New York is not as Emmanuel Weinberger expected it to be. As it slips past his ship, glimpsed through a forest of masts and sails, the buildings seem too old to be in a new country. A bag lands at his feet. “Here’s your bag.” says a sailor. This ship will barely dock before it is sets sail again – to pick up supplies – to sail another sea – to pick up more Emmanuel Weinbergers and their life savings.
Wapping is not in New York, though it takes a walk of some distance before this really settles in. All docks look like docks, but there is no hint of a promised land here. Manny begins to hate himself almost as much as the sailors must have hated him to do such a thing. If there is a family waiting for him on a wharf, it is a wharf still an ocean away. How could he have believed the captain when he said fair winds had gifted them a speedy voyage to America?
With nowhere to sleep tonight, he looks for places where others like him might sleep. Wandering far from gas lamps and footsteps, he finds a yard where men have slung a ragged sail to make a shelter. No one speaks. But everyone knows. They allow him to join them. The silent men are brown in a way Emmanuel has never seen before. Though none has the language of the land where they now dwell, each understands they are castaways and will have to make the best of things on this island of cobbles and smoke.
This fictional tale describes an often repeated immigrant experience The picture is actually Dan Jones’ great grandfather Louis Binderowski whose son, Morris, a tailor, fled from Swonim in what was then Imperial Russia to escape anti-Jewish pogroms in the Polish Pale of Settlement. Morris sailed from Kalingrad on the Baltic in 1888, landing in Hull, thinking it was New York.
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