Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Jew Store by Stella Suberman 1998

"Like the store, which is practically a character in its own right, the people in The Jew Store linger in the mind." From a review by Marisa Kantor Stark in the New York Times

Stella Suberman, has written this engaging memoir about her immigrant parents’ migration from New York in 1920 to a small town in Tennessee where her father opened up a dry goods store, called by his southern customers, The Jew Store. The store was successful; the family was integrated into the community despite encounters with ignorance and anti-Semitism.

But her mother, especially, felt at first homesick for her large extended family in the Bronx, then isolated as an observant Jew. She agonized over the celebration of Jewish holidays and the need to arrange a bar mitzvah for her son, and then worried about the social life that the rural south offered her two growing daughters. So they returned north to the Bronx in 1933.

There are extensive discussions of the establishment and running of her father’s store, and Suberman writes about her father’s connections to the St. Louis Jewish wholesalers, itinerant Jewish peddlars, and a few Jewish families who owned other dry goods stores in the rural south. This is an interesting memoir to read if you are interested in American Jews in the South, in this case an American Jewish dry goods merchant and his family, living far from major centers of Jewish life.

Note: Suberman chose to fictionalize the names of her family and her southern neighbors to protect their privacy.

For a reading list of book on Southern Jewish History compiled for an American Studies class at the University of North Carolina, click here.

Places
Podolska – her father’s shtetl south of Kiev;
Nashville, Tenn.,
St. Louis, Mo

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