Imagine you are an Eastern European immigrant who has just arrived in New .
York City at the end of the 19th Century. You are perplexed by daily .
dilemmas, such as your daughter wanting to marry a non-Jew, which you .
consider a shanda. You want to study English in night school, which your .
husband considers a shanda. Where do you turn for advice? .
You turn to the daily advice column, "A Bintel Brief," in the Yiddish .
Daily Forward. .
Welcome to America: Memories of "A Bintel Brief," by Barbara Lesser, opened .
the Steisand Festival of New Jewish Plays on June 3 at the Lawrence Family .
Jewish Community Center. By basing its content on letters from "A Bintel .
Brief," it imaginatively transports us back to the issues and history of .
Jewish immigrant life in America. .
More than two million Eastern European Jews settled in America from 1880 to .
1925, and a key to their understanding American life was the Yiddish .
newspapers, the Forward being one of the most popular. Abraham Cahan, editor .
of the Forward and frequent editor of "A Bintel Brief," explained that new .
immigrants needed "to pour out their heavy-laden hearts" because many were .
"torn 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." .
Playwright Lesser faced a huge challenge to convert a group of letters into .
a three-dimensional theatrical production. Lesser creatively achieves this .
by centering the play on three generations of one immigrant family and their .
hopes and despair in this new land. Though much of story, revealed through .
dialogue and letters to and from "A Bintel Brief," deals with fairly typical .
issues of the day -- interdating and intermarriage, socialist pros and cons, .
how much observance is enough observance -- .