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A remarkable history of the Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland who altered the American landscape from New York to Hollywood The wave of Eastern European Jewish immigrants who swept into New York in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by way of Ellis Island were not welcomed by the Jews who had arrived decades before. These refugees from czarist Russia A remarkable history of the Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland who altered the American landscape from New York to Hollywood The wave of Eastern European Jewish immigrants who swept into New York in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by way of Ellis Island were not welcomed by the Jews who had arrived decades before. These refugees from czarist Russia and the Polish shtetls who came to America to escape pogroms and persecution were considered barbaric, uneducated, and too steeped in the traditions of the “old country” to be accepted by the more refined and already well-established German-Jewish community. But the new arrivals were tough, passionate, and determined, and in no time they were moving up from the ghetto tenements of New York’s Lower East Side to make their marks and their fortunes across the country in a variety of fields, from media and popular music to fashion, motion pictures, and even organized crime.   Among the unforgettable personages author Stephen Birmingham profiles are radio pioneer David Sarnoff, makeup mogul Helena Rubinstein, Hollywood tycoons Samuel Goldwyn and Harry Cohn, Broadway composer Irving Berlin, and mobster Meyer Lansky. From the author of “Our Crowd”, comes this treasure trove of fascinating tales and unforgettable “rags-to-riches” success stories that celebrates the indomitable spirit of a unique community.


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A remarkable history of the Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland who altered the American landscape from New York to Hollywood The wave of Eastern European Jewish immigrants who swept into New York in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by way of Ellis Island were not welcomed by the Jews who had arrived decades before. These refugees from czarist Russia A remarkable history of the Jewish immigrants from Russia and Poland who altered the American landscape from New York to Hollywood The wave of Eastern European Jewish immigrants who swept into New York in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by way of Ellis Island were not welcomed by the Jews who had arrived decades before. These refugees from czarist Russia and the Polish shtetls who came to America to escape pogroms and persecution were considered barbaric, uneducated, and too steeped in the traditions of the “old country” to be accepted by the more refined and already well-established German-Jewish community. But the new arrivals were tough, passionate, and determined, and in no time they were moving up from the ghetto tenements of New York’s Lower East Side to make their marks and their fortunes across the country in a variety of fields, from media and popular music to fashion, motion pictures, and even organized crime.   Among the unforgettable personages author Stephen Birmingham profiles are radio pioneer David Sarnoff, makeup mogul Helena Rubinstein, Hollywood tycoons Samuel Goldwyn and Harry Cohn, Broadway composer Irving Berlin, and mobster Meyer Lansky. From the author of “Our Crowd”, comes this treasure trove of fascinating tales and unforgettable “rags-to-riches” success stories that celebrates the indomitable spirit of a unique community.

