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Iran and Its Culture by Firoze Cowasji Davar

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By Firoze Cowasji Davar

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Their hope was to make a little money. My father spent part of his hard-earned family income to send me to an after-school Talmud Torah class for a year prior to my bar mitzvah to learn how to read (but not to understand) enough Hebrew in order to recite a portion of the Torah at the ceremony. I was also taught by an elderly sexton at an East Broadway synagogue to put on tefillin, the prayer phylacteries, which, along with all my male friends, I did for a short time after my bar mitzvah and then stowed them away, together with my prayer shawl and prayer book, forever.

In the 1880s, which marked the beginning of the massive emigration from Eastern Europe, a dozen Yiddish newspapers came into existence, although most had brief life spans of from one to four years and a readership of fewer than five thousand. One newspaper survived and succeeded by devouring its competitors: the Yiddishe Gazetten, founded in 1874, was the largest-circulation Jewish newspaper at the beginning of the twentieth century. At that time over 150 Jewish papers and periodicals were being published, and the intellectual 30 The Lower East Side quality of many of the periodicals was extremely high.

The Fire Department was at the scene within minutes, but the 28 The Lower East Side equipment could not reach the upper floors, and when the girls began to jump from windows and the roof, the firemen’s nets could not break the long fall. The girls fell like game birds, their screams echoing after them. When they hit the pavement, they instantly became lifeless piles of blood-red clothes. In a little over two hours the holocaust was over, with 125 young women and 21 men dead. Most of the dead were Jewish.

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