant and two handicrafts men-a glazier and a garment cutter. With the last two we have accounted for the five handicraftsmen to be found among the 93 first-generation B'nai Khaim. Two males and nine females reported themselves as working in factories. In America, as in the old country, the B'nai Khaim engaged mostly in trade and the services rather than in hand labor. It is noteworthy also that none of the B'nai Khaim studied thus far has been found engaged in industrial pursuits-in the production of goods-except for the few who worked as employees in the needle trades. Finally, we have the 19 B'nai Khaim who came here at age 31 or over-seven females and 12 males. Strictly speaking, all of the seven women have been "housewives," in the sense that they have kept house for their families, but four of them engaged in outside work at the same time. One of them until past the age of 80 tended a fruit and vegetable stall in the produce market. One clerked in a drug store; two took in sewing on the side. Three of the seven came to this country as housewives; three started in the produce market, and one as a seamstress. Two of the three who started in the produce market are now the wives of two wealthy real estate men-the wealthiest in the mishpokhah, it is claimed. At least five of the seven speak English quite well. Of the 12 males in this top age group, only two have a good command of the language. One Was born in Canada and learned his English there. (He came here in 1946 at age 35.) The other, who came here in 1959 at age 47, possesses command of several European languages and got a start in English in the years he lived in Israel, his last home before coming to America. Previously he had lived in Russia and/or Rumania, as the Province of Bessarabia in which he was born was shifted between these two countries with the fortunes of the two World Wars. This B'nai Khaim has the distinction of having been a prisoner of war and of having survived a year in a Nazi concentration camp. He is a graduate in political economy from a European university and is now a practicing accountant in California. In the spring of 1964 he brought his younger brother and sister-in-law here from Rumania where the brother was a textile engineer, and his wife was an architectural engineer. Both promptly found suitable employment in California. Our count of the immigrant B'nai Khaim ends with these two members. Of the rest of the 12 males in this top age group, two were scrap-iron dealers; four sold market produce; one runs a laundromat; our Canadian-born B'nai Khaim is a realtor; one was the late Rabbi Avrom Kaprov. The tenth is our arendar. When he and his wife came (to Buffalo) in 1923 their two daughters who had preceded them by two years opened a fruit store for them in a Polish neighborhood (the arendar spoke Polish). Some years later they moved to Chicago where they opened a grocery store, "working hard (especially Mother)," writes their California daughter. "Father still could not get used to this kind of work," she explained. These, then, were the 93 who planted the B'nai Khaim Tree in America. Our treatment of them of necessity had to be rather statistical. But there is a story. behind each of these statistics "that would fill a book," which we cannot pursue here hardships and successes, triumphs and failures, and tragedies. We must turn now to our next task, to treat of the fruit on that B'nai Khaim Tree-the second-generation American B'nai Khaim. However, before we do that we have two more observations to make about the old. In the preceding chapter I noted that the descendants of Khaim the candlemaker tended to be of short stature. (This was true of most shtetl Jews, for that matter.) While short in stature, however, they seem to be long of life. Once they survived infancy, they seem to go on into real old age. Thirty-five of the immigrant B'nai Khaim died by mid-196S. More than half of these had lived past the biblically allotted three-score- and-ten, and five lived beyond four-score. Here are the statistics: B'nai Khaim, Age at Death Male Female ------------------------- ---- ------ Under 60 8 5 60 to 70 2 3 70 to 75 4 1 75 to 80 4 3 80 + 4 1 ----- ------ Total 22 13 At this writing one female B'nai Khaim is nearing 85, and one male B'nai Khaim is on his way to 80. Finally, a word about what might be termed "transition to Americanization." This is the proclivity of immigrant B'nai Khaim males to marry native-born spouses. Of the 33 male immigrant B'nai Khaim who married in America, 12 (over 36 per cent) married native women. As would be expected, nine of these 12 were of our under-8 age group. The economist and the translator also married native-born women. Of the female immigrant B'nai Khaim who married here, less than 14 per cent married native-born men. Of the two females in the under-8 group one married a foreign-born and one a native-born spouse. Altogether, ten of our 12 under-8 age group married native-born spouses; one married a foreign-born, and one is still single. In fairness it should be added that our female candidate for a Ph.D. in sociology who came to America from Israel at the age of nine also married a native.