The American Scene in Commentary's Mirror:
Introduction to an Anthology from our Pages
“IDLE” curiosity about themselves, like alcoholic excess, is something that American Jews in the past have not felt able to afford. They feared inquisitiveness from their enemies; and over their friends they preferred to exercise a certain power of enchantment, controlling the image they presented of themselves-whether as sufferers, as bohemian and uninhibited, or as just like everyone else. Those nearly official guardians of disinterestedness, the social scientists, were also slow in getting around to studying the Jews. Compared with certain other immigrant groups around the turn of the century, the Jews seemed not too disorganized, and perhaps for that reason were left alone; our best study of immigration, Thomas’ and Znaniecki’s The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, was concerned with one of the most dramatically disorganized groups. Only much later did Thomas, a man with an extraordinary gift for curiosity, get around to studying the Bindelbriefe, the advice columns in the Yiddish press (his collection has never been published), and Louis Wirth write his brief study of the ghetto in Europe and America.
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