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A Bintel Brief

            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 -- .

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