Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2018/Fall/Section 3/Tam Levine

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Tam Levine (1892–date of death unknown) was a tailor who emigrated from Russia in 1906 to live with his uncle in the United States. In 1939, he was interviewed by John H. Abner as part of the Federal Writers’ Project.[1]

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Early life and education[edit]

Born in 1892 in Russia, Levine grew up bilingual in Russian and Yiddish.[2] His father, an interior decorator and war veteran, sent him to school at age five, and by age twelve Levine was tutoring younger students while continuing his own classes at night.[3] While working as a tutor, he lived in an agricultural village away from his parents, but after the breakout of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, he returned home.[4] Soon after, in 1906, his father died, leading his mother to send Levine to America as the adopted son of her brother, who owned a butcher shop.[5] Levine worked in a clothing factory in New York before learning the tailoring trade from a relative in Bowman.[6] In 1918, he completed a thirty-day course to learn fabric cutting techniques.[7]

Early career[edit]

Levine moved to the small town of Brooks (state unknown) in the early 1910s to do alterations in a local shop.[8] After the shop closed down, he began his tailoring business in the same town, where his reputation had already been established.[9] During the Great Depression, from 1929 to 1936, business was poor.[10] Levine lost his business entirely in 1937, after which he briefly moved to Bowman to work in a sweatshop.[11] Due to the low pay, he left for Brooks once more and was able to rebuild his tailoring business there.[12]

Marriage[edit]

In December of 1919, Levine married a girl from Bowman (state unknown), and by 1920 they had bought a small house and had their first child.[13] After attempting to move to Bowman but failing to get the money in on time to buy a house there, Levine bought a new house in Brooks.[14] By January of 1922, they had their second child and moved yet again into a larger house.[15] In 1927, his wife became ill and had to be hospitalized, while he was left with a downturn in business and now four children.[16] She became very depressed, and financial issues strained their marriage throughout the 1930s.[17] During August of 1936, she took the children and left him to live with her parents in Bowman.[18] Levine’s death date is unknown.

Social Context[edit]

The Pale of Settlement[edit]

Russian Jews had been restricted to living in a strip of land in the easternmost regions of Russia known as the Pale of Settlement since the reign of Catherine the Great.[19][20] Additionally, in 1882 the May Laws were introduced by the reactionary Alexander III, enforcing further discrimination against Jews in various industries and calling for pogroms of the remaining Jewish communities in central Russia.[21] These harsh legal conditions were augmented by economic problems, including famine, that were widespread in Eastern Europe during the end of the 19th century.[22][23] Taxes were levied on the community as a whole, forcing communities to band together and pool their resources in a quasi-socialist government system known as the kahal[24]. Between 1894 and 1914, one fifth of all Russian Jews emigrated, most of them to America, and most of them would never return.[25]

Immigrant life in the United States[edit]

The 1930s saw a rise in nativism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism in the United States, as some right-wing conspiracy theorists blamed Jews for the worsening Great Depression.[26] This manifested itself in discrimination in housing and employment as well as exclusion from Gentile social life.[27] Because of this exclusion, and, some historians argue, because of their traditional societal organizations in the Pale of Settlement, recent immigrant communities of Ashkenazim were tightly knit and interdependent.[28] Particularly during the years of the Depression, it was common for a family to receive aid from their community when needed, or for someone who had lost a job to be hired by a relative or friend from the same immigrant community.[29]

Notes[edit]

  1. Interview with Tam Levine, February 10th, 1939, Federal Writers’ Project.
  2. Ibid., 1-5.
  3. Ibid., 1-2.
  4. Ibid., 2-4.
  5. Ibid., 5.
  6. Ibid., 5-6.
  7. Ibid., 10
  8. Ibid., 7.
  9. Ibid., 10.
  10. Ibid., 20.
  11. Ibid., 22.
  12. Ibid., 23.
  13. Ibid., 12-13.
  14. Ibid., 17.
  15. Ibid., 18.
  16. Ibid., 19.
  17. Ibid., 20.
  18. Ibid.
  19. Richard L. Benkin, "Ethnicity and Organization: Jewish Communities in Eastern Europe and the United States," 616.
  20. Herman Rosenthal, J. G. Lipman, Vasili Rosenthal, L. Wygodsky, M. Mysh, and Abraham Galante, “Russia.”
  21. Ibid.
  22. Ibid.
  23. Arcadius Kahan, "Economic Opportunities and Some Pilgrims' Progress: Jewish Immigrants from Eastern Europe in the U.S., 1890-1914," 236.
  24. Richard L. Benkin, "Ethnicity and Organization: Jewish Communities in Eastern Europe and the United States," 616.
  25. Lloyd P. Gartner, “Jewish Migrants En Route from Europe to North America: Traditions and Realities," 50-55.
  26. Sander L. Gilman and Steven T. Katz, Anti-Semitism in Times of Crisis, 10.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Richard L. Benkin, "Ethnicity and Organization: Jewish Communities in Eastern Europe and the United States," 615.
  29. Diane C. Vecchio, "Making Their Way in the New South: Jewish Peddlers And Merchants in the South Carolina Up Country," 119.

Bibliography[edit]

Benkin, Richard L. "Ethnicity and Organization: Jewish Communities in Eastern Europe and the United States." The Sociological Quarterly 19, no. 4 (1978): 614-25. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4105660.

"Encyclopedia Judaica: Tailoring." Jewish Virtual Library. Accessed September 24, 2018. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/tailoring.

Federal Writers’ Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Gartner, Lloyd P. "Jewish Migrants En Route from Europe to North America: Traditions and Realities." Jewish History 1, no. 2 (1986): 49-66. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20101022.

Gilman, Sander L., and Steven T. Katz. Anti-Semitism in Times of Crisis. New York: New York University Press, 1991.

Grill, Johnpeter Horst, and Robert L. Jenkins. "The Nazis and the American South in the 1930s: A Mirror Image?" The Journal of Southern History 58, no. 4 (1992): 667-94. https://www.jstor.org/stable/2210789.

Kahan, Arcadius. "Economic Opportunities and Some Pilgrims' Progress: Jewish Immigrants from Eastern Europe in the U.S., 1890-1914." The Journal of Economic History 38, no. 1 (1978): 235-51. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2119326.

Petrovsky-Shtern, Yohanan. "Military Service in Russia." The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe. Accessed October 11, 2018. http://www.yivoencyclopedia.org/article.aspx/Military_Service_in_Russia.

Rosenthal, Herman, J. G. Lipman, Vasili Rosenthal, L. Wygodsky, M. Mysh, and Abraham Galante. "Russia." Jewish Encyclopedia. Accessed October 11, 2018. http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12943#anchor24.

Vecchio, Diane C. "Making Their Way in the New South: Jewish Peddlers And Merchants in the South Carolina Up Country." The South Carolina Historical Magazine 113, no. 2 (2012): 100-24. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41698099.

"Virtual Jewish World: South Carolina, United States." Jewish Virtual Library. July 2018. Accessed September 24, 2018. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/south-carolina-jewish-history.

External links[edit]