When the Jewish community of some far-flung town in the United States needs a rabbi, where does it turn? New York, where else. These towns send committees to interview rabbis and, usually, they get what they’re looking for. Do they want a rabbi with a beard and peyes or without? Do they want one with a secular education or without? There are two main markets for rabbis in New York. One is an old-fashioned yeshiva on Henry Street on the Lower East Side, and the other is a fancy seminary uptown on 123rd Street. The latter, which is funded by wealthy Jews ostensibly to serve Orthodox immigrants, doesn’t really produce Orthodox rabbis. But, to be honest, the community of truly orthodox Jews isn’t very big.
“I’m reading ‘The Jewish Princess from the Bronx,’” states an unnamed, but very well known Yiddish writer in a letter to Forverts editor Abraham Cahan. Why mention this note, asks Cahan, in reference to Leybl Botvinik’s literary work, currently being serialized in the paper? Because it’s important to note that even though Botvinik’s novel — a story about a love affair between a Jewish girl from the Bronx and an accused murderer — deals with romance, tragedy and catastrophe, it is in no way a low-grade pulp novel. Quality literature, Cahan argues, also deals with such subjects. Just look at “Anna Karenina,” he says. The story is full of terrible events, but it is still fantastic literature.
This week the belated 100th birthday of Forverts’ founder and longtime editor, Abraham Cahan, was celebrated in New York. A great Jew and a great American, a journalist and novelist, Cahan was a guide for the masses who fought for freedom and socialism. He passed away in 1951. Among those who sent messages in honor of Cahan’s birthday are President Eisenhower, President-elect Kennedy and Prime Minister Ben-Gurion of Israel. Ben-Gurion noted that Cahan was one of the first Jewish labor leaders who understood the importance of the State of Israel and the importance of the Jewish labor movement there, in spite of the fact that he was not formally a Zionist.