Monday, May 28, 2007

Robert Moses and the Forward

It has been my custom if I'm in town on Memorial Day to go to the Museum of the City of New York, which is open on holiday Mondays like today. A smallish museum, it's wholly devoted to all things New York. And since today was the last day of the exhibit about Robert Moses, which I wanted to see, off I went.

What was fascinating was his single-mindedness. He was responsible for some wonderful things, like Jones Beach and the number of parks and public spaces in New York City, but he also wanted to build more bridges and highways, many of which were voted down and later denounced by the citizenry and the like of Jane Jacobs. (I learned afterwards that he had never learned to drive! Interesting, then, that he wanted to Los Angelescize New York. I wonder what he would have thought now with gas reaching $4 a gallon and the poor air quality in New York....) Like many larger-than-life men who achieve things, he pushed forward the things he wanted, including many public swimming pools (he was a swimmer).

The exhibit about the Forward was enthralling in a different way--interesting to see how important this newspaper became to new immigrants, especially its Bintel Brief (translated from "A Bunch of Letters"), which was an early advice column predating Dear Abby! It was also interesting for a politically liberal paper to give this advice to a man who wanted to marry a non-Jewish woman: "Don't do it. You will have nothing in common with her because of the difference in your backgrounds." So even though the focus of the paper was on helping immigrants assimilate, there was only so much assimilation actually acceptable.

Robert Moses was the middle child of a very assimilated family who most likely did not read the Forward.

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