The Cultural Middleman

To start with, the process of Americanization began at birth. Within the space of one week at the Metropolitan Hospital, I started life as a Hebrew child, with the name Yitzhak-Isaac. This apparently was too cumbersome for record-keeping purposes, so I was entered on the birth certificate as Isadore. But my sister, or at least so she told me, thought that name was far too Europeanized for a Harlem baby, so I became Irving by the seventh day. Louis is an affectation of my late teens—there had to be some way to distinguish myself from all the other Irvings who lived in the Bronx and Brooklyn."

So begins Irving Horowitz's remarkable memoir of growing up Jewish in Harlem. Readers be warned. This is no Neil Simon tale of adoring parents and precocious kids. The Horowitzes were not a happy family. The socialist father, who deserted the Czar's army but nourished dreams of a Soviet Yiddish state, displayed no affection toward his family. Without the skills to succeed in the garment trade, he set up a key and lock shop in Harlem on the sound theory that such a business would do well in a highcrime area. The author gives us the impression that when his parents were not quarreling with each other or beating the children, they were staying one step ahead of their black neighbors. During Christmas season the family worked the bulb scam: unsuspecting black customers would bring in their bulbs for a test that usually revealed...

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