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Though Jewish Americans emigrated from many nations, once they were in the United States, there was a concerted effort to negotiate their place without sacrificing their Jewish identity. Many went to English classes at night, adopting American dress and customs. Ultimately, they were learning to fit in, to think like Americans, and to be American.

In the early 20th century, Abraham Cahan, editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, a Yiddish-language newspaper, offered advice and encouragement to a generation of Jewish immigrants. His words assisted newcomers to assimilate and inform themselves about the issues of the day.

Learning English was a critical part of assimilation. At New York's Educational Alliance, countless Jewish immigrants took classes where they not only learned English, they also learned about American customs. Beth Wenger points out in the companion book, The quest to become American could also be seen in the numbers of Jews learning English and attending night classes; by 1906 Jews made up the majority of students enrolled in New York's evening schools. Many immigrants mastered only rudimentary English, but they sent their children to the public schools in overwhelming numbers. Although many families needed their children's income to survive, education was the key to mobility until the next generation. Most Jewish children did obtain at least an elementary education during the immigrant era.