The Great Jewish Invasion
POLITICAL AND COMMERCIAL AFFAIRS
BY BURTON J. HENDRICK IN McCLURES MAGAZINE
The phenomenal progress made by the Jews in New York during the past two centuries gives us reason to believe that this race will soon control the leading industries in our American cities.
THE Jews of New York City have recently celebrated the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of their settlement on Manhattan Island. In many ways it was the most triumphant episode in the long and lugubrious history of their race. It marked what is unquestionably Israel’s highest stage of social, political, and industrial development. It commemorated the progress of an energetic people from poverty to wealth, »Prom ignorance to knowledge, from political and social ostracism to independence and power.
More striking still, it emphasized the vast contribution which the Jews have made, and will continue to make, to our complex American civilization. Our greatest American city is already, as far as numbers are concerned, largely Semitic. The twenty-seven Portuguese Jews who obtained a scant asylum in löt>5 have multiplied into a colony of 800,000 souls. This is the greatest Jewish community ever assembled, in ancient or modern times, in any one place. Jerusalem itself, at its period of greatest development, sheltered not one-sixth as many Jews. Warsaw, the largest Jewish city except New York, contains 300,000, Lodz, 120,000, and Vilna, 100,000. In the whole United States there are 1,400,000; thus, in New York City three-fifths of our total Jewish population is found. In the greater city one man in every five is a Jew; on Manhattan Island,
one man in every four. And the Hebrew population grows faster than the other racial elements. The Biblical injunction is still accepted literally by Israel. For every twenty Jews that die, thirty-five are born. By immigration alone the Jewish districts increase 70,000 a year. At the present rate, New York in ten years, will contain a million and a half of Jews—a city as large as Philadelphia now. While Mr. Zangwill and his fellow enthusiasts preach the return to Palestine, the real modern Zion, greater in numbers and wealth and power than the old, steadily gathers on Manhattan Island.
The Jews are active and invariably with success, in practically every business, profession, and intellectual field. The New Yorker constantly rubs elbows with Israel. The thoroughfares abound with Jewish hucksters, selling all imaginable jimeracks; certain streets are almost impassably clogged with Jewish pushcarts. Jewish young men are generally occupied as clerks, bookkeepers, and salesmen; Jewish girls are largely employed as stenographers. Take a walk up Broadway or the business sections of Fifth Avenue—the names on the signs are almost invariably Jewish. Turn into the great popular shopping district of Sixth Avenue—the largest department stores are owned by Jews. Drop in at the opera or the theatre —the bediamonded audience, and even the performers, are frequently
members of this race. Manhattan’s fifty theatres are practically all controlled by Jewish syndicates. The most successful plays are the work of Jewish playwrights. Actors and actresses who received their training in the Ghetto now draw enormous audiences on Broadway. In Wall Street, business is largely in Jewish hands. Japan, for financial assistance in the recent war, turned several times to a great Jewish banking house of New York.
In all the professions the restless Hebrew is found. In the courts, the litigants, the lawyers at the bar, not infrequently the justices on the bench, are Jews. Many leading physicians are loyal Israelites. In the public schools they are the largest numerical element ; the teachers, too. are frequently Jewesses; and in the higher educational institutions— Columbia University, the City College, and the Normal School—they invariably carry off the highest honors. In the public service they are conspicuous, especially when positions are obtained by competitive examination. In the newly organized tenement-house department, for example, three-fourtlis of the 400 employes— clerks, stenographers, copyists, and inspectors—are Jews. They often represent the city at Albany and Washington; and Jews from New York have been sent abroad as ambassadors. A New York Jew now sits in President Roosevelt’s cabinet.
Unquestionably, we are thus face to face with one of the most remarkable phenomena of the time. New York, the headquarters of American wealth, intelligence, and enterprise—the mosf complete physical expression, we have been told, of the American idea—seems destined to become overwhelmingly a Jewish
town. More remarkable still, the great mass of its Jews are not what are commonly regarded as the most enlightened of their race.
No people have had a more inadequate preparation, educational and economic, for American citizenship. “Out of the four or five million Russian Jews,” said a leading St. Petersburg newspaper in 1803, “only from ten to fifteen thousand have a stable means of subsistence.” “What did you do in Russia ?” the east side Jew is frequently asked to-day ; a shrug of the shoulders is the invariable reply. For a century all manner of restrictive laws have heaped up against them. They are kept out of all the learned professions, virtually forbidden the primary schools, the technical institutions, and the universities,—even those which they have founded themselves,—and prevented from owning or leasing agricultural land. Practically everything they have is taxed—their kosher food, their skull-caps, their praying shawls, the candles which the pious Jewish housewife lights every Friday night. They are. shut up in a few cities, forbidden to live in the country or in the Russian towns. By the state they are treated as outcasts. They are not Russians and never can become such ; in the caste system of Russian society they are reckoned in the same class with the Kirghiz of Siberia, the Kalmucks of Astrakhan, and other semi-civilized tribes. Thus, when they land at Ellis Island, they are to a large extent ignorant, unable to read or write ; personally uncleanly ; without professions or skilled trades ; inevitably with a suspicious hatred of governmental authority. Their only capital stock is an intellect which has not been stunted by centuries of privation, and an in-
dustry that falters at no task, however poorly paid.