30 review for "The Rest of Us": The Rise of America's Eastern European Jews

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jill Hutchinson

    I had read Our Crowd: The Great Jewish Families of New York by Stephen Birmingham several years ago and enjoyed it immensely. When I found this book hiding on my bookshelves (I don't even remember buying it) I jumped right on it and discovered that it was equally as interesting. It is the history of the second great migration of the Jewish people from Russia and Poland to the US....the true "huddled masses" who came without money or family connections to make their way in a land very foreign to I had read Our Crowd: The Great Jewish Families of New York by Stephen Birmingham several years ago and enjoyed it immensely. When I found this book hiding on my bookshelves (I don't even remember buying it) I jumped right on it and discovered that it was equally as interesting. It is the history of the second great migration of the Jewish people from Russia and Poland to the US....the true "huddled masses" who came without money or family connections to make their way in a land very foreign to them. They were scorned by the established Jewish banking families who had come to America a generation before and were looked down upon by the Gentiles. The majority remained in NYC and developed their own ghetto, unwilling or unable to adapt to life in this new country. Many of these individuals were craftsmen but without resources were forced to work in sweatshops or sell their goods from a pushcart. But there were some young men who were determined to be accepted and either by luck or hard work found their niche in American business. These were, to name only a few, Sam Goldwyn, David Sarnoff, Louis B. Mayer, and the Marx Brothers. Since banking and finance were dominated by great Jewish families, their forte became entertainment through the medium of movies and radio. Their successes were enormous and their influence historical. The author also touches on the ambiguous "Jewishness" that plagued many of these men after they became public figures.....marrying non-Jews, converting to Christianity, balancing an identity between being an American and being Jewish, etc. This is an informative and well done history which I found to be a fascinating and easy read. Recommended.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    Some of the most remarkable figures in the history of the United States during the first half of the twentieth century were first- or second-generation Jews who had emigrated from the Russian Empire. The social historian Stephen Birmingham (1929-2015) told their colorful story in “The Rest of Us” more than forty years ago. But his account remains as lively and engaging as ever today. If you want to understand the history of Jews in America, this is the place to start. Jews have emigrated to the U Some of the most remarkable figures in the history of the United States during the first half of the twentieth century were first- or second-generation Jews who had emigrated from the Russian Empire. The social historian Stephen Birmingham (1929-2015) told their colorful story in “The Rest of Us” more than forty years ago. But his account remains as lively and engaging as ever today. If you want to understand the history of Jews in America, this is the place to start. Jews have emigrated to the United States in three distinct waves: Sephardic Jews Beginning in 1654, a small group of Sephardic Jews landed in what was then New Amsterdam, having fled from Brazil when the Portuguese reconquered the country. Others followed in later years, settling in eastern coastal cities from Newport, Rhode Island, to Savannah, Georgia. Although they were influential in later years, the Sephardic community was small and was greatly outnumbered by the later-arriving Ashkenazi Jews from northern and eastern Europe. German-speaking Jews Some 150,000 Jews emigrated to the United States in the period 1820 to 1880, the majority of them German-speaking Jews (many of whom had not lived in Germany proper). By the late nineteenth century, the German-Jewish community had acquired wealth and influence, giving rise to many of the great mercantile fortunes and some of the most powerful firms on Wall Street. Some of their names remain famous to this day: Guggenheim, Loeb, Lehman, Morgenthau, and Warburg, among others. Eastern European (“Russian”) Jews Over the period 1880 to 1920, 2.8 million Jews landed in the United States. The overwhelming majority had been subjects of the Russian Empire, which then included most of today’s Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic states, and much of eastern Europe. Already “by 1906,” Birmingham notes, “nearly two million Jews—roughly a third of the Jews of Eastern Europe—had left their homes.” And nearly all of them eventually arrived in the United States. In “The Rest of Us,” Birmingham centers his story on the decades-long cultural and religious tension between the “German” and “Russian” Jews who had flocked to America in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Reading this book was a very personal experience for me, as my father’s family arrived at Ellis Island in 1901, having escaped a pogrom in Russia. My mother’s father landed in New York twenty years earlier, part of the last of the wave of “German” Jewish immigrants. However, I failed to notice any evidence of the tension between the two camps about which Birmingham wrote so eloquently. A long list of extraordinary individuals Birmingham tells his story through the lives of some of the most remarkable individuals among the millions of Eastern European Jewish immigrants. There are especially detailed portrayals of several: Hollywood producer Samuel Goldwyn (Shmuel Gelbfisz) labor activist Rose Pastor Stokes radio and television pioneer David Sarnoff cosmetics magnate Helena Rubinstein (Chaja Rubinstein) songwriter Irving Berlin (Israel Beilin) Meyer Lansky (Meier Suchowlański) and other Jewish mobsters fashion icon Ralph Lauren (Ralphie Lifshitz) liquor titan Samuel Bronfman A great many other still-well-known names crop up in passing. The author’s account is especially strong in his discussion of the Jews who rose to prominence in show business, the garment industry, the fur and jewelry businesses, and organized crime. “The Rest of Us” does not pretend to be a comprehensive story of Jews in America. Rather, it’s an impressionistic account that traces the trajectory through life of a small number of especially interesting individuals, often against fierce resistance from the “German” Jews who had preceded them to these shores. For a hint of the attitudes that permeated the German-Jewish community, consider this remark Birmingham quotes from one prominent member of its Old Guard: “But those Bronfmans,” she said, “have just come down from the trees.” The resentment isn’t hard to understand. As Birmingham explains, “It had taken the Germans two and in some cases three generations to reach their status of wealth and almost assimilation. It had taken the Russians barely one.”

  3. 4 out of 5

    Eloise

    A brilliant book, masterfully written and researched. The Rest of Us is the wonderful finale to Stephen Birmingham's impressive triptych of the histories of American Jewry. This three part work doesn't simply account for the overlooked facets of the American Jewish experience (or American history) but takes us back to homeland(s) in the Old World and connects many dots that create a captivating picture of people and places. It is also a brilliant piece of writing where the personal and the private A brilliant book, masterfully written and researched. The Rest of Us is the wonderful finale to Stephen Birmingham's impressive triptych of the histories of American Jewry. This three part work doesn't simply account for the overlooked facets of the American Jewish experience (or American history) but takes us back to homeland(s) in the Old World and connects many dots that create a captivating picture of people and places. It is also a brilliant piece of writing where the personal and the private waltz with the public to provide a comprehensive tableau that was previously unavailable. A wonderful read overall, and not only for researchers or descendants.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Monica

