Cover: A Fire in Their Hearts: Yiddish Socialists in New York, from Harvard University PressCover: A Fire in Their Hearts in PAPERBACK

A Fire in Their Hearts

Yiddish Socialists in New York

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Product Details


$30.00 • £24.95 • €27.00

ISBN 9780674032439

Publication Date: 04/15/2009

Academic Trade

352 pages

23 halftones


In November, 1917, New York’s Jewish working class elected a slew of Socialist Party officials, including seven aldermen, ten state assemblymen, and a municipal judge. Huge crowds gathered around ‘Trotsky Square’ (the corner of 110th Street and Fifth Avenue) to celebrate. This informative…account traces the Jewish Socialist movement from its beginning, after the Russian pogroms of the eighteen-eighties, through its height, when revolutionaries like the German anarchist Johann Most made speeches on Lower East Side street comers, to its decline, a result of immigration quotas, the popularity of F.D.R., and the anti-Semitism accompanying the Red Scare. Michels points out that many of New York’s atypical socially democratic features, like the cooperative-housing movement, were initiated by these practical revolutionaries, who were always ready to forsake orthodoxy for measurable gains in the working-class standard of living.New Yorker

More than 170,000 Germans settled in New York’s lower East Side, carriers of the same tradition that had turned the German Social Democratic Party in the late nineteenth century into the strongest socialist party in the world. Their language, as Michels incisively points out, was the cradle of modern Yiddish in the United States.—Abraham Brumberg, Times Literary Supplement

A beautifully written and crisply narrated history.—Eric Rauchway, Altercation

[Michels] portrays socialism as a transforming experience for many Jewish immigrants, something that shaped their thinking and touched their souls… [He] throughout offers a compelling story and a fresh, stimulating approach to understanding the Jewish experience in America.—Judith Maas, Boston Globe

This illuminating study puts socialism back on the map as a core aspect of the Jewish immigrant experience. As Michels shows, hundreds of thousands of immigrants didn’t bring socialism to New York; rather, their experiences trying to adjust to life there, along with their contact with Socialist German immigrants in the Lower East Side, led them to socialism.Publishers Weekly

Nothing is harder to envision today than the burning passion for knowledge, self-improvement, and social justice that once united working-class immigrants and fiery intellectuals under the banner of socialism. A Fire in Their Hearts is an illuminating and exceptionally well-researched account of the early decades of the Jewish left, the immigrant cauldron in New York, and secular Yiddish culture in America. Michels’s book has much to tell us about this still fascinating era.—Morris Dickstein, author of Leopards in the Temple

Socialism as a force in the immigrant community has never gone beyond a kind of lip-service romanticism. Tony Michels has given this topic its rightful due. This superb book finally provides a way to understand socialism in the Jewish immigrant world in America. It will occupy an extremely important place in American Jewish history, labor history, and American radicalism.—Hasia R. Diner, author of Hungering for America

Tony Michels’s elegantly written account of Jewish socialism at the turn of the century is groundbreaking. His deep knowledge of Jewish history and ease with Yiddish language sources shine through in this penetrating and innovative book. It will certainly become a standard in American Jewish history, but will also make a great impact in American political history, particularly on the history of the Left.—Beth S. Wenger, University of Pennsylvania

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