To meet and satisfy the immigrant’s hunger for information and knowledge, Yiddish newspapers, magazines, and books were published. During the 1870s a number of Yiddish weekly newspapers were started in New York, with the first daily Yiddish newspaper appearing in 1885.
The Yiddish press served the Jewish community in many ways. It helped to preserve its social structure, mores, and served at the same time as a force for social change. It provided the immigrants with an opportunity to view themselves with different eyes. (“Americans” saw them as curiosities and social problems.) The Jews saw themselves as struggling to adapt. Everyone who came to the Lower East Side had to become an American. Americanization involved discarding old values and accepting new ones. The culture of the shtetl represented the Old World; it had to be abandoned in order to adapt to the new environment. The Lower East Side was the scene of this transformation. The “Bintel Brief” letters to the editor of the
Jewish Daily Forward
tried to raise the collective consciousness. These letters provide a vivid record of the trials and tribulations of adaptation from the immigrant point of view.
The Lower East Side symbolized the Jewish adaptation to America. Life was a panorama of hardship, misery, poverty, crowding, filth, uncertainty, alienation, joy, love and devotion. In the pages of the Yiddish press this panorama was recorded; on the stages of the Yiddish theatre it was dramatized.
The theater portrayed and satirized the lives, hopes and ambitions of the immigrants. A variety of theatrical companies produced plays in Yiddish, ranging from serious drama (including translations of Shakespeare) to light musical comedies. The immigrant Jews—the very young and the aged, workers and employers, the poor and the affluent—found in the theater entertainment, education, and an escape from the drudgery of their daily life.