Dan Burt’s memoir of Jewish Philadelphia in the 1940s and 50s is a tale of immigrants, brawlers, cops, and crooks.
The New York Jewish intellectuals had it easy. They may have grown up in poverty in the immigrant neighborhoods of Brooklyn, but the educational and cultural horizons to which they aspired were embodied visibly in the Manhattan skyline just a subway ride away—a clear, unmissable compass point. As for their Chicago peers, admittedly they may have had it a little tougher. And yet, in reading Saul Bellow or Isaac Rosenfeld or the latter-day David Mamet, it becomes clear that your average Chicago Jewish intellectual emerges from the womb as a fully developed philosopher, moving from that city’s cheap streets to its seminar rooms as instinctively as a salmon swimming upstream.
No, the true miracle is the Jewish intellectual from Philadelphia.
(Pictured: Philadelphia detectives examining receipts from an illegal gambling house, 1955.)