Abraham Cahan
A Tale of the New York Ghetto
Abraham Cahan
New York
D. Appleton and Company

Jake and Yekl
The operatives of the cloak shop in which Jake was employed had been
idle all the morning. It was after twelve o'clock and the "boss" had not
yet returned from Broadway, whither he had betaken himself two or
three hours before in quest of work. The little sweltering
assemblage--for it was an oppressive day in midsummer--beguiled their
suspense variously. A rabbinical-looking man of thirty, who sat with
the back of his chair tilted against his sewing machine, was intent upon
an English newspaper. Every little while he would remove it from his
eyes--showing a dyspeptic face fringed with a thin growth of dark
beard--to consult the cumbrous dictionary on his knees. Two young
lads, one seated on the frame of the next machine and the other
standing, were boasting to one another of their respective intimacies
with the leading actors of the Jewish stage. The board of a third
machine, in a corner of the same wall, supported an open copy of a
socialist magazine in Yiddish, over which a cadaverous young man
absorbedly swayed to and fro droning in the Talmudical intonation. A
middle-aged operative, with huge red side whiskers, who was perched
on the presser's table in the corner opposite, was mending his own coat.

While the thick-set presser and all the three women of the shop,
occupying the three machines ranged against an adjoining wall, formed
an attentive audience to an impromptu lecture upon the comparative
merits of Boston and New York by Jake.
He had been speaking for some time. He stood in the middle of the
overcrowded stuffy room with his long but well-shaped legs wide apart,
his bulky round head aslant, and one of his bared mighty arms akimbo.
He spoke in Boston Yiddish, that is to say, in Yiddish more copiously
spiced with mutilated English than is the language of the metropolitan
Ghetto in which our story lies. He had a deep and rather harsh voice,
and his r's could do credit to the thickest Irish brogue.
"When I was in Boston," he went on, with a contemptuous mien
intended for the American metropolis, "I knew a feller, [note] so he was
a preticly friend of John Shullivan's. He is a Christian, that feller is, and
yet the two of us lived like brothers. May I be unable to move from this
spot if we did not. How, then, would you have it? Like here, in New
York, where the Jews are a lot of greenhornsh and can not speak a word
of English? Over there every Jew speaks English like a stream."
[note] feller: English words incorporated in the Yiddish of the
characters of this narrative are given in italics.
"Say, Dzake," the presser broke in, "John Sullivan is tzampion no
longer, is he?"
"Oh, no! Not always is it holiday!" Jake responded, with what he
considered a Yankee jerk of his head. "Why, don't you know Jimmie
Corbett leaked him, and Jimmie leaked Cholly Meetchel, too. You can
betch you' bootsh! Johnnie could not leak Chollie, becaush he is a big
bluffer, Chollie is," he pursued, his clean-shaven florid face beaming
with enthusiasm for his subject, and with pride in the diminutive proper
nouns he flaunted. "But Jimmie pundished him. Oh, didn't he knock
him out off shight! He came near making a meat ball of him"--with a
chuckle. "He tzettled him in three roynds. I knew a feller who had seen
the fight."

"What is a rawnd, Dzake?" the presser inquired.
Jake's answer to the question carried him into a minute exposition of
"right-handers," "left-handers," "sending to sleep," "first blood," and
other commodities of the fistic business. He must have treated the
subject rather too scientifically, however, for his female listeners
obviously paid more attention to what he did in the course of the
boxing match, which he had now and then, by way of illustration, with
the thick air of the room, than to the verbal part of his lecture. Nay,
even the performances of his brawny arms and magnificent form did
not charm them as much as he thought they did. For a display of manly
force, when connected--even though in a purely imaginary way--with
acts of violence, has little attraction for a "daughter of the Ghetto."
Much more interest did those arms and form command on their own
merits. Nor was his chubby high-colored face neglected. True, there
was a suggestion of the bulldog in its make up; but this effect was lost
upon the feminine portion of Jake's audience, for his features,
illuminated by a pair of eager eyes of a hazel hue, and shaded by a
thick crop of dark hair, were, after all, rather
Continue reading on your phone by scaning this QR Code

 / 39
Tip: The current page has been bookmarked automatically. If you wish to continue reading later, just open the Dertz Homepage, and click on the 'continue reading' link at the bottom of the page.