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

Reviving the Peace Process Brings Great Costs and Little Potential for Success

June 26 2017

Now that President Trump has sent envoys to meet with Mahmoud Abbas, it seems clear that he will try to revive negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, which he has declared to be “maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years.” Even those less sanguine argue that there is little harm in trying. Not so, writes Elliott Abrams:

To begin with, it is always harmful for the United States to fail—and for a president to fail. Influence in the world is hard to measure, but when a president devotes himself . . . to any project and fails to pull it off, his influence and that of the United States are diminished. . . .

What’s more, the United States has been championing the “peace process” now for about 30 years. . . . On the Palestinian side many view the “peace process” as a formula for sustaining the occupation. Many Israelis see it as a shield protecting Palestinian malfeasance and worse: when they demand a stop to official Palestinian glorification of terrorism, they hear, “Don’t rock the boat now, negotiations may start.”

A further reason to be wary of another big peace effort is the opportunity cost. When each successive American administration works for a comprehensive peace deal, it tends to neglect the many opportunities to make less dramatic but still consequential real-world progress. . . .

During the George W. Bush administration, those of us on the American side often demanded concessions from Israel to “set the tone for talks” or to “get things moving in the talks.” These steps often gave Abbas symbolic victories, but they rarely contributed to state-building. For example, we were more concerned with getting Israel to release some Palestinian prisoners—who may have committed acts of violence—than we were about getting Israel to remove checkpoints or barriers that prevented Palestinian mobility in the West Bank and thereby made both normal life and economic activity harder. How returning convicted criminals to the streets contributed to building a Palestinian state was never explained.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Donald Trump, Israel & Zionism, Mahmoud Abbas, Peace Process