Daughters of Kings: Growing Up as a Jewish Woman in America edited by Leslie Brody Faber and Faber, $26.95
Belying its subtitle, Daughters of Kings contains many stories of growing up as a non-Jewish woman in America,five out of the 14, to be precise. Nonetheless, the collection of essays by Jewish women, black women, WASP women. Southern women, a convert to Judaism, and partners in various pennutations of intermarriage, makes for a compelling read on the messages about Jews and Jewishness these women received as they came of age.
Certain themes run through the pieces by non-Jews: being invited to lavish bar mitzvah banquets and top-notch Jewish fraternity parties; the ambient belief that while many Jews were killed in Europe, they’re rich and powerful here in America; and recollections of Jewish women as assertive and forthright. Nancy A. Jones, evoking her WASPy Indiana girlhood, remembers a Jewish friend’s grandmother’s “assertive, spirited manner of speaking” (as well as her heavy bracelets and canasta games). Karen Eraser Wyche, ‘ an African-American woman, muses that “Jewish women and men seem so confident and strong. How surprised I was to hear about ambivalence regarding Jewish identity.”
Yet ambivalence there certainly is for the Jewish writers in this book. How Jewish is it okay to be when you’re the only Jew in an all-girls Episcopalian boarding school? How Jewish are you if your mother is a German half-Jew married to the son of Anglican clerics? How can a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors trust her non-Jewish friends and still maintain a list of countries to flee to should America ever turn against the Jews?
The strength of this collection, which grew out of discussions at Radcliffe College’s Bunting Institute, where each contributor was a Fellow, lies not in the well-trodden territory of its subject matter, but rather in the details of memory and the thought fulness that guide us over familiar ground.
Karen Prager Kramer, a former Lilith intern, is a writer living in New Jersey