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A Chicago book that holds special meaning to me

Richard Reeder


I believe that Meyer Levin’s The Old Bunch, published in 1937, is Chicago’s “great Jewish novel.” It follows a group of Jewish young people living on the West Side’s Lawndale neighborhood in the 1920s and the 1930s. They are the sons and daughters of Eastern European immigrant Jews who are aspiring to live “the American Dream,” even when they are hard hit by the Great Depression.

The Old Bunch especially resonates with me because I see so much of my mother and father, uncles and aunts, and their friends in Levin’s characters. They have the grit and determination to overcome adversities to make a better life for themselves and families.

My parents, both born in 1913, lived about thirty years in Lawndale, a neighborhood surrounded by lush parks, such as Garfield and Douglas, with its sprawling greenery and lovely lagoons. At first it must have seemed like a Garden of Eden for them, in sharp contrast to the crowded Maxwell Street Market area which was the port of entry to Chicago for their immigrant parents.

This “old bunch” established lifelong friendships growing up in Lawndale. These friendships many of them kept and treasured for as long as they lived.

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