The Children’s Books That Helped Bring Jews into the American Mainstream

Jan. 11 2022

First published in 1951, Sydney Taylor’s All-of-a-Kind Family depicts the life of a bustling Jewish family—two parents and five children—living on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The book and its sequels were popular when they first appeared, and remain so today. Reviewing a new biography of Taylor, Rebecca Klempner writes:

When Sydney Taylor wrote the semiautobiographical All-of-a-Kind Family, it was the first mass-market children’s book to focus on Jewish characters and their lives. Her older peer Sadie Rose Weilerstein had published books with Jewish presses for Jewish audiences, but Taylor’s books also found many eager non-Jewish readers despite their casual Jewish references—“You’ll have to make up with her when Yom Kippur [Day of Atonement] comes,” Ella reminds her sister—and stories of sitting around the Sabbath table.

The Follett Publishing Company accepted Taylor’s very Jewish manuscript, with its all-American immigrant kids who relished their mother’s gefilte fish and spoke in Yiddish to the butcher, but they also had some suggestions. Taylor struggled to get her editor, Esther Meeks, to stop expecting Jewish customs to mimic Christian ones. To a woman used to the solemnity of church, for example, the raucous celebration of Purim or Simḥat Torah seemed impossible. Meeks also urged Taylor to add more non-Jewish characters to her books. So Taylor created the kind, elegant “library lady,” from whom the children check out their books every Friday afternoon, and Charlie, the peddler who hangs out at Papa’s junk shop down by the East River but “was different from the others, . . . handsome, blond, and blue-eyed, and a good deal younger than most of the peddlers.”

Meeks also encouraged Taylor to work in elements that made the Americanness of her characters indisputable, including a chapter about Independence Day in the first volume of the series. Moreover, Meeks insisted that Taylor play down Judaism in her press appearances. This queasiness about being “too Jewish” is, of course, part of the story of midcentury American popular culture, but the success of the All-of-a-Kind Family books is also part of the story of the postwar acceptance of Jews into the American mainstream.

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More about: American Jewry, Children's books, Lower East Side

Terror Returns to Israel

Nov. 28 2022

On Wednesday, a double bombing in Jerusalem left two dead, and many others injured—an attack the likes of which has not been seen since 2016. In a Jenin hospital, meanwhile, armed Palestinians removed an Israeli who had been injured in a car accident, reportedly murdering him in the process, and held his body hostage for two days. All this comes as a year that has seen numerous stabbings, shootings, and other terrorist attacks is drawing to a close. Yaakov Lappin comments:

Unlike the individual or small groups of terrorists who, acting on radical ideology and incitement to violence, picked up a gun, a knife, or embarked on a car-ramming attack, this time a better organized terrorist cell detonated two bombs—apparently by remote control—at bus stops in the capital. Police and the Shin Bet have exhausted their immediate physical searches, and the hunt for the perpetrators will now move to the intelligence front.

It is too soon to know who, or which organization, conducted the attack, but it is possible to note that in recent years, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has taken a lead in remote-control-bombing terrorism. Last week, a car bomb that likely contained explosives detonated by remote control was discovered by the Israel Defense Forces in Samaria, after it caught fire prematurely. In August 2019, a PFLP cell detonated a remote-control bomb in Dolev, seventeen miles northwest of Jerusalem, killing a seventeen-year-old Israeli girl and seriously wounding her father and brother. Members of that terror cell were later arrested.

With the Palestinian Authority (PA) losing its grip in parts of Samaria to armed terror gangs, and the image of the PA at an all-time low among Palestinians, in no small part due to corruption, nepotism, and its violation of human rights . . . the current situation does not look promising.

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More about: Israeli Security, Jerusalem, Palestinian terror