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This is America! by Henye Meyer
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This is America!

by Henye Meyer

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Recently added byMusiaB, aebooks1, reit, macygma, LorriMilli

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In this captivating tale of old world religion versus new world customs we learn that life in the late 1800’s in Jewish Russia was hard but the people seemed happy together, being the Jews they were meant to be. They worked hard, prayed harder and, when the young men were drafted cried when they left and cried more when they returned, changed forever.
Tscharna’s family, ruled by Tatte, supported by Mamme; consisted of two boys and two girls. Tscharna was the older sister to Bine-Gittel and Elva the oldest son with Herschel in the middle. When Elva returns from the war wanting to go to America Tatte’s immediate response is “No America”. That changes when a second draft becomes imminent.
After living alone for over a year, the women receive their tickets to join the men. Sadness at leaving, but happiness at seeing their family whole again. When they arrive in New York; they find a harder Tatte and an Elva turning Socialist. Coffeehouses, public baths, trolleys, busy, busy streets to cross and Shabbos has gone by the wayside to the lure of money. Tenements, women working away from home and public schools test Mamme’s strength.
Will the non-celebration of Shabbos come between Tatte and his wife? Does Tscharna find a husband who will remain Jewish with her or is she destined to never marry? And what of Herschel and Bine-Gittel who refuses to change her name to Sally or Mary? A Yiddish dictionary might be handy but their lives and times are celebrated and cried over in this story which you absolutely shouldn’t miss! ( )
  macygma | May 26, 2012 |
This is America! by Henye Meyer is a fascinating and intense look at the Jewish immigrant experience in New York.

Although a novel, I felt as if I were a part of the entire experience, and from the first page until the last page, I was eager to continue reading. I wanted to learn more about the hardships, struggles, social ideals and events, the economic situation and the general daily life of the immigrant. I wanted to inhale and exhale the situations they found themselves confronting.

It wasn’t an easy life, and the idealistic dream of what America would be like, quickly turned to disillusion on many levels. Jews and people of other cultures were almost instantly thrown into harsh struggles and turmoil, so to speak. The Jewish traditions of the shtetl meant very little in a world where money counted for everything in order to survive.

Although they seemingly had it better in America, their emotions conflicted with that theory. Identity and assimilation were major issues for this family, they were typical immigrant family trying to fit into the scheme of things in a new land.

The Gordons adjustment was made a bit easier through the fact that “tatte” or the father of the household had emigrated first. The rest of them followed later on, but they at least had him to instruct them as to the social aspects of their new surroundings. Some of what he dictated did not sit well with “mamme” Gordon or with his sons and daughters, for differing reasons. The family unit was torn between the here and now, and the former life they had. The family dynamics led to disagreement and discord.

Old religious traditions, especially Orthodox practices, went by the wayside with “tatte” and with the oldest son. They no longer practiced the strict traditions that they had in the old country. They tried to impress upon the rest of the family that in order to survive and have enough for rent, food and other items of necessity they would all need to do their share and even work on the Sabbath. And, within that framework, they were also paying off the huge debt that was contracted for their emigration. Work, work, and more work, after all this is America. This theory did not go over well, especially with the three females, who were adamant about continuing on with their religious practices and traditions, and continue as they had before emigrating.

The strength the women displayed was incredible. Their will to keep tradition, yet move forward was inspiring. Their devotion to family and Jewish tradition was admirable.

From clothes to food, laundry and household temperatures, religion to working on the Sabbath, from the sweat shops to the union protests, This is America! is an incredible reading experience.

Strikes against workplaces and employers raged through the city, and the country, for that matter. Unions were formed and shops became “closed”. If one wanted to work during a strike, they had to cross picket lines. The women either took on simple hand work they could do at home, or worked odd jobs Sunday through Friday afternoon, literally changing jobs almost every week. Times were difficult and jobs seemed to be a dime a dozen, and individuals were replaceable with the bat of an eyelash. The times bore the economic struggles and the industrial struggles for better work conditions.

This was America in the early part of the 20th century. This was the Gordon family’s America. Meyer’s writing is masterful, and story telling at its finest.

The novel is historically factual, and is an important piece of Literature, in my opinion. The author fills all of the senses with beautiful prose. I highly recommend This is America! to everyone. It is a book not to be missed. Henye Meyer has brought the past and the immigrant experience to the forefront, in every aspect. ( )
  LorriMilli | May 15, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 160091196X, Hardcover)

When the Gordons escaped pogrom-ridden Russia and washed up on the shores of Ellis Island, little could they have fathomed how the course of their lives was about to change. Forever. With bustling tenements, endless sweatshops, and throngs racing madly to work...this was definitely the New World. New opportunities and bitter choices.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:47 -0400)

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