David Levinsky is a Russian Jew--part of a vast group who immigrated to New York in the 1880s. Orphaned and penniless, he settles on the Lower East Side, where every newcomer is sneered at by anyone who has been in America even a few months longer. But he makes his way up, step by step, mishap by mishap, plan by plan: from street peddler to small manufacturer to millionaire power broker in the ever-expanding business of mass-produced women's clothing.
About the Author
Abraham "Abe" Cahan (July 7, 1860 - August 31, 1951) was a Lithuanian-born Jewish-American socialist newspaper editor, novelist, and politician. Abraham Cahan was born July 7, 1860, in Podberezhie in Lithuania (at the time occupied by the Russian Empire, into an orthodox Litvak family. His grandfather was a rabbi in Vidz, Vitebsk, his father a teacher of Hebrew language and the Talmud. The family, which was devoutly religious, moved in 1866 to Vilna (Vilnius), where the young Cahan received the usual Jewish preparatory education for the rabbinate. He, however, was attracted by secular knowledge and clandestinely studied the Russian language, ultimately prevailing on his parents to allow him to enter the Teachers Institute of Wilna, from which he was graduated in 1881. He was appointed teacher in a Jewish government school in Velizh, Vitebsk, in the same year. Cahan's Immigration Abraham Cahan lived in Russia when the country was a pre-industrial Christian state with an economic structure that deterred the advancing economic activities in which Jews typically partook. Russia had a record of Jewish intolerance as the Czarist government viewed the Jewish minority as an autonomously governable group which became subject to discrimination and even brutality. By 1879, when Cahan was still a teenager, he had associated himself with the growing radical revolutionary movement in Russia. Czar Alexander II was assassinated by a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party in March 1881, causing all revolutionary sympathizers to be suspect by Russian police. In 1882 the Russian police searched Cahan's room for radical publications that could be linked to the Socialist Revolutionary Party. This visit from the police prompted the young socialist schoolteacher to escape to the United States through emigration. Cahan was by no means unique in his venture. At the time of his immigration to America three quarters of American Jewish immigrants came from Czarist Russia. Cahan arrived by steamboat in Philadelphia on June 6 of 1882 and immediately traveled to New York where he would live for the remainder of his life.