    Some books I don't even remember buying. Turn of the 20th century immigration to NY and life on the lower east side are inextricably part of my family history but none of ours have had the success of Helena Rubenstein, David Sarnoff, Samuel Goldwyn, Irving Berlin or Ralph Lauren but we all have been touched by it. If I don't read this its a reference for Biography channel episodes.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    Stephen Birmingham can certainly write an enjoyable book to read and the stories told are somewhat thoughtful and engaging, however, the book is essentially a loosely woven overview of the lives of a few Jewish Eastern European immigrants (Samuel Goldwyn, Meyer Lansky, Sam Bronfman, among others) who found, fast financial success in the United States and Canada. If you are looking for a more in-depth analysis of why so many of these immigrants were able to achieve success so quickly or any of th Stephen Birmingham can certainly write an enjoyable book to read and the stories told are somewhat thoughtful and engaging, however, the book is essentially a loosely woven overview of the lives of a few Jewish Eastern European immigrants (Samuel Goldwyn, Meyer Lansky, Sam Bronfman, among others) who found, fast financial success in the United States and Canada. If you are looking for a more in-depth analysis of why so many of these immigrants were able to achieve success so quickly or any of the common denominators among these immigrants, other than their success, you may need to look elsewhere.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Susan Williams

    Well worth reading I enjoyed this book more than many of the reviewers led me to believe I would. Some in depth looks at many key Jewish figures in the last century from movie moguls to liquor, fashion, cosmetic and radio industry personalities. A few editorial typos in the Kindle edition. What really made the book worthwhile for me was the historical context within which these successful people got their starts. A lot I didn't know about the Polish/Russian Jewish immigration experience at the be Well worth reading I enjoyed this book more than many of the reviewers led me to believe I would. Some in depth looks at many key Jewish figures in the last century from movie moguls to liquor, fashion, cosmetic and radio industry personalities. A few editorial typos in the Kindle edition. What really made the book worthwhile for me was the historical context within which these successful people got their starts. A lot I didn't know about the Polish/Russian Jewish immigration experience at the beginning of the 20th century, it's causes and results. Excellent book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sharan Zwick

    Reads like a novel! Thrilled that this book was such an inviting read. Birmingham is a pro. When you find a non-fiction writer like this, it is best to read as much of their writing as you can. They can make any subject come alive.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Maphead

    A surprisingly great book! One of the best I've read this year!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Frances Wessel

    Interesting I would have given it a 5 but should have a lot more pictures. Very informative and could understand what the writer was trying to say

  10. 5 out of 5

    John Beck

    Birmingham provides his readers with some light history structured on a series of biographies and based on secondary sources. The book answers some larger questions, e.g., class distinctions between German and Eastern Jews, but leaves the reader wanting more explanation regarding the assimilation of Eastern Jews as a group. It remains an interesting read, something that will appeal to those who enjoy brief biographies and entertaining writing. The bottom line, however, is that the book is really Birmingham provides his readers with some light history structured on a series of biographies and based on secondary sources. The book answers some larger questions, e.g., class distinctions between German and Eastern Jews, but leaves the reader wanting more explanation regarding the assimilation of Eastern Jews as a group. It remains an interesting read, something that will appeal to those who enjoy brief biographies and entertaining writing. The bottom line, however, is that the book is really about "the very few of us."

  11. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Fascinating history of the 19th/early 20th century Jewish immigrants to America. Many recognizable characters and wonderful stories. Written in 1984. Got a bit long towards the end, but so many interesting facts.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    I enjoyed the history of the German and Eastern European immigrants' assimilation and development into America. The accounts of the history of several well known immigrants was so very interesting, with the challenges and conflicts, and the risks and business sense.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    As a non-native, I found this extremely informative and gave me far more insight I to the Jewish history in New York. Fascinating.

  14. 5 out of 5

    John

    Rated: F

  15. 4 out of 5

    Rimma Rose

    Amazing read. I enjoyed every page. The author is a great storyteller. I want to read all of his books!!!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jack Sonn

  17. 4 out of 5

    Emma Fredgant

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dolores Burcham

  19. 4 out of 5

    patricia a hubenthal

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alex

  21. 4 out of 5

    dorothea benjamin

  22. 4 out of 5

    BettyLou

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dorothy

  24. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ginger Rubsam

  26. 4 out of 5

    Stuart

  27. 4 out of 5

    Joel Yager MD

  28. 5 out of 5

    Aphrodite Konduros

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cutler Averbuch

  30. 4 out of 5

    Pamela

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