Historical fiction about Jews living in small towns in the US ~1900?
September 24, 2016 11:15 AM   Subscribe

My great-grandfather came to the US around 1900, but rather than settling in New York City with all the other Eastern European Jews, for some reason he lived in a small town in New Hampshire for a few years before moving to a place with more Jews. I'm looking for books (mostly, historical fiction) that might give me an idea of what his life (as, probably, one of only a few Jews) in New Hampshire might have been like.

I realize I'll never know for sure why he lived where he did or exactly what his life was like, but I've become kind of intrigued and would like to create some kind of picture in my head, or just explore this phenomenon in general. My great-grandfather came to the US in 1899, leaving his wife and young daughter in Europe. They joined him in 1903, and per my great-uncle's 1904 birth certificate, they were living in a town of 4000 people in southeast New Hampshire--a state which had very few Jews at the time. According to the 1910 census, he was a "junk man" and I don't think he'd had much formal education. (Eventually he and his wife and kids moved to a town in the Catskills where they helped establish a thriving Jewish community, but I know what that was like because my relatives grew up there.)
posted by needs more cowbell to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Do you know what town? I have some connections to the reform synagogue and Jewish Federation in Manchester; they might have some oral histories or more detailed information about that time specifically.
posted by ChuraChura at 11:50 AM on September 24, 2016 [2 favorites]

Oh - Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth, NH might be another good resource. One of the houses they restored is the Shapiro House, which belonged to one of the few Jewish families in Portsmouth. Abraham Shapiro apparently ran a pawn shop in the late 1910s.
posted by ChuraChura at 12:00 PM on September 24, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yes--I don't know how long they lived in this specific town, but my great-uncle's birth certificate lists Milford.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:16 PM on September 24, 2016

You may have already noticed this as you linked to the Jewish Virtual Library, but the site also has this brief history of Jews in New Hampshire
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 1:07 PM on September 24, 2016

Not historical fiction, but if you haven't already, you should look into anything about the Baron de Hirsch Fund. I assume you'd know if your great-grandfather was part of a Jewish farming community in rural New England, but even if not, it could have been a planned farming colony that didn't work out, or he could have heard of such a place nearby and moved there on his own. In any case, any archives or contemporary newspaper coverage or modern articles about the communities established by the Baron de Hirsch Fund, Jewish Agricultural Society, etc. give a pretty good idea of what it was like to live as a Jew at that time in places like this.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:10 PM on September 24, 2016

For anyone else interested--I'm still looking, but I found an interesting list of Jewish Fiction in English from 1900-1940. Some of the books look interesting and might be a fit for what I'm looking for (which is admittedly somewhat nebulous and far-reaching) with the bonus of being written from firsthand experience...but the problem of mostly being out-of-print and expensive.

One thing that particularly drew my attention was Myron Brinig, born to Jewish immigrant parents in Minnesota and raised in Montana, who wrote a few novels based on his experience. (Alas, they sell for $200+)
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:16 PM on September 26, 2016

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