American Girl's newest doll Rebecca Rubin lives in 1914 New York. Her parents and grandmother are Jewish immigrants from Russia, but Rebecca and her four brothers and sisters were born and raised in the US. In "Meet Rebecca," we're introduced to Rebecca's family and Jewish home life. Rebecca's bubbe (grandmother) is very religious and her family observes Shabbos (the Sabbath), but her father must work on Saturday to make ends meet, which displeases her bubbe. Bubbe is also scandalized by the fact that Rebecca's cousin Max (Moyshe) is a struggling actor. Rebecca's passion is moving pictures; she adores the Perils of Pauline and longs to go to a real movie. Her cousin Max encourages her, and Rebecca tries out a performance of her own with unpredicatable results.
Rebecca always feels left out; her older twin sisters Sadie and Sophie always get to light the Sabbath candles and check the challah bread. Rebecca is desperate for her own set of candlesticks to prove that she knows the Hebrew blessing and is old enough to participate, and seeks to find a way to raise enough money.
There's also trouble back home in Russia, where her Uncle Jacob and his family are trapped. Their daughter Ana is very sick, and the Russian army is conscripting boys as young as twelve. Rebecca's father, a shoe salesman, struggles to raise the $175 it will take for steamer tickets for the family.
Judaism plays a central role in Rebecca's life, and the author does a good job of incorporating Jewish culture and traditions into the story (lighting the Sabbath candles, Sabbath restrictions, pushkes, mitzvahs, bar mitzvah). The immigrant experience is also central to the story, and Ellis Island is touched upon. I found it a bit unlikely that Rebecca's immigrant parents would speak mostly English at home; most likely, her parents and grandmother would continue to use Yiddish as the home language, with English being the school language.
The section on America in 1914 was particularly useful and included numerous bits of trivia about the conditions in Russia (pogroms), the immigrant experience in New York, Yiddish culture, and early movies and newsreels. There's also a glossary of Yiddish and Hebrew words. Overall, this is a nice introduction to American Girl’s newest historical character and a good overview of the 20th-century immigrant experience that’s accessible for younger readers.
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