Bintel Blog

L'dor V'dor: Writing the Immigrant Experience

By Lillian Swanson

  • Print
  • Share Share

A packed house of about 200 greeted Forward contributor Ilan Stavans and Pete Hamill Thursday night at the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side for a discussion of Stavans’s new book, “Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing” (Library of America).

Stavans, who came to the United States in 1985 from Mexico and teaches at Amherst College, described the anthology as “a love letter from my end to a country that is very open and full of wonder, and I appreciate it.”

As editor, Stavans selected more than 100 entries — poems, essays, memoirs, travel pieces — that tell the immigrant experience. He arranged the pieces by “waves of immigration” and spent quite a bit of time deciding the title. “This country is always in the process of becoming,” he said.

Hamill, who wrote the foreword to the new book — and the introduction to “A Living Lens: Photographs of Jewish Life from the Pages of the Forward” (W.W. Norton, 2007) — shared his insights about new lives forged in America.

Those insights included:

• Immigrants bring with them their gifts — their food, music, theater, literature — and they change the country. “They don’t come here to sit on the stoop,” he said. “They come here to work.” And to provide better lives for their children.

• Referring to the once-thriving Yiddish theater scene on Second Avenue, he said, “I wish I knew Sholem Aleichem. They had a version of ‘King Lear’ with a happy ending.”

• New York City, he said, is “the capital of people who are not like you. Absorb as much as you can.”

Hamill also told an endearing story of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s first day at the Forverts, the Yiddish forebear of the English Forward. As Hamill tells it, Singer wrote a story about a bill that had passed in Albany. Abe Cahan, the legendary editor, read the piece, and told Singer “follow me.” Together they went to where the newspaper’s printers worked and Cahan gave Singer’s story to a printer to read. When he was finished the printer looked puzzled and said, “What’s this mean to me?”

Cahan’s lesson is an important one for journalists, then and now.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Pete Hamill, Immigration, Ilan Stavans

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • How did Tariq Abu Khdeir go from fun-loving Palestinian-American teen to international icon in just a few short weeks? http://jd.fo/d4kkV
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.