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April 25, 2008

100 Years Ago in the forward

It wasn’t a pogrom; no windows were broken, and no pillows were torn up and emptied. But Jews were getting robbed in Manhattan on Hester and Rivington Streets, and on the streets of Brooklyn. Jewish women were getting the worst of it, fleeced by merchants of all kinds. These salesmen know that the women have to buy certain items before Passover, and so they’ve jacked up the prices. A week ago, for example, chicken cost 15 cents per pound. Suddenly it’s 25 cents a pound. The price of dead fish has gone up to 10 cents a pound from 6 cents. The cost of live fish has doubled. These poor Jewish women, trying to make their holiday meals, will be able to get only half of what they really need.

75 Years Ago in the forward

This year’s Seder at the New York State Hospital for the Insane on Ward’s Island was an interesting one. While some of the patients were too agitated to sit, others were so catatonic, they didn’t move the entire time. One boy, dressed in a white gown, was made up like a woman. There were all kinds attending the Seder — young, old, lawyers and other professionals. One man was a brilliant former professor of music who is cursed with a mental illness that causes him to think spirits follow him about and want to kill him. Another young man, who seemed quite well-educated, said he was originally from Palestine and was ordained by Rav Kook. He came to work as a rabbi in Pittsburgh, but was stricken with mental illness and has been on Ward’s Island ever since. The Seder was led by the hospital’s chaplain and was performed quietly. The rabbi did make one special blessing, saying that he hoped the patients would be healthy by next year. This was followed by a number of hearty “amens”; however, one woman yelled out, “A nekhtiker tog!” (“It’ll never happen!”)

50 Years Ago in the forward

Would you believe that there are people in America who do not know what a bagel is? This old-time immigrant treat, the bagel with lox, has become a citizen in America, just like the immigrants who brought it with them. Bagels and lox have become a necessity, just like bacon and eggs, for Sunday breakfasts — in Jewish and non-Jewish homes. A few years ago — you might remember — the New York Bagel Bakers Union held a strike, causing desperate restaurants to import bagels from such foreign places as Philadelphia. Despite the bagel’s popularity on the East Coast, people in the provincial areas of the United States are not yet familiar with this delicacy.

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