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Lost in America

If I had to pick one person who helped me define what a Jewish woman was, or should be, it was my grandmother.

As a child, I was ashamed of her—she didn’t look anything like the grandmother in Heidi, she had an accent, bargained fiercely with the kosher butcher, and was the powerful matriarch in the family who brooked no dissent. During Passover, it was not my grandfather who prevailed; it was my grandmother, commanding all the women in the kitchen, arranging the small apartment to hold hordes of relatives, and ignoring the children who dressed up in the grown-ups’ clothes, and played quietly under the table while the men prayed. Although not a particularly observant Jew, one of the holidays that I always observe is Passover.

My grandmother told stories. Not Cinderella stories, but stories about life in the old country, stories about curses, pogroms, and her flight to the land where the streets were supposed to be lined with gold.

I became a writer before she died, and my first three books were about a Jewish family very much like my own. Other of my books deal with Jews who, like my grandmother, came to America: Call Me Ruth, and most recently Lost in America.

I once tried to put her into a book with Joan of Arc (A December Tale) but she was too powerful for Joan, so I had to take her out.

Her stories are with me still. I just hope she lets me use them.

Marilyn Sachs has written over 40 books for children. Her most recent is Lost In America (Roaring Brook Press, 2005). She won the American Jewish Library Award for Call Me Ruth.