May 24, 2024
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May 24, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Upon arriving on the shores of this country, our Eastern European ancestors quickly discovered that the streets in the goldeneh medineh or golden land were not paved with gold, if they were paved at all. Our Eastern European ancestors did however make several important discoveries that were well beyond the scope of Columbus, or any other explorer who dared to set sail on uncharted waters. With Independence Day soon upon us, it behooves us to emulate those who arrived in the goldeneh medineh and look at a sample of the blessings of America, Yiddish style.

Freiheit or freedom. Sure, there was once a Yiddish newspaper, the Morgen Freiheit, that was affiliated with the Communist Party in this country. But freiheit, devoid of any connections and connotations, afforded our people the opportunity to circumnavigate the roadblocks of quotas and roadblocks of anti-semitism. The solution to hospitals not hiring Jewish doctors, was Jews exercising freedom and building their own hospitals, open to all, where Jewish doctors could apply the training that they struggled to achieve, because of anti-Jewish quotas at medical schools. Restricted country clubs served as an inducement for our people to exercise freedom and build their own country clubs.

Geleggenheit or opportunity. Any immigrant who was fortified with determination and not afraid of hard work, was guaranteed a geleggenheit, that few, if any shtetl-dwellers could have ever dreamed of.

Within a few short years after passing through Ellis Island, Feldman the Foormahn, or drayman as he was known in the shtetl, was free to climb the ladder of entrepreneurial success and point with pride to Feldman’s “Five and Dime” in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.

Onnehrkennoong or recognition. Chaim from Chotin and Mirele from Moisedes were not accustomed to seeing government officials sending Rosh Hashanah messages to the Jews. Imagine if you will, how Chaim and Mirele must have reacted to the President of the United States sending Rosh Hashanah greetings to those of the Hebrew faith living throughout the United States. All it took was a transatlantic voyage, steerage class in most cases, to be transformed from having curses hurled at you by government officials to receiving Jewish New Year’s blessings from the commander in chief of the goldeneh medineh.

Bahsheetzoong or protection. Our immigrant ancestors were soon to learn that there was something missing from the Emma Lazarus’ sonnet “New Colossus.” “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” tells only part of the story. Lazarus neglected to include “and I will protect them.” Having been conditioned to fear those in uniform, our immigrant ancestors simply could not fathom that they were assured equal freedom and protection under the laws of the goldeneh medineh.

Derech ehrehtz or respect. The Jew in late 19th century Russia was openly despised, by both church and state. Accomplishments in religious Jewish scholarship meant nothing to the non-Jew. It was the Jewish doctor, the Jewish lawyer and the Jewish businessman—made possible by the newfound freedom of America—that gained the Jew newfound respect in the eyes of a great many non-Jews. For the Eastern European Jew, it was the first time he was able to receive derech ehrehtz from the outside world.

Thanks to the freiheit, geleggenheit, onnehrkennoong, bahsheetzoong and derech ehrehtz endemic of non-Jewish America, “land of the free and home of the brave” ought to take on a significance all its own to our people, so very blessed to be living in the goldeneh medineh.


Rabbi Shawn Zell has recently returned to New Jersey, after serving at a pulpit in Dallas. He possesses certification in teaching Yiddish. Rabbi Zell is the author of three books.

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