In spite of all these drawbacks, the Russian Jew has advanced in practically every direction. His economic improvement is paralleled by that of no other immigrating race. In accumulating wealth, in liberating himself from ignorance and poverty, the Irishman, the Italian, the German, even the German Jew, cuts a poor figure beside the Russian and Pole. We hear constantly of the Ghetto’s poverty ; we seldom hear of its wealth. And yet no section of New York generates so many rich men. New York’s greatest business and residential sections are filled with Russian Hebrews who started among the tenements ten, fifteen, twenty, and twenty-five years ago. In this section from Sixtieth to Ninetieth Streets, and from Lexington to Park Avenue—one of New York’s premier residential districts—there are said to be 500 Russian and Polish Jews whose fortunes range anywhere from $100,000 to $1,000,000.
In his activities here the Russian Jew evinces marked characteristics. He is a remorseless pace-maker. He allows himself no rest nor recreation and works all hours of the day and night. He saves every penny, will constantly deny himself and his family nutritious food, and until he has made his mark will live in the most loathsome surroundings. Whether a child in the primary, schools, the bent stitcher in the sweat-shops, the manufacturer, the merchant, the professional man ; constant industry, the determination to succeed—that is his only law.
Precisely as they supplanted the Irish and Germans in their homes, have they taken their places in these trades. Fifty years ago all our tailors were native-born Americans;
later they were Irishmen and Germans ; now they are Jews—with a new sprinkling of Italians. Under the Jews, however, the business has reached its largest proportions. They have turned the whole east side into one huge workshop. Their inclination to the clothing trades is probably explained by the two traits already described—their intense ambition and individualism. In ho manufacturing line was the Russian Jew so left to himself. In most trades he was held down to certain hours, to the production of a certain day’s work, to a fixed wage, and to affiliation with trade unions. In the tailoring shops, however, he was entirely free. Freedom meant to him, not short hours aad idleness, but long hours and constant work. Instead of laboring in a factory and submitting to its arbitrary rules, he worked at his own home as long and as steadily as he chose.
The Russian Jew is not only the largest investor in real estate, but the most extensive speculator. He will not speculate in stocks ; but he is an inveterate land gambler. A real estate department is added to nearly every east side business house. Furniture merchants, clothing manufacturers, small storekeepers—all make a side issue of real estate. One partner devotes his time to piling up the profits on the east side ; the other rapidly converts them into landed property. Operations are carried on with the smallest possible margin. An entirely new system has been devised. The largest operators buy long-vacant properties by the block, giving a liberal first mortgage in part payment. They subdivide and sell to another group, taking a little cash and a second mortgage. The latter in their turn divide and again sell to still smaller fry, who put in
a few dollars—sometimes paying this with notes—and give back third mortgages. And so on. Twenty-five or fifty dollars cash is sufficient capital to give one a hand in the game. If the lots are finally improved and the buildings sold to investors, the mortgages are converted into cash, and each participant takes his profit. And the east side Polish or Russian Jew is wonderfully successful. Many as are the possible pitfalls, he seldom falls in. Hardly one of the great string of mortgages is foreclosed. If he once risks a few hundreds or a‘ thousand dollars, he will work all hours of the day and night and literally starve to death before he will let go.
The great increase in the population of New York and the opening of new lines of transit—the subway, the under-river tunnels, and the bridges— have furnished unusual opportunities for real estate speculation. Thousands of hitherto inaccessible acres have been brought within the inhabitable area, and property values have been enormously increased. Practically all these profits have been realized by east side Jews. The subway, for example, has added millions and millions to the value of the vacant land which it traverses ; these millions have gone into the pockets of the recently-landed Russian and Pole. The native population has been strangely obtuse. In the main, new lands opened up have been the former country seats of well known Knickerbocker families. In the past year these old families, instead of themselves realizing the full increment in the land, have handed it over to the capitalists of the east side. An area especially rich in historical associations is that extending from the northerly boundary of Central Park northwesterly to the Har-
lem River. This is the path of Washington’s famous retreat. All along this territory, in the last year, have followed the Jews of the lower east side, buying up the old estates, parceling them out to each other, and realizing enormous profits. Here the Jewish builders are already at work putting up acre after acre of apartment and tenement houses. Into them is rapidly crowding a Jewish population. In a few years practically all of Washington’s old battlegrounds will be occupied by thousands of Russian Jewish exiles. The east side Jew has also crossed to Brooklyn and bought up the ancestral acres of numerous old Long Island families.
