Abraham Cahan

Journalist, novelist, short story writer, memoirist (1860-1951)

Abraham "Abe" Cahan (7 July 186031 August 1951) was a Belarusian-born Jewish-American socialist newspaper editor, novelist, and politician.

Quotes edit

The Rise of David Levinsky (1917) edit

  • Am I happy? There are moments when I am overwhelmed by a sense of my success and ease. I become aware that thousands of things which had formerly been forbidden fruit to me are at my command now. I distinctly recall that crushing sense of being debarred from everything, and then I feel as though the whole world were mine. One day I paused in front of an old East Side restaurant that I had often passed in my days of need and despair. The feeling of desolation and envy with which I used to peek in its windows came back to me. It gave me pangs of self-pity for my past and a thrilling sense of my present power. The prices that had once been prohibitive seemed so wretchedly low now. ...
    And yet in all such instances I feel a peculiar yearning for the very days when the doors of that restaurant were closed to me and when the Canal Street merchant was a magnate of commerce in my estimation. Somehow, encounters of this kind leave me dejected. The gloomiest past is dearer than the brightest present. In my case there seems to be a special reason for feeling this way. My sense of triumph is coupled with a brooding sense of emptiness and insignificance, of my lack of anything like a great, deep interest.
  • Sometimes when I am alone in my beautiful apartments, brooding over these things and nursing my loneliness, I say to myself: "There are cases when success is a tragedy." There are moments when I regret my whole career, when my very success seems to be a mistake. I think that I was born for a life of intellectual interest. I was certainly brought up for one. The day when that accident turned my mind from college to business seems to be the most unfortunate day in my life. I think that I should be much happier as a scientist or writer, perhaps. I should then be in my natural element, and if I were doomed to loneliness I should have comforts to which I am now a stranger. That's the way I feel every time I pass the abandoned old building of the City College. The business world contains plenty of successful men who have no brains. Why, then, should I ascribe my triumph to special ability?
  • Life is much shorter than I imagined it to be.
  • Your worst pessimist is, after all, an optimist with regard to himself.
  • Remember that it is not enough to abstain from lying by word of mouth; for the worst lies are often conveyed by a false look, smile, or act.
  • The dearest days in one's life are those that seem very far and very near at once.
  • If you feel that you are good, don't be too proud of it.
  • What is wealth? A dream of fools.
  • The orthodox Jewish faith practically excludes woman from religious life.
  • If it be true that our people represent a high percentage of mental vigor, the distinction is probably due, in some measure, to the extremely important part which Talmud studies have played in the spiritual life of the race.

Quotes about Abraham Cahan edit

  • Brilliant, mercurial and cranky, Cahan was a major figure in the newspaper and literary worlds, and a force in the labor movement. His autobiography, the Education of Abraham Cahan (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1969), is a secret American classic.
    • Liana Finck Author's Note, A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York (2014)
  • Abe Cahan had left Russia as a boy to escape tsarist persecution. But instead of hailing the success of his Russian brothers, he had turned against them and not only would not listen to my reports of their achievements, but himself became one of the most vicious of anti-Soviet slanderers, vying with Hearst in publishing articles by renegades and reactionaries in his paper The Forward.
  • The Socialists were increasingly hostile to the Soviet Republic. When I first came back from my trip to Russia one of the Social. ist Party leaders I met asked me for an interview. "Why yes," I told him. "I give interviews to the capitalist papers, why not to you?" I went up to the office, and there were Abe Cahan, George Goebel, Charlie Erwin and others, and all began attacking me at once. How could I support Lenin? How could I defend the "Soviets' lack of democracy"? Abe Cahan hinted that I was really too old to know what it was all about anyway. "Let's see," he said, "How many years is it now that you have been around agitat- ing and organizing strikes?" "Just about as long as you have, Abe Cahan," I flashed back.
  • Abraham Cahan, in his short story "Yekl," describes the plight of a young immigrant who prided himself on being "a real American."
    • Sydney Weinberg, The World of Our Mothers: The Lives of Jewish Immigrant Women (1988)
  • In Cahan's The Rise of David Levinsky, Dora, an illiterate immigrant woman, lived her life through her daughter, whom she viewed with a combination of pride and envy. "My own life is lost," she thought, "but she shall be educated."
    • Sydney Weinberg, The World of Our Mothers: The Lives of Jewish Immigrant Women (1988)
  • Mr. Cahan, who became well known as a talented author with his novel, The Rise of David Levinsky, and other works, was a strong advocate of realism. He not only printed realistic stories by well-known writers but made an effort to bring the reality of Jewish life in America into his newspaper. Through light articles he inspired and encouraged the readers to write to the Forward about any unusual events in their own lives, and about their own problems. Mr. Cahan firmly believed that "truth is stranger than fiction," and as far back as 1903 planned a special feature for the newspaper in which the readers could express themselves, a section of the paper which would mirror real life...He maintained that the Forward should not devote itself exclusively to trade unionism, to political and social problems. From the outset, he broadened the interests of the paper and enlivened it with varied reading material, including light articles dealing with daily life. The daily newspaper thus drew readers from all strata and classes.
    • Isaac Metzker, Introduction to A Bintel Brief: Sixty Years of Letters from the Lower East Side to the Jewish Daily Forward (1971)
  • Abraham Cahan wrote in his memoirs (1929) the following about the "Bintel Brief": "People often need the opportunity to be able to pour out their heavy-laden hearts. Among our immigrant masses this need was very marked. Hundreds of thousands of people, tom from their homes and their dear ones, were lonely souls who thirsted for expression, who wanted to hear an opinion, who wanted advice in solving their weighty problems. The 'Bintel Brief' created just this opportunity for them. Many of the letters we receive are poorly written and we must correct or rewrite them. Some of the letters are not written directly by the people who seek the advice, but by others who do it for them. It has even become a special occupation for certain people to write letters for those who cannot write. There also appeared small signs with the inscription 'Here letters are written to the "Bintel Brief."' [The price for writing such a letter ranged from twenty-five to fifty cents. I.M.] Often the professional 'Bintel Brief' writer let himself go with his own eloquence, but this, naturally, was deleted. And from time to time men and women came to the editorial office to ask that someone write a letter for them about their problems. Through the 'Bintel Brief' mothers have found the children they had lost many years ago...The name of the feature, 'Bintel Brief,' became so popular that it is often used as a part of American Yiddish. When we speak of an interesting event in family life, you can hear a comment like 'A remarkable story-just for the "Bintel Brief."" Other times you can hear, 'It's like a "Bintel Brief" story!' Many of the themes from the letters have been used by writers of dramas and sketches for their works, because a world of literary

import can be found in them. The first few years I used to answer all the letters myself. I did it with the greatest pleasure, because in the letters one sees a rare panorama of human souls and because I also had a literary interest in the work."

    • Isaac Metzker, Introduction to A Bintel Brief: Sixty Years of Letters from the Lower East Side to the Jewish Daily Forward (1971)

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