Pride of Our People

Pride of Our People
by David C. Gross. Doubleday (1979), $14.95.

Pride of Our People is a shandeh for the goyim. A 424-page volume obviously intended for the Bar Mitzvah market, it is poorly written and boring, even worst than your average text. If parents buy this to turn the Bar Mitzvah boychik on to Yiddishkeit, save your money: the kid is probably turned off enough already.

I spoke of Bar and not Bat Mitzvah advisedly, because besides being poorly written and boring, the book is an insult to women. Of’ 100 “outstanding Jewish Men and Women” (ital. mine), Gross managed to dig up only 14 Jews of the female sex. Yes, 14. And they are (in order of appearance): Golda Meir, “the Lady Prime Minister”; Anne Frank; the ubiquitous Rebecca Gratz; Lena Kuchler; Emma Lazarus; Hannah Senesh; Rosalyn Yalow; Haviva Reik; Miriam Ben-Porat; Bess Myerson, “the first Jewish Miss America” (no comment); Tzivia Lubetkin; Henrietta Szold; Recha Freier and Lillian Wald. Pathetic, isn’t it? God help us all.

Not only are the two-to-four-page entries for each personage poorly written and boring and the limited number of women insulting, but there are some important inaccuracies. One of the most blatant concerns Haviva Reik who parachuted into Slovakia in the summer of 1944 to rescue Jews. Gross tells us:

“She reached her destination in Slovakia only to find that the names and addresses of possible contacts were outdated. For several days she hid out in the woods and then joined a group of Jewish resistance fighters. Almost immediately afterwards, German patrols captured the partisans including Haviva and executed them all.” (ital. mine)

Wrong. Comrades of Reik’s, interviewed by Al Hamishmar reporter Rafi Benkler in 1964, stated that Reik arrived in Slovakia after a large territory had been liberated by partisans. She contacted Jews in the area, organized a committee “whose main task was to organize aid to the many Jewish refugees” who streamed into the area from hiding places. She raised money for food and blankets for 5,000 Jews.

As the Germans began reconquering the area, Reik and others formed a partisan group which was attacked by the Germans on October 31; they were captured and murdered the next day in a mass slaughter of Jews; their bodies thrown into a mass grave.

Reik was given the chance to escape death when the Germans asked if she was Jew. She said she was and was executed with the rest.

An English translation of this piece is contained in Israel Horizons (April, 1964) and is listed in Aviva Cantor’s Bibliography on the Jewish Woman.

What is Gross’ excuse for his gross inaccuracies, given the availability of material? Could he have confused Reik’s story with Senesh’s? Was he disturbed by her politics—Reik was a member of Hashomer Hatzair, the Socialist Zionist youth movement, a fact Gross omits for no discernible reason.

So do your kids a favor. If you buy books for their Bat/Bar Mitzvah, try Elizabeth Koltun’s anthology, The Jewish Woman, New Perspectives (Schocken), or The Jewish Woman in America by Paula Hyman et. al. (Dial), or Written Out of History by Sondra Henry and Emily Teitz (Bloch) or Julia Wolf Mazow’s new anthology The Woman Who Lost Her Names (Harper & Row). And tell your bookstore owner why.