Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Ben Reisman

b. 1876, Kalush, Galicia
To U.S.: 1896

"Why I Came to America"

In YIVO’s 1942 contest, Ben Reisman won first prize for this detailed, lively, and nuanced autobiography. An orphan, Reisman had a close, but troubled, relationship with his extended family, a theme that runs throughout his account and is closely bound up with his resentment at having been forced to cut short his traditional Jewish education to apprentice as a tinsmith. He vividly describes his work as a tinsmith and roofer in Galicia, where he worked for his brother-in-law until he emigrated. In the US, he became active in the Socialist movement and continued to work at his trade – often among non-Jews. He led a happy family life and expresses pride in his wife and children. Reisman eventually went into business for himself and prospered. Nevertheless, he exhibits of the ambivalence of a Socialist businessman, he remained critical of the materialism of some members of his extended family.