GROWING UP JEWISH IN AMERICA: An Oral History by Myrna Katz & Harvey Frommer Frommer


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A hodgepodge of musings about mostly run-of-the-mill childhoods. Oral historians who lack the gifts of a Studs Terkel have to make difficult choices. They can go with unusual or famous people and sacrifice the representative sampling. Or they can interview dozens of average joes and end up with a pretty dull book. Unfortunately, the Frommers (It Happened in Brooklyn, not reviewed, etc.) went with the second option. Not that there aren't a few extraordinary characters: Meyer Lesser left home at 13 and crossed the country as a hobo during the Depression. Never denying he was Jewish often got him into trouble; but it also turned out to be a boon, since he could always count on charity from Jewish communities. Al Lewis grew up on a horse farm in upstate New York--a strange business for a Jewish family, and even stranger in that the Lewises had been raising horses for five or more generations back in Germany; Al later went into vaudeville. A few minor celebrities make appearances, such as New York Times columnist Frank Rich, authors Neil Postman and Bel Kaufman. But for the most part, the people speaking in these pages scream ""ordinary,"" and nobody is given enough airtime to provide the detail and analysis that would make an examination of these lives profound. Some experienced anti-Semitism; some did not. Some felt excluded by other Jews (Sephardic rabbi Marc Angel describes his experience with the Seattle Ashkenazic community); some felt most at home when with other Jews. They describe their feelings about the Holocaust, about bar mitzvahs, about America. Some of these stories told at greater length could have formed an interesting document; but this badly organized (neither chronological, nor consistently thematic) and piecemeal conglomeration is unenlightening.

Pub Date: Nov. 10th, 1995
Page count: 300pp
Publisher: Harcourt Brace