Dreaming in American: Tales of Jewish Immigration Through the Centuries
Immigrant family looking at Statue of Liberty from Ellis Island, ca. 1930
Adapted and directed by Laura Ferri
Cast: Mollie Corcoran, David S. Klein, Shellie Shulkin, Carl Shutoff, Lee Yang
Fleeing the dreadful pogroms of the late 19th century, the horrors of the Holocaust and economic privations, the Jewish people have continually emigrated from the Old World to the new, hoping for a piece of Die Goldene Medina. Here they would find religious freedom and often land and prosperity but their dreams in the Golden Land wavered and morphed as the harsh realities of life as immigrant outsiders tarnished that American glow. This performance piece affirms the lives of the ordinary Jews who scrambled to earn a living on the crowded tenement streets of New York’s Lower East Side only to see their children move uptown and quietly distance themselves from their parents’ old-world sensibilities. Anzia Yezierska, Bernard Malamud and Sholem Asch each poignantly depict dreams lost, found and mutated in circumstances that still resonate among immigrant populations today.
Stories: “The Lost Beautifulness” by Anzia Yezierska; “The Magic Barrel” by Bernard Malamud; “A Quiet Garden Spot” by Sholem Asch.
Audio Excerpt from “The Magic Barrel”
Further Reading “Thoughts on Dreaming in American by Carl Shutoff”
SHOLEM ASCH, a Yiddish writer, was born into a traditional orthodox community in the Polish shtetl of Kutno, whose narrow intellectual confines he fled in his youth. His play, God of Vengeance, created a sensation across Europe for its sexually provocative characters and depiction of non-secular, unsympathetic Jews. The production of the play in an English translation was banned in New York in 1923. “A Quiet Garden Spot” was first published in 1954, late in the author’s life and reflects his view on mortality.
BERNARD MALAMUD, a native of New York City, was one of the most celebrated Jewish writers of the 20thcentury. His short story collection, The Magic Barrel, won the National Book Award in 1958 and his novel, The Fixer, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1966. His first novel, The Natural, was made into an award-winning film, directed by Barry Levinson. Malamud’s work is characterized by elements of magical realism and allegory and is usually grounded in the culture of immigrant Jews.
ANZIE YEZIERSKA, emigrated from Poland in 1898, settling with her family on the Lower East Side of New York City. Her writing, written in English but attempting to capture the vernacular of the immigrant community, reflects her experiences as well as those of her family and in a widening circle, the Jewish community of that era, as they succeed and fail to achieve the American Dream. An ardent Socialist and feminist, her short stories and novels feature women with strong personalities and passionate views, rather like Anzia herself!
Photography courtesy William Schipp © 2019 William Schipp.
Abraham Shulkin and Family, Sioux City, Iowa 1910 – Personal collection, Shellie Shulkin, Photographer Unknown.