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

As the Situation in Syria Changes, the Risks for Israel Increase

March 27 2017

On March 17, the Israeli Air Force struck a weapons convoy near Palmyra that was most likely bringing precision missiles to Hizballah in Lebanon. Syria responded with surface-to-air missiles, in turn triggering Israeli anti-missile missiles that successfully intercepted the counterattack. Yoav Limor comments on what is becoming an increasingly volatile situation:

[A series of military] successes in Syria have led the Russians, [who are fighting to prop up the Assad regime] to expand their campaign, and there is no doubt that Raqqa, Islamic State’s “capital” in Syria, as well as Palmyra and Deir el-Zor are next on Moscow’s list. Seizing control of these strategic areas will significantly increase Russia’s scope of operations, hence the increased risk factors in the regional theater, which includes Israel.

This was most likely the reason for Russia’s ire over the Israeli strike [on the Hizballah-bound convoy] in Syria, which led the Russian deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov to summon, very publicly, the Israeli ambassador to Russia, Gary Koren, to provide clarifications. . . . The area struck near Palmyra, northeast of Damascus, is home to a Russian base and it is possible the Russian troops felt threatened, or that someone in the Kremlin wanted to draw clear operational parameters for Israel.

To be clear: Russia has no interest in a clash with Israel or in a fresh Israeli-Syrian conflict. But if until now Moscow was conspicuously uninterested in the covert blows Israel has been dealing Hizballah and Syria, the latest signal from the Kremlin is at the very least a warning sign to remind anyone who might have forgotten that the only interest Russia cares about is its own. . . .

[T]he tensions on the northern border do not spell an inevitable Israeli-Syrian conflict, as all regional actors have a clear interest to avoid one. Assad wants to re-establish his rule and he does not want to endanger it with an unplanned escalation against Israel, the strongest regional entity; Iran and Hizballah currently prefer to expand their regional sphere of influence quietly; and Israel wants peace and quiet as long as its two main interests—preventing advanced weapons from reaching Hizballah and avoiding war on the Golan Heights—are maintained. However, . . . recent events increase the risk that the parties could find themselves in a situation that might rapidly spiral out of control and result in a full-blown conflict.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war