December 10, 2004
100 YEARS AGO
• Currently there is a great deal of unemployment in general and in the Jewish trades specifically. As a result, masses of day workers assemble each morning in what is called the pig market, in Hester Street Park, and wait for foremen who need workers. Jewish workers have been shipped off to Pennsylvania recently, where they are promised jobs with the railroad for $8 dollars a week, plus room and board and only an eight-hour workday. However, things are not as those offering the jobs make them out to be. Hyman Benenson, an unemployed pants maker who took one of these jobs, reported that the work entails digging train tunnels through mountains and laying track. Workers sleep in triple bunk beds and are given one piece of bread with ham each day. If one wants more food, it is available at exorbitant prices. Therefore, hundreds of Jewish workers are virtually enslaved by the railroad companies.
75 YEARS AGO
• The father of famous Vaudevillian and star of stage and screen Al Jolson is profiled in the Forward. He lived in the shtetl of Srednika, near Kovno, which had about 100 families, most of them Jewish. Jolson’s father was a renowned cantor who had entertained an interest in becoming an opera singer. However, after getting married and having children, he gave up that dream and began to study for the rabbinate. In spite of being ordained as a rabbi, he continued as a cantor. In order to make ends meet, he also worked as a ritual slaughterer. The family was so religious that the children would get slapped if they forgot to kiss the mezuza upon entering the house. But when they got to America, that life was quickly forgotten.
• A victim of poverty, naiveté and a poor choice of friends, 16-year-old Gussie Teitel, a Jewish girl from the Lower East Side, was arrested with a gang of thieves last week. Both her parents are peddlers. She has six brothers and sisters, all of whom live in a tenement house on Orchard Street, where her mother works as the janitor. Her mother warned her about hanging around with the wrong crowd. Regardless, Gussie began spending time with a gang of Italian boys on Orchard Street who were not the cream of society. They have been arrested, accused of robbing multiple victims all over the Lower East Side.
50 YEARS AGO
• He grew up a yeshiva boy in Hebron and Petah Tikva, a student of the famous Hazon Ish; he swims like a fish in the waters of Torah and was ordained to be a rabbi. But the body that his clever head sits on is massive and muscular. His name is Rafael Halperin, and he is the only professional wrestler who wears a yarmulke, keeps kosher and prays three times a day. Halperin says his decision to become a wrestler is based on his desire to spread the word of God. With his current wrestler fame, he has many more people come to hear him speak in synagogues than would be the case if he were simply a rabbi.