BY: Shaul Seidler-Feller.What was Orthodox Judaism like in the early part of the 20th century in America? What were the difficulties and/or opportunities presented to Jews coming over to the U.S. from Europe?
I grew up in a small, isolated, ghettoized European town called the Lower East Side of Manhattan. All the adults were first-generation immigrants. They dressed as they had in Europe, they spoke as they had in Europe, but all lost their children to assimilation. America was a treyfer land (a country unsuited to Jewish religious life), and they knew that going in. They were dying in Europe and did not have any hope of continuing there so they came to the U.S. with the understanding that there would not be Judaism here. On Yom Kippur, people bought kibbudim (honors during the service) and came up wearing leather shoes. On Shabbos, the president of my father’s shul, Mr. Rosen, would get upset if the chazzan for Musaf was kvetching around a little bit because he had to get out of shul and go open up his store on 33rd St. They just gave up on observance. It was a complete defeat.