Jews Without Money by Michael Gold

Availability: Amazon, San Jose

Our member Ruth Rosenblum writes:

Jews Without Money makes for fascinating reading, transporting the reader to the Lower East Side and making one feel and understand the life and challenges present. The book consists of a series of loosely connected vignettes from the life of a child growing up in poor NYC at the turn of the century. Gold does an adequate, although not stellar, job of illustrating the sights, smells and sensations of that world.

Gold wants the reader to understand that they are the result, not of Jewish culture, but of the effects of American ghetto poverty upon the Jews of his neighborhood. Poverty, he argues, turns potential into corruption. His is a world in which people will do anything for a few pennies, often all that stands between them and starvation. On the other hand, his world is also populated by characters who remain strong despite their suffering: his mother, who would rather go hungry than see a stranger starve; the foolish store-owner, who loses her livelihood because she cannot stand to turn away the poor. His family is ravaged by illnesses of the time – his father develops lead poisoning and further bad luck befalls him making him disabled. There are also desperate prostitutes, rapacious pawn brokers, crooked businessmen, and dreamers and schemers of all sorts. Descriptions of children being run down and killed by streetcars and horse-buggies are present, again bringing to light the treacherous conditions of the time and place.

The book is rough and gritty in parts. It is amazing that one (actually – so many) could arise from such desperate conditions and “move up” on the socioeconomic scale in less than one generation (in many but not all cases). This book was mesmerizing as it allows us a peek in to a New York that is so remote from what it is today.

(Review adapted from Falco Gingrich on