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The Age of New York’s Jewish Taxi Drivers

March 17 2017

From the end of World War I through the 1970s, Jews made up a sizeable portion of New York City’s cab drivers, as Jenna Weissman Joselit writes:

[I]n 1920, as many as 20,000 out of 35,000 drivers in the Big Apple [were Jews]. Their prominence was as much perceptual as statistical. In the public imagination, the quintessential cabbie was a wise-cracking, seen-it-all, Yiddish-speaking (or Yiddish-inflected-English-speaking) New York Jewish male. It’s not for nothing that the celebrated 1932 Warner Brothers film Taxi! featured its protagonist, [played by] James Cagney—a fiercely independent cab driver at odds with evil men who would control the industry—in an extended conversation, in Yiddish, with one of his passengers. . . .

A niche industry, and an integral part of the immigrant economy, driving a cab didn’t require any capital to get started, which is why immigrants, then as now, found it attractive. All you needed was the ability to drive a car. . . . That you could also set your own hours enhanced its appeal among those who observed Shabbat and the holidays, freeing them from the tyranny of the timetable. . . .

Way back when, you could also make a decent living as a taxi driver, earning (and saving) enough to send your kids to college and perhaps even to purchase a medallion of your own. A one-generation phenomenon, driving a cab was more of a way station than a permanent condition, which heightened its appeal among immigrant Jews. They weren’t stuck behind the wheel forever; upward mobility and with it, the promise of America, was within reach.

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewish History, History & Ideas, Immigration, New York City

Europe Has a Chance to Change Its Attitude toward Israel

Dec. 15 2017

In Europe earlier this week, Benjamin Netanyahu met with several officials and heads of state. Ahead of his visit, the former Italian parliamentarian Fiamma Nirenstein addressed a letter to these European leaders, urging them to reevaluate their attitudes toward the status of Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Israel-Palestinian peace process, the gravity of European anti-Semitism, and the threat posed by Hamas and Hizballah. In it she writes:

For years, the relationship between Europe and Israel has been strained. Europe tends to criticize Israel for simply defending itself against the continual threats and terrorist attacks it faces on all its borders and inside its cities. Europe too often disregards not only Israel’s most evident attempts to bring about peace—such as its disengagement from Gaza—but also chides it for its cautiousness when considering what solutions are risky and which will truly ensure the security of its citizens.

The EU has never recognized the dangers posed by Hamas and Hizballah, as well as by many other jihadist groups—some of which are backed by [the allegedly moderate] Fatah. The EU constantly blames Israel in its decisions, resolutions, papers and “non-papers,” letters, and appeals. Some of Europe’s most important figures insist that sanctions against the “territories” are necessary—a political stance that will certainly not bring about a solution to this conflict that . . . the Israelis would sincerely like to resolve. Israel has repeated many times that it is ready for direct negotiation without preconditions with the Palestinians. No answer has been received.

The European Union continues to put forth unrealistic solutions to the Israel-Palestinian issue, and the results have only aggravated the situation further. Such was the case in 2015 when it sanctioned Israeli companies and businesses in the territories over the Green Line, forcing them to close industrial centers that provided work to hundreds of Palestinians. The Europeans promoted the harmful idea that delegitimizing Israel can be accomplished through international pressure and that negotiations and direct talks with Israel can be avoided. . . .

[Meanwhile], Iran’s imperialist designs now touch all of Israel’s borders and put the entire world at risk of a disastrous war while Iran’s closest proxy, Hizballah, armed with hundreds of thousands of missiles, proudly presents the most explicit terrorist threat. Europe must confront these risks for the benefit of its citizens, first by placing Hizballah on its list of terrorist organizations and secondly, by reconsidering and revising its relationship with Iran.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Europe and Israel, European Union, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy