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The Jewish American Girl

The Jewish American Girl

"What makes her Jewish, Mommy?"


Rebecca Rubin, just 18 inches tall, is the latest Jewish girl to hit the scene. She is nine years old and lives on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Rebecca is also the newest American Girl Doll -- its first Jewish historical character, joining Josefina, Addy and Kaya on our multicultural doll shelves. Rebecca's price tag of $95 does not include her accessories like a Shabbat challah, potato latkes for Chanukah and a menorah.

I show my daughter Rebecca's picture on the front page of the New York Times' style section. She is puzzled. "But she doesn't really look Jewish, Mommy? What makes her Jewish?"

Hmm. An interesting question, I think to myself. Apparently one that the company was also faced with:

"A Jewish doll presents her own set of potential pitfalls," the Times reports. "While other dolls represented ethnic backgrounds with distinctive visual characteristics, what constitutes a Jewish girl's appearance is much more open for debate."

Dark, wavy hair? A distinctive nose? Aren't those the classic Jewish features?


How do Jews retain their unique identity?


Of course not. Jews come in all shapes and sizes and colors. So if we don't possess distinguishable physical characteristics, we must ask ourselves this question: As the Jewish people wander from country to country, confronting various cultures and assimilation, how do we retain our unique identity?

It becomes so easy to get lost.

For today's parents especially, this question must be pondered. We live in a society exploding with a breakdown of moral values. Just the click of a button and our children are exposed to a world devoid of sanctity and respect. Can we transmit our Jewish heritage to the next generation successfully? We are confronted with my daughter's innocent question, "What makes her Jewish, Mommy?"

Growing Up Jewish

I grew up in a community where, for most children, being Jewish meant surviving Hebrew school, eating matzah ball soup, and attending synagogue on the High Holidays. There was not much more to "growing up Jewish."

My siblings and I were known as "the rabbi's children." Every holiday, every Shabbos, was an opportunity for us little ones to reach out to our friends and neighbors. In a place where Judaism was almost invisible, we were visibly connected to our heritage and proud of it. Ours was the home where Judaism came alive.

One Friday afternoon, there was a knock at the door. My mother was just about to light the Shabbos candles. I opened the door and found my younger brother's friend, Michael, standing beside his housekeeper, Maria. He was holding onto Maria's hand.


Michael's mother isn't home to make Shabbos for him.


"Michael was wondering," Maria began, "if you could teach me the blessing for the Shabbos candles? He loves those candles, and his mother is never home to make Shabbos for him. Besides, she doesn't know how. So we were thinking that I could do it."

Michael looked up hopefully and I felt so sorry for this little boy. I was just a child myself but I remember feeling sadness. He wanted to bring Shabbos home. He wanted to watch the candles dance, to sit with his family and bask in the glow of Shabbos. Yet Shabbos remained out of reach. So we did what we could to help, and each week Michael sat at our table -- because his mother was just too busy doing other stuff.

Not Child's Play

Generation after generation, Jewish parents have passed along our tradition. Yet today, tragically, there are hundreds of thousands -- perhaps millions -- of Michaels. Young Jews who barely know they are Jewish, or unequipped to put it into practice.

So what to do?


The first thing is to get the accessories in place: every Jewish home needs to be equipped with basic Jewish texts like a Siddur and a Bible. Put a mezuzah on every door. At holiday time, have the important symbols: build a sukkah in the backyard, and eat matzah the entire week of Passover. And light Shabbos candles every Friday before sundown.


But that's only part of it. After all, Rebecca Rubin -- the Jewish American Girl Doll -- comes with these accessories, too.

To truly succeed, our heritage must be more than lovely accessories or habits taken for granted. We must become serious Jews.

When you genuinely live a life of faith, you absorb it with your entire being. You breathe it with every ounce of your existence. You set aside a regular time for Torah study. Prayer becomes your lifeline. Your soul becomes infused with inspiration.

And then you transmit this great legacy to the next generation.

This is the secret of the Jew. And that's no child's play.


June 6, 2009

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Visitor Comments: 26

(26) Mary Jane, May 29, 2011 4:30 AM

Dolls of All Cultures & Religions

I agree with Shua, that any child can take a plain doll and dress it up in her image, or mode of dress. Of course, AmericanGirl Dolls, is a great idea, and is making a lot of money for its creator. $95.00 is a LOT OF MONEY! Nevertheless, I hope the Jewish Doll, is wearing her white tights, and black shoes, and modest in dress, oh yes, don't forget a cute little necklace with the Star of David.

(25) Rosie G, July 5, 2009 9:53 PM

Jewish Holidays?

S P O I L E R W A R N I N G Sisi (23), I've read all six books. In book one, which takes place during the autumn, the family observes Shabbos after a fashion. That is they fry fish, serve soup, the 14 yo daughters Sadie and Sophie (twins) light candles, the 12yo son Victor makes kiddush, somebody makes hamotzi, they forget about the fish, and they eat the soup. Saturday morning, Rebecca goes to the shoe store and handles money. In book three, they celebrate Rebecca's favorite holiday, Hanukkah. She wear the same dress she had worn for Rosh Hashanah. But wait, there's more! Shabbos Pesach, she goes to the candy store and listens to new phonograph records and talks with her friend about (1) how they can't eat anything there and (2) why they have to eat special foods for Pesach. Later, she eats kosher l'Pesach sponge cake and other people eat matzah. And th-th-th-th-that's all, folks!

(24) Carrisima Jael, July 3, 2009 4:57 AM

Ethnicity? Is the Doll Azkenazi, Sephardic ? A Holocaust Survivor?

OK -- now we need a stream of Israeli dolls from all over the world. And don't forget the princess

(23) sisi, July 1, 2009 4:47 PM


I am so glad that AG has finally come out with a Jewish girl doll... The dolls are somewhat odd in that they all have the same face but different hair (or are tinted to be other races). What's really great about the dolls is the series of books that they come with, something not mentioned in this article, the books then tie in with the accessories and outfits and are a great way to teach kids about the lives of other children in other times and in other cultures. I first saw these dolls nearly 15 years ago at the home of every little girl I babysat. Almost all little Jewish girls too!!! The fact that they learn about rationing during WWII or the immmigrant experience. How it would be like to be the child of former slaves, or a little girl who at a young age had to go into "service" as a maid. Somehow it seems that the need to collect and have dolls and their accoutrements plays into a larger scheme of exposing girls to the lives of other girls who may have lived long ago. Yes, the stories are a bit cheesy and simplistic but the first person narrative and the child driven plotlines appeal to younger kids. So I can't wait to see how they write books about Jewish holidays, keeping kosher, and dealing with people who try to convert you :-) A quick shill... If you are in NYC go to the TENAMENT MUSEUM. THEY HAVE GREAT TOURS OF IMMIGRANT JEWISH LIFE. BUY TICKETS ONLINE AS THEY ONLY ALLOW TOUR GROUPS INTO THE MUSEUM AND THEY SELL OUT FAST!!!! Same idea as the doll... but for grownups :-)

(22) Anonymous, June 11, 2009 11:21 PM

i am wondering why your mother or father never contacted the boy's mother/father. Rather than saying that the mom was too busy and unable to light shabbat candles, you would think someone would have tried to see if she was in fact ignorant and totally unequipped and needing someone to teach her. she needed compassion and caring too. not condemnation.

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