I am eighteen years old and a machinist by trade. During the past year, I suffered a great deal because I am a Jew.
It is common knowledge that my trade is run mainly by the Gentiles and, working among the Gentiles, I have seen things that cast a dark shadow on the American labor scene. Just listen:
I worked in a shop in a small town in New Jersey, with twenty Gentiles. There was one other Jew besides me, and both of us endured the greatest hardships. That we were insulted goes without saying. At times we were even beaten up. We work in an area where there are many factories, and once, when we were leaving the shop, a group of workers fell on us like hoodlums and beat us. To top it off, we and one of our attackers were arrested. The hoodlum was let out on bail, but we, beaten and bleeding, had to stay in the jail. At the trial, they fined the hoodlum eight dollars and let him go free.
After that, I went to work on a job in Brooklyn. As soon as they found out that I was a Jew they began to torment me so that I had to leave the place. I have already worked at many places, and I either have to leave, voluntarily, or they fire me because I am a Jew.
Till now, I was alone and didn’t care. At this trade, you can make good wages, and I had enough. But now I’ve brought my parents over, and of course, I have to support them.
Lately, I’ve been working on one job for three months and I would be satisfied, but the worm of anti-Semitism is beginning to eat at my bones again. I go to work in the morning as to Gehenna, and I run away at night as from a fire. It’s impossible to talk to them because they are common boors, so-called “American sports.” I have already tried various ways, but the only way to deal with them is with a strong fist. But I am too weak and they are too many.
Perhaps you can help me in this matter. I know it is not an easy problem.
In the answer, the Jewish machinist is advised to appeal to the United Hebrew Trades and ask them to intercede for him and bring up charges before the Machinists Union about this persecution. His attention is also drawn to the fact that there are Gentile factories where Jews and Gentiles work together and get along well with each other.
Finally, it is noted that people will have to work long and hard before this senseless racial hatred can be completely uprooted.
- What is the author of the letter trying to imply when he writes, “It is common knowledge that my trade is run mainly by the Gentiles”?
- What impact did anti-semitism have on the life of the author of this letter? Research the anti-semitism today. How is it similar to the story the author describes? What differences do you notice in the way that anti-semitism is expressed today?
- What do you think about the editor’s response? What advice might you give the author of the letter?
- What experiences have you had with bigotry and prejudice? Have you been targeted? Have you witnessed acts of prejudice and discrimination? How have you responded? What factors do you think shaped your responses?
- How do you think the story in the letter might play out today? What similarities would you expect to find? What differences might stand out?
- If you were to research the impact of discrimination on the lives of the immigrants today, where would you start?
Excerpt(s) from BINTEL BRIEF: SIXTY YEARS OF LETTERS FROM THE LOWER EAST SIDE TO THE JEWISH DAILY FORWARD by Isaac Metzker, copyright © 1971 by Isaac Metzker. Used by permission of Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. All rights reserved.
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