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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Schumachers and Pressmans Were Eastern European Jews

The movie Dirty Dancing has an ethnic subtext. The movie takes place at the Kellerman resort, where the Jewish and Gentile characters can be distinguished by their functions. Most of the guests are Jews, whereas many of the workers and entertainers are Gentiles.

The Jewish characters can be further distinguished from each other by their ancestries. In 1963, when the Dirty Dancing story took place, practically all American Jews had descended from one of three major waves of Jewish immigration. Previous articles in this blog argue that each immigration wave was represented by the movie's characters.

1) Robbie Gould was a Sephardi Jew whose family name was Scottish and whose ancestors had been involved somehow with Scotland.

2) The Houseman and Kellerman families were German Jews. Their ancestors in Europe perhaps had been domestic servants of wealthy German families. The very names Houseman and Kellerman suggest that the ancestors had been butlers, wine stewards or coal shovelers who worked in wealthy German families' homes or cellars.

3) In this article here, I will elaborate that the Schumacher and Pressman families were Eastern European Jews. The family names indicate that their ancestors made shoes and ironed clothes in Yiddish workshops.

As I differentiate American Jews, I am speaking in generalities and in regard to 1963.

I do not assert that the screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein (a German surname) consciously differentiated her story's characters in accordance with the three immigration waves. However, she grew up in America's Jewish society, and her subconscious mentality is naturally saturated with such differentiations, which influence the stories she tells.


The immigration wave of Eastern European Jews is described comprehensively in Irving Howe's 700-page scholarly book World of Our Fathers: The Journey of the East European Jews to America and the Life They Found and Made.

This book is the source of information for my article here. Although the book provides both positive and negative aspects of this immigration wave, I will focus only on the wave's social pathology.


The third Jewish immigration wave was set in motion by the assassination of Russia's Tsar Alexander II in 1881. The subsequent political upheaval caused restrictions and attacks against the Jewish population in the Russian Empire, which at that time included the Baltic countries and much of Poland. This anti-Semitic development coincided with greater opportunities to migrate from Eastern Europe to the United States

From the assassination in 1881 until the outbreak of World War One in 1914, about one-third of the Jews living in Eastern Europe emigrated -- about two million people. Because of this wave's massive size, huge Jewish neighborhoods developed in US cities. The bulk of these immigrants spoke Yiddish, but many spoke Russian, Polish and other Eastern European languages.

Compared to the two previous Jewish immigration waves, the third suffered from much more social pathology. Howe writes (pages 96 - 101):
That symptoms of social dislocation and even pathology should have appeared under the extreme circumstances in which the early Jewish immigrants lived, seems unavoidable. There was crime, there was wife desertion, and there were juvenile delinquency, gangsterism, and prostitution during the 1880s and 1890s, as well as during the early decades of the twentieth century. -- probably more than the records show or memoirists tell. How could there not be?

Precise information on these matters is hard to come by, and the reasons are obvious. Communities struggling for survival seldom rush to announce their failures. .... Over the centuries the Jews had developed a cultural style encouraging prudishness and self-censorship: there were things everyone knew, had no choice but to know, yet only rarely was it deemed proper to speak or write about them. ...

Any realistic inhabitant of the [Manhattan] East Side could nevertheless have told one, say, in 1890 or 1895, where prostitution flourished ....

... the spread of social pathology will be hastened by a breakdown of social structure. Dancing academies, some of them mere way stations to brothels and recruiting grounds for "cadets", as pimps were then called, began to be advertised in the Yiddish press during the late 1880s.  ....

Recalling his childhood on the East Side, Michael Gold would write: "On sunshiny days, the whores sat on chairs along the sidewalks. They sprawled indolently, their legs taking up half the pavement. People stumbled over a gauntlet of whores' meaty legs. The girls gossiped and chirped like a jungle of parrots. Some knitted shawls and stockings. Others chewed Russian sunflower seeds." ....

Throughout these years the immigrant community was extremely sensitive ... to charges that it served as a breeding ground for crime. ... The subject of crime could not be easily disposed of. Some of the "crime" was innocent. Peddlers could not avoid breaking local regulations if they were to survive; the kosher slaughter of chickens in tenements, while violating the sanitary code, was unavoidable. Immigrants still firmly Orthodox went to their rabbis for divorce and then assumed they could legally remarry. ...

The most frequent crimes in the Jewish neighborhood were crimes of fraud, not violence. ... The University Settlement Society concluded that Jews "are prominent in their commission of forgery, violation of corporation ordinances, as disorderly persons (failure to support wife or family), both grades of larceny, and of the lighter grade of assault" ....

... frequent during these years were accounts of gross deceptions and pitiable swindles. ... As the possibilities of American enterprise became clearer, Jews found their way to more sophisticated crime, and some showed a talent for gambling. Arnold Rothstein, to be celebrated in the 1920s as "J. P. Morgan of the underworld" ... went into the money-lending business ... taking bets on races and fights, running crap games for large stakes; by 1907 he had a twelve-million-dollar bankroll. ....

