For many Americans and Europeans living in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the first quarter of the twentieth century the two continents were not only thousands of miles apart, but were two different worlds. However, to those of Jewish extraction, the continents and their worlds were only a heartbeat or letter apart.
The two worlds were very different, yet to the East European Jews they had many similarities. One world was represented by government-enforced closeness to people of your own kind; a similar language; and similar problems in the struggle to keep one’s dignity and life. The other world was represented by the desire to be with ones’ own kind, in an attempt, against great odds and pressures, to maintain one’s religious identity and traditions. At the same time, one tried to make a better life for himself and his family.
In Europe it was the world of “the Shtetl” and the “Pale of Russia”—a world of traditions, culture and the government-encouraged hatred of the Jews. In America it was the world of the Lower East Side of New York City—a world in which the East European Jews could attempt to transplant their culture and tradition, a world in which they could meet and overcome hardships, but not escape the scorn of others who disliked “Foreigners and Jews.”