The Rabbi’s Girls

by Johanna Hurwitz, illustrated by Pamela Johnson, New York: Puffin Books, 1989, 158pp., $3.95 ages 8-12

Fans of the All of a Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor and the Ike and Mama books by Carol Snyder will welcome the reissue of this fine example of a special genre of Jewish children’s books that blends the particulars of Jewish life in America earlier in this century with universal themes about growing up.

Modelled after Johanna Hurwitz’s mother, the appealing young female protagonist of The Rabbi’s Girls is strong, thoughtful, and naturally and undogmatically defiant. This bittersweet novel is told in the lively voice of Carrie Levin, the third in a family of six sisters. The story takes place in 1923-24, in Lorain, Ohio, where the Levins have moved so that their father can serve as rabbi to a small Jewish congregation.

As “the rabbi’s girls” the Levin children experience feelings of privilege and pride as well as the burden of having to be an example to others. Growing up with a value-laden code of behavior is a source of strength and sometimes struggle. Carrie’s perspective on the events of her own life is deepened by her vicarious experiences of the joys and sorrows of the community that her father serves.