Others showed a diversity of talents. Isaak Zuker headed a Jewish arson ring ... Harry Joblinski ran a school for young pickpockets ... Marm Mandelbaum acquired fame as a leading New York fence; she was estimated to have disposed of over five milllion dollars' worth of stolen property ....

Crime befouled the life of the East Side during the 1880s and 1890s; later, as immigrants learned the devices of native enterprise, the neighborhood would export some notable graduates to New York's underworld. East Side Side leaders and institutions were steadily worried, more than they allowed themselves to say in public or admit to the gentiles, about the spread of prostitution among Jewish girls and thievery among Jewish boys. .... Crime was a source of shame, a sign that much was distraught and some diseased on the East Side ...
New York City's police commissioner wrote in 1908 (page 133):
It is not astonishing that with a million Hebrews, mostly Russian, in the city (one-quarter of the population) perhaps half of the criminals should be of that race when we consider that ignorance of the language, more particularly among men not physically fit for hard labor, is conducive to crime. They are burglars, firebugs, pickpockets and highway robbers -- when they have the courage; but though all crime is in their province, pocket-picking is the one to which they take most naturally.
Juvenile delinquency was a major problem (pages 263-262):
All through the decades of immigration, the East Side and its replicas elsewhere in the country were harassed by outbreaks of juvenile crime and hooliganism, ranging in character from organized bands of pickpockets to young gangs half-social and half-delinquent. Crime had flourished in the Jewish immigrant quarters since the early 1880’s but the rise of a distinctive youth delinquency seems to have become especially troubling shortly after the turn of the century. ...

By 1904 the children’s courts, “which handle children under fifteen, are packed. Police courts are filled with boys over fifteen, second and third offenders who started at age thirteen-fourteen. .... "They have aggressive natures; if they can’t get to their sister’s pocketbook for a few cents, they’ll try to get the money by stealing."

In 1906 ... “between 28 and 30 percent of all children brought to the children’s court in New York are Jewish. There are three and a half times as many chilldren among this number who are the children of recently arrived immigrants as there are of native born parents. Fifteen years ago Jewish prisoners tre an unknown quantity.” ....

German Jews still took the lead — started to apply pressure on municipal authorities. They proposed that Jewish children under sixteen committed for misdemeanors be sent, with a subvention from the city, to a reformatory organized by the Jewish community itself. ... With a $110 annual contribution per child from the city, and a building fund of several hundred thousand dollars from wealthy donors, the Jewish Protectory Movement built the Hawthorne School, a reformatory in Hawthorne, New, York, and supervised probationary work in the city. ...

In the gap between Jewish family and gentile world, the children of the immigrants improvised a variety of social forms on the streets. At one extreme ... were the “tough” gangs, made up of boys from six to twenty years of age, popularly known as “grifters,” or pickpockets. These gangs devoted more to thievery than violence, were sometimes so successful that they could hire furnished rooms to shelter those bolder members living away from home. Their customary hangouts were street corners, alleyways, poolrooms. Crowded streetcars and parks were favorite arenas for “grifting.”

A frequent strategy would be to start a fake street fight between two of the older members and then, as a crowd collected, the younger ones would go through to pick pockets. Members of these gangs would later graduate into the ranks of Jewish criminality, such figures as Arnold Rothstein and Legs Diamond becoming masters of their craft ...
Some of the Jews who became successful entertainers came from semi-criminal backgrounds (page 560):
A few Jewish entertainers drifted to the edge of delinquency in their adolescence -- Fanny Brice shoplifting, George Burns doing errands for a saloon run by a gangster called "Big Puss") who once asked for help with a job of murder, which George prudently declined), and Eddie Cantor teaming up with street gangs.

But these were people not really cut out for crime. What they wanted was adventure, excitement, changes of scene, rapidity of experience. In their rebellion against the respectability of immigrant Jewish life, they brushed for a moment or two against its delinquent depths, but their sights were elsewhere.

When these Eastern European Jewish immigrants began to vacation in the Catstills, their slummy behavior -- compared to the German Jews -- created a bad impression (pages 215 - 218):
Some did go to "the mountains" -- which meant the Catskills. They went there because it was nearby and inexpensive, and because the German Jews had already cut a trail through gentile resistance in Ulster and Sullivan counties. ....

In 1900 the High View Farm of Mountaindale restricted its clientele to "a good class of Hebrews only", presumably German Jews. That same year The Jewish Agricultural Society began to finance Jewish settlers in Sullivan County, with the hope that they would become truck or dairy farmers. (A hope not always realized, since some of the settlers ... would borrow money from the Society ... on the pretext that it was for farming, but actually it was used to put up a resort.) ....

In 1899 ... residents of the Sandbergh valley were "seeking legal advice" because the increase of Jewish hotels had turned the Sandbergh River into a "mere sewage channel". This concern ... was given added muscle by the hostility of the older valley people to the proliferation of Jewish boarding houses, which brought with them a way of life conspicuously different. ...

