Letters from Rivkah by Karen Hesse
Fiction. Henry Holt & Co, 1992.
Twelve-year-old Rifka’s journey from a Jewish community in the Ukraine to Ellis Island is anything but smooth sailing. Modeled on the author’s great-aunt, Rifka surmounts one obstacle after another including soldiers, disease and family separation. Told in the form of “letters’’ written by Rifka in the margins of a volume of Pushkin’s verse and addressed to a Russian relative, Hesse’s vivacious tale colorfully and convincingly refreshes the immigrant experience.
When Jessie Came Across the Sea by Amy Hest
Fiction. Candlewick Press, 1997.
Jessie lives with her grandmother in a poor village in the valleys of Eastern Europe. When, to everyone’s surprise, young Jessie is chosen by the village rabbi to travel to America, and to leave her grandmother behind, they both feel their hearts will break. The book follows Jessie across the sea and discovers a new life—and a new love—in America.
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Maker’s Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel
Nonfiction. Harper Collins, 2013.
This illustrated biographical account tells the story of immigrant labor activist Clara Lelmlich. When Clara arrived in America, she couldn’t speak English. She didn’t know that young women had to go to work, that they traded an education for long hours of labor, that she was expected to grow up fast. But that didn’t stop Clara. Fed up with the mistreatment of her fellow laborers, Clara led the largest walkout of women workers the country had seen.
All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
Fiction. Follett Publishing Company, 1951.
Meet sisters Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte and Gertie who live with their parents on the Lower East Side at the turn-of-the-century. Together they help their parents, celebrate
Middle and High School
City of Dreams: The 400 Year Epic History of Immigrant New York by Tyler Anbiner
Nonfiction. First Mariner Books, 2016.
With more than three million foreign-born residents today, New York has been America’s defining port of entry for nearly four centuries. City of Dreams provides a vivid sense of what New York looked like, sounded like, smelled like, and felt like over the centuries of its development and maturation into the city we know today.
The Rise of David Levinsky by Abraham Cahan
Fiction. Harper & Brothers, 1917.
Cahan’s realistic novel tells the story of a young talmudic scholar who emigrates from a small town in Russia to the melting pot of turn-of-the-century New York City. As the Jewish “greenhorn” rises from the depths of poverty to become a millionaire garment merchant, he discovers the unbearably high price of assimilation.
A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York by Liana Finck
Illustrated nonfiction. Harper Collins Books, 2014.
In an illustrative style that is a thrilling mash-up of Art Spiegelman’s deft emotionality, Roz Chast’s hilarious neuroses, and the magical spirit of Marc Chagall, A Bintel Brief is Liana Finck’s evocative, elegiac love letter to the turn-of-the-century Jewish immigrants who transformed New York City and America itself.
World of Our Fathers by Irving Howe
Nonfiction. Simon and Schuster, 1976.
Irving Howe traces the story of Eastern Europe’s Jews to America over four decades. Beginning in the 1880s, it offers a rich portrayal of the East European Jewish experience in New York, and shows how the immigrant generation tried to maintain their Yiddish culture while becoming American.
A Bintel Brief: Sixty Years of Letters from the Lower East Side to the Jewish Daily Forward by Isaac Metzker
Nonfiction. Schocken Books, 1971.
For more than eighty years the Jewish Daily Forward’s legendary advice column, “A Bintel Brief” (“a bundle of letters”) dispensed shrewd, practical, and fair-minded advice to its readers. Created in 1906 to help bewildered Eastern European immigrants learn about their new country, the column also gave them a forum for seeking advice and support in the face of problems ranging from wrenching spiritual dilemmas to petty family squabbles to the sometimes-hilarious predicaments that result when Old World meets New.
How the Other Half Lives by Jacob Riis
Nonfiction. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1890.
A pioneering work of photojournalism by Jacob Riis, this book documents the squalid
One Foot in America by Yuri Suhl
Fiction. Yuri Suhl, 1950.
A coming-of-age tale about Sol Kenner’s first three years in America, living with his orthodox father in a tenement flat in Brooklyn. Sol works as a butcher boy, takes evening courses, battles anti-Semitic bullies and falls in love as he tries to become a “regular sport” and an American.
Triangle, The Fire That Changed America by David Von Drehle
Nonfiction. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003.
A poignantly detailed account of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory disaster that horrified the country and changed the course of twentieth-century politics and labor relations.
Breadgivers by Anzia Yezerskia
Fiction. Persea Books, 1925.
Set in the 1920s on the Lower East Side of Manhattan this novel tells the story of Sara Smolinsky, the youngest daughter of an Orthodox rabbi, who rebels against her father’s rigid conception of Jewish womanhood.
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