Judaic Treasures of the
To call the old woman selling candles a "merchant" is an act of compassion. The sad mute plea on a face wearied by the tribulations of life mark her a beggar as much as a vendor. Her clawlike fingers clutch her means of livelihood, a tray of Sabbath candles still unsold. One is reminded of one of Rosenfeld's most popular and lugubrious poems, "The Candle Seller" (translation by Stokes and Frank):
In Hester Street, hard by a telegraph post,
There sits a poor woman as wan as a ghost.
Her pale face is shrunk, like the face of the dead,
And yet you can tell that her cheeks once were red ...
"Two cents, my good woman, three candles will buy,
As bright as their flame be my star in the sky!" . . .
She's there with her baby in wind and in rain,
In frost and in snow-fall, in weakness and pain....
She asks for no alms, the poor Jewess, but still,
Altho' she is wretched, forsaken and ill,
She cries Sabbath candles, to those that come nigh,
And all that she pleads is, that people will buy.
But no one has listened, and no one has heard:
Her voice is so weak, that it fails at each word ....
I pray you, how long will she sit there and cry ...
How long will it be, do you think, ere her breath
Gives out in the horrible struggle with Death?
In Hester Street stands on the pavement of stone
A small, orphaned basket, forsaken, alone.
Beside it is sitting a corpse, cold and stark:
The seller of candles-will nobody mark?
No, none of the passers have noted her yet ...
Rogers also illustrated Sylvester Baxter's "Boston at the Century's End," in Harper's Magazine, November 1899, and among those illustrations is "The Jewish Quarter of Boston," of which the Library has the original. Mary Antin describes the "Quarter" in her The Promised Land.
Anybody who knows Boston knows that the West and North Ends are the wrong ends of the city. They form the tenement district, or, in the newer phrase, the slums of Boston ... [it] is the quarter where poor immigrants foregather, to live, for the most part, as unkempt, half-washed, toiling unaspiring foreigners; pitiful in the eyes of social missionaries, the despair of boards of health, the hope of ward politicians, the touchstone of American democracy.
William Allen Rogers's original drawing of "The Jewish Quarter of Boston," for Sylvester Baxter's article, "Boston at Century's End," which appeared in Harper's Magazine, November 1899.
Prints and Photographs Division.
On the other side of the coin is the tale of a Jewish immigrant girl, Yetta, the appealing sprite in Frederic Dorr Steele's original drawing to illustrate Myra Kelly's, "A Passport to Paradise," in McClure's, November 1904. Yetta is the heroine in one of Miss Kelly's touching tales about Jewish children of the Lower East Side. Born in Ireland, Myra Kelly lived most of her brief life-she died at thirty-five--in that section of New York, where she taught public school. Her stories appeared in leading magazines and were subsequently published in three collections. Theodore Roosevelt expressed the appreciation of many:
Mrs. Roosevelt and I and most of the children know your very amusing and very pathetic accounts of East Side school children almost by heart, and I ... thank you for them. While I was Police Commissioner I quite often went to the Houston Street public school and was immensely ... impressed by what I saw there. I thought there were a good many Miss Bailies [the schoolteacher heroine of Miss Kelly's stories] there, and the work they were doing among their scholars (who were so largely of Russian-Jewish parentage, like the children you write of) was very much like what your Miss Bailey has done.
"A Passport to Paradise" is a bittersweet story of a little immigrant girl with a penchant for cleanliness, hard to achieve when water had to be brought up to the tenement apartment from the yard below; an ambition to serve in the exalted position of monitor; and a longing for her country peddler father whom she sets out to find, arousing fears that she has become lost. Most of all it is a loving account of Jewish boys and girls and their relationship with their Irish teacher. Steele's drawing catches the pathos and wonder of the immigrant community in the Jewish neighborhoods of tum-of-the century American cities, where there was a natural community bound together by memory, empathy, and shared aspirations.