Born on February 15, 1905, at 389 Clinton Streeton the East Side of Buffalo the joy of Arlen’s birth was overlain with family tragedy.
For Joseph–as Harold was first named–struggled to survive and his twin brother, Harry, died. Following Jewish custom, his parents, Samuel and Celia Arluck, renamed him Chaim (Hebrew: Life) and he became known as Hyman. Only later would he create the name Harold Arlen for himself.
Hyman at his birth in Buffalo was a first-generation American, but his parents were both Jewish immigrants who had relocated from other American cities. Samuel Arluck, was an admired Cantor in his adopted hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. In 1904, he moved north as he and Celia Orlin, a shop assistant from Cincinnati, married and made their first home together in Buffalo. Both were former child immigrants from Vilna, the “Jerusalem of Lithuania,” in Eastern Europe.
Between 1880 and 1924 over 2 million Jews emigrated from across Eastern Europe to the USA.
Under the Russian Empire, much of Eastern European Jewish life was shaped by discrimination. Jews faced social and economic exclusion alongside the threat of violence and organized massacres known as pogroms.
For many Eastern European Jews, America offered the hope of a safe haven. Most immigrants found homes in New York City and the Lower East Side, but a significant number of Jews settled in smaller cities and towns across the United States including the South and the Mid-West, and in border cities like Buffalo, NY.
Buffalo Social Contexts.
In the early 1900s, Buffalo ranked the eighth-most populous city in the nation. Jobs were plentiful, and the city was a magnet for settlers. Jews were only one of many migrants and immigrant groups making Buffalo their home.
Apart from heavy industry, food manufacturing, and packaging, a significant service and retail economy emerged to cloth, feed, and supply workers with their everyday household needs.
Many of these services were met by individual retailers and small manufacturers located on the East Side, often run by immigrants and first-generation Americans.
Alongside the growth of employment, Buffalo’s cultural landscapes grew in new ways. Technological changes expanded radio broadcasting and vinyl record production. Silent movies added soundtracks, yet older forms of music, stage, and theatrical amusements still thrived. Residents of Buffalo and the city’s cultural organizations actively engaged in these transformations, and the East Side emerged as a source of creators and artists from varied backgrounds.
By 1910, almost thirty percent of Buffalo’s population could trace their immediate origins back to southern or eastern Europe.