In the autobiography, “Out of the Shadow”, author Rose Cohen, a Russian-Jewish immigrant, explains the social and economic conditions during the late 1800s and early 1900s for Jews immigrating into the United States. Cohen explains how many Jews fled Eastern Europe and Russia during this time due to the ruling of the tsar, fear of religious persecution, and economic restrictions. Because these restrictions were becoming the norm for Jewish people in their county, Rose’s father, a tailor, began to embark on a journey to the United States of America, in hopes of beginning a new life for himself and his family.
Even though her father is captured at the border of Russia and returned home, he managed to get to America. Once in America, he began work as a tailor, striving to earn enough money to bring his entire family to America. In the next year and a half, Rose’s father is finally able to get Rose and her aunt Masha to America. During the early years of Rose’s life in America, she experiences many obstacles and conditions that were faced by Jews throughout the United States during the late 19th century and early 20th century.
During Rose and her Aunt Masha’s arrival at Castle Garden in America, they experienced various social conditions, which were different and new from their old lifestyles in Russia. As Rose’s father began to introduce her to the new American society, she became very upset at that many Jews were becoming Americanized; they were forgetting completely about their Jewish religion and roots. Rose writes, “The first thing men do in America,” she had said, “is cut their beards and the first thing the women do is to leave off their wigs” (Cohen 79).
She explains that the grooming of Jewish men and women was mandatory, because they had to adapt to the American way. Jews chose to conform in hopes of finding the high-paying jobs and avoiding harsh treatment. In the work force, many Jews were also Americanized through the changing and altering of their Yiddish names. By making their names more “American,” they were more understandable for American people. When Ruth first got her job, her boss’s wife asked Ruth’s father, “’Well Mr. —, have you given your daughter an American name? … ‘How would you like Ruth for a name?
’ I said I should like to be called Ruth” (Cohen 82). Even though many Jews were adapting to the American ways and becoming “Americanized”, in many places, Jews were highly discriminated against and treated with great disrespect. Many were physically and verbally abused, making life in America even more stressful for incoming Jews. Rose Cohen experienced this treatment on a daily basis in the lower eastside, “I had often seen these ‘loafers’, as we called them, attack a Jewish pedlar, dump his push cart of apples into the gutter, fill their pockets and walk away laughing and eating” (Cohen 104).
Rose describes the different social conditions that Jews faced when immigrating to America. This maltreatment would forever change the standard of living for not only Jews, but for different immigrants coming to America from all over the world. Jews had no choice but to join the workforce, and many of them faced long work hours, low wages, and poor working conditions. Alike Rose’s father, many Russian-Jews began to embark on migrations to America in hopes of bringing their families to the land of the free.
Many immigrants had to sacrifice certain needs in order to save money to send over to their family in Russia for steam liner tickets, agent fees, and other necessities needed for a safe travel to America. In her conversation with the presser of a garment shop, Rose reveals that many of the Russian-Jews who had escaped were trying even harder to get their families over to America quickly. “He said he had escaped from the Russian army a year before and that his wife and two year old little girl were still in Russia. He was trying to save and send for them” (Cohen 120).
Although many Jewish people were very hardworking, there was still no job security. Jews like Rose Cohen were jumping from job to job, not knowing what the next day had in store for them. Many Jews stayed without jobs for some months at a time. Cohen recalls, “I stood a while, then I walked away from the shop, ‘Where next’, I wondered” (Cohen 132). When Jews were able to secure jobs, they faced problems such as twelve-hour workdays. This meant that their lives consisted of nothing but work, eat, and sleep, which was repeated all seven days of the week.
The days were long and the working conditions were harsh. Often, Jews had to attend work deathly ill or unable to physically function. Cohen recalls when she first arrived how much her father had to work and how he was hardly ever home, working to establish himself and his family in America. “When he went away in the morning it was still dark, and when he came home at night the lights in the halls were out” (Cohen, Pg. 74). By telling her story, Rose reveals the different economic obstacles Jews faced in the work force in America.
By analyzing Rose Cohen’s autobiography, “Out of the Shadow”, it uncovers the various social and economical hardships that Russian-Jews faced living in America. Even though adapting to a new life in America came with many obstacles for Jews, Rose’s story shows that many of them made it through their hardships and ultimately overcame their adversities. Rose Cohen’s autobiography serves as a great resource as to what Jewish life was in everyday America during the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Works Cited.
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