When Zaidie was young...and other fictional tales..
I have always held a fond spot for that near mythical locale in New York City where so many of our anscestors passed through, The Lower East Side. Stories I heard from my Grandparents, When Zaidie Was Young tapes and a whole library of books that cheerfully describer the innocent, but rough life in the teeming neighborhood.
Imagine my sense of shock and almost betrayal when my eyes opened to an entirely new Lower East Side. One I had never even contemplated but no less real. The Lower East Side at the turn of the century was teeming with Jewish crime.
Jewish criminals affectionately known as Melamdim would create gangs of local children, yes affectionately called Talmidim, to roam the streets pickpocketing unsuspecting passerbys.
There was even a Yiddish term for a pimp (a simcha).
The streets were full of Jewish prostitutes.
One Rosie Hertz was observed by a traveler at the time..”Dressed in the traditionally Orthodox garb with her hair covered and wide white apron..she would affectionately pinch your cheek when she greeted you. There isn’t a woman in America that has coached and mentored more prostitutes than she...”
Then there was such local aidele fellows like Lepke Buchalter who even mobsters like Lucky Luciano abbhored his tacticts and brutality.
Now I don’t exactly expect Shmuel Kunda to sing songs about Rosie Hertz and her Simchamobile nor do I think Papa Herman had much to do with that seedy underground but it raised an interesting point in my mind.
Frum Journalism, History and Literary works are very much removed from realism.
Another eye opening book for me was one entitled The Cap written by a survivor of the camps where he vividly and realistically portrayed what the camps were really like, including many cases of inter-prisoner abuse and sometimes sexual assault.
Did you know that in Auschwitz the Polish prisoners would not talk to the Hungarian prisoners??
Looking back, I can’t help but wonder, who knows what went on in the Shtetlech that they’re not telling us about.
120 years ago in France a young writer names Emile Zola started writing books which portrayed every day life in the slums of Paris in startling reality. The whole literary world rose up to criticize him. Up until then literary works were centered on an idyllic world of the the imaginations of those that frequented the salons of Paris. His philosophy eventually won out.
We suffer from the same mentality. We create an idealistic view of our community and hide everything that doesn’t fit that rosy world, when in reality there’s nothing more beautiful then the truth and nothing more idyllic then facing human flaws and struggles and correcting them.
Whitewashing reality doesn’t make anything go away not in the past and not in the present.
See the above painting...
One of the great art movements in the last century was the pointilist art movement of George Seurat and others. The basic premise was that instead of the artist mixing the paints on his palette and them applying them on the canvas, he would would use the 3 primary colors of red, blue and yellow in tiny dots and let the observer do the mixing in his mind, thus making the observer part of the creation process.
I say..historians should not be doing the mixing for us. Give us the primary facts let me do the mixing in my mind..I’m sure I can create something beautiful with the facts.
Perhaps we wouldn’t be so overcome with helplessness when confronted with our modern day “crisises”, if we’d only be armed with the knowledge that other generations have grappled with issues and problems before us.