In 1906, the Ellenville Journal reported that in the previous six years twelve hundred farms had been sold to Jews, mostly in a ten-mile strip ... "Nearly every one of the purchased farm houses is used as a summer boarding house. ... "There were cases of cruel harassment, there were fist fights, there was much concealed hostility." Still, Jews kept pouring in, a significant minority of them tuberculars seeking cures at the sanitariums. ...

The unadorned boarding house and the nameless kokhaleyn (where guests did their own cooking) were not the most refined of places, certainly not the most elegant; they were just farmhouses where ordinary people came for rest and diversion.
An article in the Jewish newspaper The Forward described the Jewish boarding houses in the Catskills in 1904:
These places were really no more than renovated, or unrenovated, farmhouses partitioned into small rooms for summer boarders. ... "These farms and hotels look more like hospitals than pleasure resorts. Every room has as many beds as it can hold .. four or five in a room is not considered too much. ....

A child is always crying; another is getting slapped. ... The crying, cursing, and slapping remind you of the Yiddish theater. If one of the girls volunteers to sing ... she sings while the children are crying, the mothers are cursing, hunbands and wives are fighting, and women are insulting one another.

When the husband of one of the women does come for a few days, she is very proud -- and besides, it makes the other women jealous. They in turn can't stand it and send for their husbands.  The visiting husbands set up pinochle games and play all day, forgetting their wives.

The girls are bored and try to find boys; when a young man wanders onto a farm, they do their utmost to hold him there. ... If a boy doesn't come along, the girls go to look for one, ostensibly paying a visit to another farm. There are twelve girls to every boy in the Catskills.

"Some of the hotels have dances. They are free, and people come fro miles around. There are Chinese lanterns strung up half a mile from the hotel. The crowd in the dance hall is really happy."
Howe includes two photographs showing the growth of the Grossinger family's Catskills hotel business from 1914 to 1925.

The original Grossinger seven-room farmhouse hotel in 1914 

The second Grossinger hotel in 1925
Another photograph (not in Howe's book) shows the Grossinger hotel of the 1950s.

The Grossinger hotel of the 1950s

The criminal element of the third Jewish immigration wave is portrayed in Dirty Dancing by the Schumacher characters, an old couple who make their livings by stealing at Jewish resort hotels.

The Schumachers holding a bag full of stuff they have stolen

Mrs. Schumacher conning Penny and Baby
I suppose that the theft in Dirty Dancing depicted a real problem at the Jewish resort hotels.


Vivian Pressman is a character who is quite sleazy. Max Kellerman describes her in the following dialogue:
Max Kellerman
That's Vivian Pressman, one of the “bungalow bunnies”. That's what we call the women who stay here all week. The husbands only come up on weekends.

Moe Pressman's a big card player. He'll join our game. Moe coming up on Friday?

Vivian Pressman

Max Kellerman
He's away a lot. I know. It's a hardship.
Sleazy Vivian Pressman hanging around gamblers
Max's It's a hardship remark is sarcastic because he knows that she enjoys sex with other men at the hotel while her gambler-husband Moe is away.

I question whether Vivian and Moe are really married. The 2017 ABC movie -- which I suppose is informed by interviews of Eleanor Bergstein -- portrays Vivian as a divorced woman.

Vivian's essential relationship with Moe might be that they collaborate in cheating rich men at the hotel. Vivian seduces rich men during the week and then persuades them to gamble with Max in card games during the weekend. The rich men do not know that Moe, a professional card shark, is in cahoots with Vivian.

Another possibility is that Vivian is working as a prostitute at the hotel. She seems to be giving sex away for free to the younger male characters, but we do not know that for sure. Maybe she charged Robbie Gould some money for the sexual intercourse he had with her. Maybe she charges on a sliding scale -- less for the younger hotel workers and much more for the rich hotel guests. If one of her clients refuses to pay, then Moe collects the money by threat and force during the weekend.

In the 2017 ABC movie, Vivian Pressman is shown playing cards with other women guests. Perhaps she herself is a card shark. Or perhaps she is just using the women guests in order to identify rich husbands who like to gamble at cards and could be invited to gamble with Moe on the weekends.


The Schumachers and Pressmans could be the main characters in a spin-off movie called Dirty Scamming.


See also my article Interactions Between the USA's German Jews and Eastern European Jews.


The 1945 movie A Tree Grows in Brooklyn superbly depicts the lives of poor people in New York City in the year 1912. The film depicts poor Irish-American families, but their lives were similar to the lives of poor Jewish-American families. The movie depicts the clothing, the household furniture and stuff, the apartments, the stores, the streets, the neighborhoods and the daily problems and struggles. I highly recommend this film.

Unfortunately this YouTube video does not show the movie's outside margins and does not have high definition. (Maybe that's the only way that YouTube can provide the entire movie.) It's better to watch the movie on DVD, Netflix, the TCM television channel or elsewhere.

The 308 customers reviewers on the Amazon webpage give 88% five-star ratings and 6% four-star ratings. The lesser ratings were due to technical problems with the DVDs that Amazon delivered.

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