“Jews were victims, perpetrators, buyers and at the forefront of finding solutions,” she noted. The National Council of Jewish Women used to have a presence on Ellis Island to intercept single Jewish women who were unknowingly sent to these shores to be sex workers. “It’s our issue, not only because we have a moral obligation, but because we had our own experiences,” [Lori I.] Cohen [ senior staff attorney with Sanctuary for Families] said. “We have tried to remove that experience from our historical memory, but it’s important to understanding why this persists today.”
This comes from an article in The Forward about an upcoming UJS-Federation of NY daylong meeting on sex trafficking. The article also reminds us about the Jewish history of this issue hearkening back to the founding days of the Forward.
Three years before he would go on to become the founding editor of the Yiddish Forward, Abraham Cahan was already deeply worried about the prostitution.
“The most disgusting area of the city at the time was Allen Street, which was precisely in the midst of the Jewish neighborhood… At night in the disorderly houses the windows were lit with red lamps — the source of the expression ‘red light district’. Allen Street was the center of the brothel district and owners of these disorderly houses were known as ‘cadets’ or ‘alphonses,’ as one would call the revolting creatures who live off the disrepute of the women they enslave and whom they dominate with unlimited power…… It is better to stay away from Allen, Chrystie and Forsyth Streets…… There is an official flesh trade in the Jewish quarter. In the window you can see human flesh instead of shoes.”
BTW, I speculate that the Yiddish word for a pimp, “alphonse” is rooted in the dominance of South American prostitution by Jews during the turn of the 20th century, especially in Buenos Aries where there were even synagogues and cemeteries for Jews in the trade. These pimps would show up in impoverished eastern European communities all duded up to recruit young women, sometimes on the false pretense of marrying them or arranging a marriage for them. See this excellent article by Donna Guy in the Encyclopedia of the Jewish Women’s Archive.