From Rags to Yichus: Scrap, Secondhand, and Surplus Dealers in American Jewish Communities

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University Club, Room 212
@ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Portrait image of Jonathan Pollack outdoors wearing a black sweater

Monday Seminar:

Jonathan Z. S. Pollack

Madison Area Technical College Fellow (2010-2011)

History, Madison Area Technical College


The seminar will present an introductory proposal for a work on the history of Jewish entrepreneurs in the scrap, surplus, and secondhand-goods industries. Beginning with the Yiddish concept of “yichus,” roughly translated as “living up to the good name of one’s family,” the paper will examine the Jewish scrap dealer in popular culture as a background for understanding Jewish persistence in this field, and trace the history of these related industries from the late 19th century to the present. Beyond this particular case of American Jewish community life, the project will describe how ethnic-niche businesses become the foundation of ethnic communities.


Jon Pollack is Instructor in History and Chair of the Humanities Department at Madison Area Technical College. He is also the Project Director for Life During Wartime, a professional-development program for history teachers in grades 5-12, funded by the Teaching American History initiative of the U. S. Department of Education. Pollack’s publications include “‘Is This We Have among Us Here a Jew’: The Hillel Review and Jewish Identity at the University of Wisconsin, 1925-31,” in Charles Lloyd Cohen and Paul S. Boyer, eds. Religion and the Culture of Print in Modern America (University of Wisconsin Press, 2008); The Voice of the People: Primary Sources on the History of American Labor, Industrial Relations, and Working-Class Culture (co-editor) (Harlan Davidson, 2004); and “Jewish Problems: Eastern and Western Jewish Identities in Conflict at the University of Wisconsin, 1919-1941,” American Jewish History 89:2 (June, 2001). Pollack earned his M A. and Ph. D. in History at the University of Wisconsin, and his A.B. in History at the University of Michigan.