Annals of Assimilation

Jennifer Weisberg has a lovely essay on Leo Rosten, who in the ’30s received acclaim for his short stories about Hyman Kaplan, an immigrant eager to shrug off his Yiddish and pick up English. Those stories originally appeared in the New Yorker, were later collected in a bestselling book, and inspired a 1968 musical. Weisberg argues that the appeal of Rosten’s stories was simple:

When Kaplan made his first appearance on the printed page, the American Jewish community was on the cusp of change. By the 1930s, Jews of Eastern European origin were increasingly confident, working assiduously to leave behind not just the shtetl, but the tenements and crowded streets of the Lower East Side, and to join in American life more fully. Perhaps no one could sum up their growing Americanization as well as Kaplan himself, explaining to Mr. Parkhill one day that he declined to attend his friend Jake Popper’s funeral, opting instead to “tink like Americans tink! So I tought, an’ I didn’t go. Becawss I tought of dat dip American idea, ‘Business before pleasure!’”