Tag Archives: Jewish Family Life

Book Diva Review: Bread Givers

bread givers Bread Givers, by Anzia Yezierska is a compelling book, not only in its vivid descriptions of life in Manhattan during the 1910s-1920s, but also its look into an Orthodox Jewish family, and its standards. It is a coming of age story, of the youngest of three children.

The familial patriarch is Rabbi Smolinksy, and his wife is Shenah, who is in awe of him, despite her nagging manner. His interactions, decisions and doctrine influence his daughters, Fania, Bessie, Mashah, and Sara in ways that mold their lives, in a negative manner. The three older daughters go along with his dogmatic and fanatical whims and attitude. His manipulations, rants and raves eventually cause them to give in to his dictates. The youngest daughter, Sara, learns at the age of ten, about the family dynamics, and how each daughter was expected to turn over their entire income to support the family. She learns what she wants early in life, due to her father’s looming presence and demands. She is very strong-willed. Family life is seen through her eyes, and they are the eyes of a three-dimensional person, a person of substance and depth.

She begins to sell herring at the age of ten in order to help support the family. In the back of her mind she is determined to be independent, and not to be lead through life by her father’s decisions. His decisions are often determined due to the fact that he is ignorant in the ways of American life. Rabbi Smolinsky is ignorant in the area of business dealings, and the dealings of life in general. He is bound by Eastern European tradition, and religious tradition, which he enforces with his harsh vocalizations. No man is good enough for his older daughters, despite the fact that they want to marry particular individuals. He finds fault with all of them, and he ends up choosing who they marry, and they do not live happily ever after. His determinations and final edicts are not necessarily positive ones for his daughters, but somehow decisions that gain him some monetary dowry or enhancement.

Rabbi Smolinsky lives by the text of the Talmud, in every aspect. In fact the Talmud is quoted through much of the book to justify why he acts the way he does. He uses religion to enhance his decisions, and is fanatical about vocalizing the teachings, to the extent that hourly and daily life is disrupted. He is a tyrant, a bully, a man of many words, words that are emotionally disgruntling. He hangs on tightly to every thread of his Eastern Europe culture and life style, unable to adjust to change, unable to assimilate into the modern world. While his wife and four daughters struggle to earn money to survive with the basics, he deals with his studies, unaware of the reality of life. They beg him to work, even part time, he refuses, and goes back to his studies, even if it means they go hungry. He is a pampered individual, and his every desire is what rules the family. He is not a responsible person, and his family suffers greatly. I found him to be pathetic, in the way he used and manipulated his daughters for his own benefit.

Sara, meanwhile, has decided she will not succumb to her father’s domination, and his demands. She will not let him marry her off to someone she doesn’t love. She leaves home at the age of 17, finds a dark room to rent, works, saves money, and puts herself through college. She is a woman of strength and determination, which is what allows her to reach her goals. She has an identity, at a young age, and is discontent with the way the females of the family are treated. Yet, with her independence, she is often bound to her familial ties. Love hate relationships were strong within the pages.


Yezierska
is brilliant in her writing, strong in her ability to depict tradition and assimilation into the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Tradition and modern America do not blend together in a positive fashion, in this novel. Sara is not the ideal of the Rabbi’s daughter.

Yezierska weaves a story that incorporates struggles, both emotional and mental, within the pages. Women are considered to be less than life, to be used, manipulated and abused for the gain of the family patriarch. Female identity and immigrant assimilation are major forces that Yezierska evokes within the pages. The conflicts are vividly written, and the reader feels the emotions behind the words. It is a look into the early twentieth century, and Jewish life within the confines of immigration and steadfast ideals.

Anzia Yezierska’s Bread Givers is a masterpiece, and an inspiring one at that. Linguistics is a force within the pages, and Sara literally works her way through high school, and learns to speak correct English. Yezierska brings honor, determination and strength to Sara, and shows how through all of Sara’s sacrifices, she was able to reach her dream. She rose from poverty to a position of respect, and did it on her own. She was able to conquer her fears and accomplish her goals. The masterful writing of Anzia Yezierska has given us an inspiring character to admire. The book has much historical value, giving the reader a perspective on the Jewish immigrant experience, and bringing the reader insight into the life of Jews trying to assimilate. The past is ever present, no matter how hard we try to leave it behind. One world was trying to compete with another, and not always successfully, as culture clashes were abundant.

I highly recommend Bread Givers. It is an extremely illuminating novel, on many levels.

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The Same Sea, by Amos Oz

The Same Sea, by Amos Oz, is a captivating, lyrical, mystical prose poem for the heart and mind. Oz’s word-paintings fill our senses with emotions ranging from A to Z.

The novel has several characters whose lives join together and are intertwined, through the root of one particular person. The characters often cross emotional and societal boundaries in their search for peace, fulfillment, love, comittment and their search for Self. Compromises are made and broken, as familial ties and bonds become unhinged, as lives intersect.

Not far from the sea, Mr. Albert Danon lives in Amirim Street, alone. He is fond of olives and feata; a mild accountant, he lost his wife not long ago. Nadia Danon died one morning of ovarian cander, leaving some clothes, a dressing table, some finely embroidered place mats. Their only son, Enrico David, has gone off mountaineering in Tibet.”

The characters in The Same Sea are interesting, and each one has their own narrative to tell on their journey. There journeys are filled with their yearnings and longings for what was, what is, what could be. They all strive for serenity, and also for redemption. One of Oz’s characters, Rico, is on an odyssey of sorts, trying to find his place in a world filled with the void and loss of his mother. Albert, his father, also feels loss, the loss of his wife, and the loss of his son who has left to journey the world, not knowing exactly what he is searching for. Fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, lovers, friends, acquaintances are all entwined in this magical story.

Oz refers to the Bible in The Same Sea, to the beautiful “The Song of Songs“, with the dislpay of eroticism in some of his pages. The novel moves through time and place, legendary figures and geography, and through several generations of one family whose lives interweave with others. There is an ongoing family dispute. The never ending sea, a bird, and the desert are significant factors to which allusions are made. From dry humor to extreme poignancy, The Same Sea is a beautifully written tapestry, each page a thread in the fabric of life, each page almost a prose poem on its own.

Oz has a deep sense of all things unsettling, of the strong human need and quest for inner peace, and the desire for serenity within an environment of chaos and disquiet. He is subtle in his undertones regarding his nation, but nonetheless the hope is there, underlying, between the lines. A vision of peace hovers in the longings of the characters. Oz’s observations on human behavior fill the pages with words of lament. The Same Sea is extremely mystical and magical. Its pages are not only lyrical, but almost musical, evoking the serene sound of a lute or flute between the eloquent lines. The novel is beautifully written with strong imagery, enticing our imagination, beckoning us to read on. It is a novel of dreams, desires and of hope, a sojourn towards peace. It evokes ideas of life, death and dying alone, and of acceptance of the inevitability that life goes on, no matter what occurs. The Same Sea is an extremely crafted prose poem not to be missed in its creative edge. It is an insightful metaphor for life, and for the desire and hope for peace.

All rivers flow to the same sea.”

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