Review: Amazing Abe: How Abraham Cahan's Newspaper Gave a Voice to Jewish Immigrants

Amazing Abe: How Abraham Cahan's Newspaper Gave a Voice to Jewish Immigrants

by Norman H. Finkelstein, illustrated by Vesper Stamper

Holiday House, 2024

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Jeanette Brod

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We are a nation of immigrants, but we rarely consider the obstacles to Americanization faced by new arrivals to our country. Abraham Cahan’s gift to new immigrants was a passion to help them navigate their complicated and confusing relationship to a new home.

In Amazing Abe: How Abraham Cahan’s Newspaper Gave a Voice to Jewish Immigrants, an award winning author and an award winning illustrator have given us a masterful biography about an important voice in American Jewish history whose legacy is probably more well known than his name. If your family was connected to the waves of immigration from Eastern Europe at the turn of the twentieth century, they probably read The Forverts in Yiddish. Despite their place of birth or national language, the Jews of those generations were bonded by their common knowledge of Yiddish. In its heyday, The Yiddish Forverts, now The English Forward, was the largest foreign-language newspaper in the country. The story goes to some length to explain the importance of Yiddish in Jewish culture. One of the great strengths of Amazing Abe is its ability to weave historical information into the storyline and illustrations.

An enduring feature of The Forverts is The Bintel Brief, or Bundle of Letters, an advice column recently resurrected as a podcast for contemporary audiences. Beginning in 1906, The Bintel Brief acculturated immigrants to the American way of life. Amazing Abe spotlights examples of immigrant quandaries with examples from real letters: Should a father let his son play baseball?; Can a young woman go to night school to improve her English if her husband disapproves?; Where can a poor young girl find a cure for tuberculosis? Readers respond by sending money.

The old and new world are artfully rendered in this rich picture book that has both intimacy and range.The reader follows the life of young Abe from the old country until his retirement in 1946. We are introduced to him as a young student at cheder, as a young man studying to become a teacher, as an activist, as an emigrant, as a factory worker, as a journalist, and as co-founder and editor of the newspaper that began its storied history in 1897. Detailed illustrations depict the busy street life of the Lower East Side. Broad historical context is provided with, for example, a nod to the necessity of fleeing from the police in the old country. The portrayals are nuanced. An Author's Note, More About Abe Cahan, More About Yiddish, a Time Line, a Bibliography and Suggested Reading for Younger Readers are included. Though aimed at a young audience, Amazing Abe has a Jewish authenticity with something for everyone. I highly recommend it.

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Reviewer Jeanette Brod is the Children’s and Teen Services Associate at the New Milford, Connecticut, Public Library. She also serves as Educational Consultant for Connecticut’s Voices of Hope HERO Center and speaks locally about her family’s Holocaust experiences. Jeanette is the former Director of Lifelong Learning at Temple Sholom in New Milford and a past Vice-President of the Children’s Book Council in New York City. She holds a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature from Indiana University, Bloomington. Jeanette and her husband, Sasha, are the proud parents of two grown children.


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