Monday, August 9, 2010

The Peddler's Grandson: Growing Up Jewish in Mississippi 1999

Winner of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters nonfiction award in 2000

Edward Cohen (born in 1948) has written an interesting memoir about what it was like growing up as a Jew in the South, specifically, in Jackson, Mississippi. His was a large, close-knit extended family most of whom worked in the family business, Cohen Brothers, a men’s clothing store.

The original brothers, his grandfather Moise and great uncle Sam, married two sisters, and the two families set up housekeeping together in a house they built that came to be known as “The Big House.”  Cohen felt safe and loved there where all of the five children of Sam and Moise and their spouses and their children went every Sunday without fail for dinner. He felt protected from the Christian world outside the front door; he was never totally at ease with a culture and lifestyle that seemed markedly different from his own.

Cohen discusses the small Jewish community, their temple - Beth Israel, and their practice. He describes how assimilated the Jewish community was, whose members wanted to blend in  rather than stand out. He also discusses at length the relationship between the black and white communities in the still-segregated South, and the behavior and attitudes within the Jewish community toward race relations and civil rights when the 60's and 70's were upon them and there was social upheaval. 

In large part this memoir is about the author’s figuring out who he is – the grandson of immigrant Jews who had left everything behind in order to start a new life in a new country and who settled in the South.  He tries to calibrate how crucial his Jewish identity and Southern identity are to who he is, two parts of him that often were at war with each other.

This memoir includes photos.

For a short biography of Edward Cohen on the Mississippi Writers page click here.

Gershon Cohn - father of Etta, Nell, and Ida Cohn; author’s maternal great-grandfather
    Moise (Kahane) Cohen – married Etta Cohn; author’s grandparents
        Leonard Cohen – married Pauline Weltman; author’s parents
            Edward Cohen – their son; author
        Pearle Cohen – married Melvin
            Roslyn Frank – Pearle and Melvin’s daughter
            Janice Knowles – Pearle and Melvin’s daughter
    Isaac Lazar Cohen – Moise’s brother
    Sam Cohen – Moise’s brother; married Nell Cohn (Etta’s sister)
        Lazar Cohen – married Lolita Stein
            Gary Cohen – their son
        Bernard Cohen – Sam and Nell’s son; married Anne
        Marvin Cohen – Sam and Nell’s son; married Helen
            Harriet, Debbie, Marilyn Rothstein, Marci – 1st cousins of author; either the children of Bernard or Marvin
    Ike Levy – married Ida Cohn

Mother’s family
    Ben Weltman -  married to Rae (author’s grandparents
        Pauline – their daughter; married to Leonard Cohen (author’s parents)
            Edward – their son; author
        Louis Weltman – their son; married to Marcia

Friends and Acquaintances
Ralph Salomon
Eva Sussman
Rabbi Perry E. Nussbaum
Max Berman
    Walter Berman – his son
Victor Glick
Phyllis, Bea, and Celeste Lehman
Ellis Hart
Henry Kline

Vaslui, Romania
Jackson, Mississippi
Rochester, NY
Memphis, Tenn.
Shreveport, Louisiana

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