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182 SHOFAR Spring 2000 Vol. 18, No.3 the ordinary Egyptian. If these men and women had a soft spot for Zionism, that was all the more reason to revile them. Two chapters in the book are exceptional. The first (Chapter 4) discusses Operation Susannah, a shadowy episode involving Israel's use of Egyptian agents to sabotage American and Egyptian property in Cairo. Beinin shows how easily Israel was able to conceal the truth of this affair and even to use Egypt's punishment of the saboteurs as proof of deep-seated Egyptian antisemitism. Similarly impressive is the discussion of the Jewish Communist emigre community living in France, the prime figure being Henri Curiel (Chapter 6). The son of an Egyptian Jewish banker and one of the founders of the Egyptian Communist Party, Curiel played a crucial role in supporting Arab nationalist causes and opposing Israeli expansionism. Curiel's exile to France did not alienate him from Egypt but intensified his Egyptian identity. He even revealed to the Egyptian government French plans to invade the country during the Suez crisis. Beinin's book now rounds out a corpus ofliterature that provides a comprehensive story of one of the most creative communities in the Middle East. It is greatly welcomed. Robert L. Tignor Department of History Princeton University Streets, by Bella Spewack. New York: Feminist Press at CUNY, 1995. 180 pp. $19.95. Bella Spewack's Streets, a memoir composed in 1922 when the author was in her early twenties and recently published for the first time by the Feminist Press, is a valuable addition to the genre of Jewish immigrant autobiographies. Though her career as bestsellingj ournalist and playwright was yet to come, Spewack, who with her husband Sam created Kiss Me Kate, Boy Meets Girl, and other popular dramas, writes in a strong and vigorous voice, even though the story she recounts is unsparingly bleak. Immigrating to the United States from Eastern Europe with her mother in 1902 or 1903, when she was barely three years old, Spewack faced a childhood ofgrim and unrelenting poverty. Her mother, Fanny Cohen, who had been abandoned by Bella's father shortly after the child's birth, does the best she can for Bella through domestic service, piecework sewing, and taking in boarders, but there is never enough to eat. Eventually she marries a roomer, whom Bella never likes, but he abandons her when their newborn son develops a disfiguring disease; a second son is born to Bella's mother after her stepfather takes off, leaving Mrs. Cohen the single parent of three. For Bella, the "streets" around which she organizes her book-the five different addresses she lived at during the first 14 years of her life which this memoir Book Reviews 183 chronicles-are filled with sordidness. For example, the first section ofthe book, titled "Cannon Street," tells of the "narrow gutter" where she spent the first ten years of her life, a street full of thousands of people in houses "sour with the smell of crowded human flesh," a place where "blows" mattered more than words and where she learned to "fear people." Bella and her mother understand that there are few people whom they can trust-landladies, neighbors, and boarders are conniving, selfish, and often brutalizing-yet for the first part ofthis brief narrative, at least, they have each other. By the end of the book, however, Bella has even turned against her mother, perhaps because she cannot protect her children from the cruelties that life offers. The editor of Streets observes that Spewack had subtitled her memoir, "Why I Write Comedy"; in her own mind, the portrait she drew of the streets of the Lower East Side was one of overwhelming misery. Much ofthe account touches on familiar ground: the bare poverty; the torments of herbetters, including the condescending manner ofthe Jewish "Charities" which comes in for Bella's and her mother's special hatred; the questioning ofGod (for a while, Bella wanted to become a "Krisht" since Christians seemed more genteel and certainly more privileged); the immersion in books and schools as a channel to a better life. The portrait of Fanny Cohen as single parent, struggling...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 182-184
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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