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"Russian Jews as Desirable Immigrants" (Excerpt)

Ida Van Etten was a writer and the first Secretary of the Working Women's Society of New York. In this excerpt from an article published in Forum, Van Etten defends the character of the Russian Jewish immigrants that were then arriving in New York in great numbers. Jewish working men, she maintains, are educated, temperate, and endowed with the ability to rise above adverse conditions. Futhermore, she argues, the arrival of large numbers of Jewish immigrants, far from increasing competition for jobs in certain trades, has actually improved conditions for workers as a result of their organization in trade unions and their involvement in agitating for shorter working hours and other workers' causes.

It would clear away many misleading theories to remember that it is not the condition in which the immigrant comes that determines his usefulness, but the power that he shows to rise above his condition; and if the ability to rise superior to adverse conditions be a proof of strength of character, we must concede that the Russian Jew possesses this quality in no mean degree.

Thus, although the Jewish immigrants were for a short time a disturbing factor in the trades in which they competed with native working men and women, they have by their organizations placed those very trades upon higher economic plan than they had previously occupied, while the shortening of work-hours brought about by the same means has created a greatly increased demand for labor in these industries. In fact, the competition of immigrants has, during the recent discussion of immigration, been very much exaggerated. Even a very slight reduction in the hours of a day's work would easily abolish the competition caused by immigration.

The Jews are a temperate people, and the saloon is not likely to become an element in their social or political life. Instead of beer or strong alcoholic liquors, they drink enormous quantities of tea and coffee. Coffee-houses are numerous on the East Side and serve as the gathering-places of the Jewish working men and women. . . . The recreations of a people are commonly the truest indication of their real character. The frequenters of these dingy little coffee-houses are men rough and uncouth in appearance, poorly dressed and often dirty and unkempt, but a lady or a scholar would find nothing offensive in their conversation. They discuss trade matters, political economy, philosophy, the works of Karl Marx . . . Tolstoi . . . and Zola. Almost any Jewish workingman you might chance to meet in these circles would be able to discuss intelligently these authors and their works. . . .

Source | Ida Van Etten, "Russian Jews as Desirable Immigrants," Forum 15 (1893): 172-182;
Creator | Ida Van Etten
Item Type | Article/Essay
Cite This document | Ida Van Etten, “"Russian Jews as Desirable Immigrants" (Excerpt),” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 29, 2023,

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