The Russian Jew is thus the most important factor in determining the physical growth of New York. He decides where the people are to live and the form their housing is to take. He does this, not only because he controls the land, but because, he also controls the building business. Not far from 1000 apartments and tenements are built in New York every year, involving an investment of at least $60,000,000. This enormous business is almost entirely in Jewish hands. Under them the building of tenement houses has become a staple business, like the production of ready-made clothing or women’s cloaks. The ranks of the builders are constantly recruited from the shoemakers, butchers and garment-cutters of the east side. As" in other fields the Jew shows his wonderful ability in operating on a small capital. With a few hundred dollars he .buys land worth $20,000 and puts up a tenement costing as much more. Rapidity of construction is essential ; and the quickness with which buildings are rushed up, rented, and sold almost takes one’s
breath away. The building business in New York has run the course of many other occupations. Formerly it was controlled by native stock, later it was taken up by Irish and Germans ; the latter are now practically driven out of the field by the Jews. They build not only tenements, but large apartment houses, hotels, and office buildings. The Flatiron building, and the Broad Exchange building, the largest office building in the world, were financed by companies whose master minds were Jews. The great clothing building on Broadway and Fifth Avenue, already described, are the handiwork of Jewish builders.
Of the material prosperity of the Russian Jew, therefore, there can be no question. He will never crowd our almshouses nor be a serious drain upon private charity. But is he assimilable ? Has he in himself the stuff of which Americans are made ? One point in his favor must be at once set down : his enthusiasm for America knows no bounds. He eagerty looks forward to the time when he can be naturalized. An alien Jew legally entitled to citizenship is a rarity. He has no allegiance to forswear ; and he cannot return to Russia. The rapidity with which the New York Jew adopts the manners and trappings of Americans almost disproves his ancient heritage as a peculiar people. He objects to being regarded as a thing apart, and goes to extremes to make himself like a native-born. Everything that typifies the Russian he seeks to shake off. Thus he has a mania for changing his name. The Russian skis and vitches are liberally dropped. Levinsky becomes Levin ; Grafinsky, Graf; Kudinosky, Kudin; Michaelowitz, Michaels. Ingeniously the Russian or
Polish is transformed into good old Anglo-Saxon. Stephinsky becomes Stevens ; Shidlowsky, Sheldon ; Willinsky, Wilson. Davidowitz readily translates into Davison or Davidson, Jacobson into Jackson. Russian and Polish Jews commonly have German names, precisely as they speak, not Russian—which only the educated know—but a German dialect. These are readily translated or transformed into English. Weiss becomes White, Preiss, Price, and Reiss, Rice. A certain Mr. Jaim Kele, after a few months’ residence, blossomed out as Hugh Kelly. They also abandon their surnames with no pretence of translating. In the Jewish quarters you will meet hundreds of Smiths, Robinsons, Browns, Johnsons, Taylors, and Greens. One of the leading clothing manufacturers is a Mr. Jones. They even name themselves after the old east side streets. There are many Ludlows, Delanceys, Rutgers, Rivingtons, and Clintons among recently arrived Hebrews. They regard their former connection with Russia as a degradation. Those born close to the Prussian or Austrian border line regard that fact almost as mitigating the disgrace. If they came here wffien small children, too young to remember the Pale, that is a cause of special pride ; and nothing can exceed the gusto with which a scion of the second generation informs you that he first saw the light in the United States !
Politically, the Jew’s individualism is his saving grace. It prevents him from organizing in a mass. There is no such thing as a “Jewish vote” as there is an “Irish vote,” and still to a considerable extent, a “German vote.” The Hebrews of New York are not controlled as a unit by any political leaders. They vote for one party at the election, for another at
the succeeding. Better than any other element, even the native stock, do they meet the two supreme tests of citizenship ; they actually go to the polls, and when once there, vote independently. Politically the most interesting assembly district in Manhattan is the Eighth—the one with the densest Russian Jewish population. Here all but four per cent, of the registered electors voted last November. The average stay-athome in the whole borough was seven per cent. In the district with the largest native American population, the Twenty-third, the absentees numbered six per cent. From this we must conclude that the Jewish people fulfil the obligations of citizenship—the actual voting—more regularly even than the native-born. And the statistics go to showT that they vote with discrimination. A study of the election figures for several years shows that there are only eight assembly districts in Manhattan that do not invariably vote one way ; districts, that is, evidently with political convictions. They contain Manhattan’s great “independent vote,” which holds the balance of power. Included in these eight banner districts are the Eighth, Tenth and Sixteenth—sections pre-
dominantly . Jewish. By all odds the most noteworthy is the Eighth. It contains such well known Ghetto streets as Hester, Delancey, Eldridge and Allen. Politically, it is always uncertain. Its population is about evenly divided between the two great political parties. One year it has a Republican assemblyman at Albany ; next year a Democrat. It voted for Bryan in 1900 ; for Roosevelt in 1904. Coler (Democratic) captured it in the governorship election of 1902 ; and Higgins (Republican), in that of 1904. The Tenth, also exclusively Jewish, shows the same independence. It voted for Low in 1901, and for McClellan in 1903. In 1904 its ballots were cast for the Republican candidates on the National ticket, and the Democratic on the State. Politically, therefore, it cannot be said that the Jews are a problem. In partizan politics their influence is decreased because of this very independence. Their leaders are unable to deliver their votes and thus are unable to demand much patronage. Of the thirty-five district leaders of Tammany Hall, in spite of the preponderance of the Jewish population, only one is a Jew. In all the east side districts except one, the Irish still control the party machinery.
The love of excellence is the voice of God bidding us up and up. lest we forget our Divine origin and revert to barbarism.