Note: On April 17, 1911, ELLIS ISLAND saw 11,747 immigrants step off ships and into America. Once settled, many of those immigrants found themselves inhabiting totally new lives with totally new questions about work, leisure, and love. Some, like this anonymous author whose story appeared in the Jewish Daily Forward, tried to balance the customs of their old home with the desires of their new one. [Lapham's Quarterly.]
Love in the New World (by a Skeptic in Philadelphia)
A Light Unto the Gentiles
I have been in America almost three years. I came from Russia where I studied at a yeshiva. My parents were proud and happy at the thought that I would become a rabbi. But at the age of twenty I had to go to America. Before I left I gave my father my word that I would walk the righteous path and be good and pious. But America makes one forget everything.
Here I became an operator, and at night I went to school. In a few months I entered a preparatory school, where for two subjects I had a Gentile girl as teacher. I began to notice that the teacher paid more attention to me than to the others in the class, and in time she told me I would be better off taking private lessons from her for the same price I paid to the school.
I don’t know what I would have done without her help. I began to love her, but with mixed feelings of respect and anguish. I was afraid to look her in the eyes.
Many times upon leaving her house, I would decide not to return, but my heart drew me to her, and I spent three weeks in her house. Meanwhile I received the report on my examinations which showed that I had passed with the highest grades. I went directly to her to show her the report, and she asked me what I planned to do. I answered that I didn’t know as yet, because I had no money for college. “That’s a minor problem,” she said, and asked if I didn’t know that she was not indifferent toward me. Then she spoke frankly of her love for me and her hope that I would love her.
I was confused and I couldn’t answer her immediately. In Europe I had been absorbed in the yeshiva, here with my studies, and I knew little of practical life. I do agree with her that we are first of all human beings, and she is a human being in the fullest sense of the word. She is pretty, intelligent, educated, and has a good character. But I am in despair when I think of my parents. What heartaches they will have when they learn of this! ¥¥