This is Vox Tablet, the weekly podcast of Tablet Magazine, the online Jewish arts and culture magazine that used to be known as Nextbook.org. Our archive of podcasts is available on our site, tablet2015.wpengine.com. Vox Tablet, hosted by Sara Ivry, varies widely in subject matter and sound -- one week it's a conversation with novelist Michael Chabon, theater critic Alisa Solomon, or anthropologist Ruth Behar. Another week brings the listener to "the etrog man" hocking his wares at a fruit-juice stand in a Jersualem market. Or into the hotel room with poet and rock musician David Berman an hour before he and his band, Silver Jews, head over to their next gig. Recent guests include Alex Ross, Shalom Auslander, Aline K. Crumb, Howard Jacobson, and the late Norman Mailer.
An Abridged Biography of Your Great-Grandfather (Probably)
“Pack peddlers,” known in other parts of the world as smous, ambulantes, kloppers, weekly men, and a host of other names, are a staple of Jewish family lore everyplace that Jews headed when they left Europe starting in the 19th century.
But the specifics of that job, and the impact it had on Jews’ success or failure in their new homelands, have not been much considered until now. In Roads Taken: The Great Jewish Migrations to the New World and the Peddlers Who Forged the Way, New York University historian Hasia Diner examines what the lives of Jewish peddlers were really like day to day.
Where did they sleep every night? What did they sell and to whom? What became of their wives, if they had them, when they went away? What kinds of barriers—in terms of race, religion, and gender—did they cross when they walked into a new home?
Diner joins Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry to discuss both the nitty-gritty and the larger issues of how workers in the peddling trade helped Jews integrate in new societies.
Plus, Zak Rosen shadows two boys in suburban Detroit at the beginning of their bar mitzvah preparations—specifically, that bewildering stage when they embark on 12 weeks of dance classes at Joe Cornell Entertainment so they can learn to ask a girl onto the dance floor and not embarrass themselves once they’re there.