5. New York

 

A letter to Europe and a reply take about a month to close the circuit. Perl D’vorah and Leib correspond the whole year after her arrival in New York. She finds work in a wig shop making sheitles, ironically, having vowed never to wear one. She drops her given name in favor of the more fashionable Dora. Leib likewise will become Louis upon reaching America. Anticipation of being together builds. Dora saves and sends fifty dollars for his boat fare. They agree to be married as soon as he comes to the United States. For both it will be a new marriage in a new world, a new…beginning.

Leib is one of a couple of thousand immigrants entering America that particular 1911 summer day. Arriving in New York, the world’s fastest growing city, is both exciting and worrisome. He thrills at his first sights of this new land. His ship enters the harbor and passes the Statue of Liberty, the tallest structure he’s ever seen; then he spots the immense Brooklyn Bridge, the longest bridge in the world. As the ship docks in Manhattan, he marvels at the city skyline with some buildings nearly twenty stories high and one, the astounding Singer Building, at forty-stories even taller than the statue!

A ferry takes Leib from the dock to the Ellis Island Immigration Station to be processed for admission. Then Leib begins to worry because on Ellis Island, though not likely, he could be summarily rejected and sent back to Europe. There is also a measure of trepidation as he senses the tremendous adjustments that lay ahead.

The immigration inspectors accept Leib, and a year of separation from Dora ends. Leib, now Louis, looks for a job. He finds a job in a garment factory. Sweatshop jobs are common for urban “greenhorns,” newcomers to America. The daily hours are long in a six-day workweek. Being unskilled, Louis is made a pants’ press operator. He pushes a 15-pound iron around all day, hard work that leaves him exhausted when he returns home in the evenings.

Louis and Dora wed shortly after Louis begins work. They live at 237 Stanton Street, within the lower eastside of Manhattan, the principal area for Jewish immigrants. It is the most crowded place on earth, Calcutta included, thanks to tenements, tall buildings specially designed to pack the most people into the least amount of real estate. It is a vibrant place, with shops and small factories abounding. Most signs are in the languages of Central and Eastern Europe, with Yiddish predominating. It’s as if a half million people from the Pale were crammed into a few square miles, and in effect it is.

The sidewalks are packed with people and tables of storefront merchandise. The cobblestone streets are crammed with peddlers’ pushcarts and the constant traffic of horses, wagons, cars and trucks. The neighborhood din is continuous, and soot and manure are everywhere. Overhead there is a jumble of iron fire escapes clinging to the buildings and laundry hanging to dry on lines strung between them. This is a far cry from Hrubiechev and Tomaschev.
Louis circa 1915

Numerous societies spring up in immigrant neighborhoods to help in the adjustment to the new world. Typically, people from the same area or village in Europe band together and rent a meeting hall. A society serves its members as a mutual assistance group, a social center, and a cultural refuge. Further, it is a focal point for collective efforts such as organizing cemetery plots and assistance for families still in the old country. The lower eastside has hundreds of these societies.

Louis and Dora join the Hrubiechev Society, then six years old and 300 people strong. Immigrants from that village formed two other societies but those were for more religious people. Louis and Dora see themselves as stylish and up-to-date. They decide not to join a temple though they keep a kosher home and are religious. Older Hrubiechevers, however, regard them as not very observant; they disdainfully view the couple as “young moderns.”

The next year, in July 1912, word goes to parents and family in Europe that Dora is decidedly not barren. It’s a boy! Their son is named for an uncle, Mechel. They decide to call him Max; after all, this is the new world and he needs a fashionable name. Max, however, in later years will choose another name for himself, Mark.

Photo: Louis as a young man, circa 1915

Continue to Part Six

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