March 4, 2010

A Bintel Brief

A Bintel Brief
Isaac Metzker, ed.


(March 4, 2010)

This collection of letters written to the advice column of Forvertz, the Yiddish-language New York daily, offers a lovely snapshot of the concerns and trials of immigrants in the early 20th century. A striking letter, for example, records the problems of a freelance Jewish detective hired by the NY police in 1908 to investigate a restaurant that was serving liquor without a license. "I ordered a complete dinner and a schnapps,” he recalls. “I finished the meal, the drink, paid the sum of eighteen cents to the man, and looked around. I saw the owner’s seven children with their pale, emaciated mother, and I felt I could not be so heartless as to take the father away from them.” Can a good socialist and a good Jew work for the police? The Forward editors said, “Run from the job as from a fire.”