A retrospective optimism invariably pervades the memories of Jewish immigrants to the New World. In Portland, as elsewhere, hardships became nostalgia as families strove to establish a mercantile niche, sometimes borrowing funds to peddle the Oregon Territory before graduating to a small South Portland store. Author, Polina Olsen captures the sanguine mood and colors the tales with anecdotes cherished for generations.
The first comers settled in the city to ensure a livelihood and a Jewish education for their children. The community came together with the Friendship Club helping socially, the Junk Peddlers’ Association giving a commercial boost, and religious and educational organizations paving the way to civic philanthropy.
Jewish immigrants displaced by political strife and wars in Europe and Russia swelled the population. Families and the higgledy-piggledy shelves in 19th century dry goods stores tend to look pretty similar, but Olsen has found numerous lively photographs including a memorable snapshot of a middle-aged couple grinning hugely in their hide-all swimsuits.
Mostly an edited compilation of newspaper and magazine columns, the book is a bit patchy, but so joyful, one can overlook such a negligible flaw.
Reviewed by Jane Manaster