Collections of Memoirs, Oral Histories, and Creative Writings

For editions of published memoirs by individuals, see their entries in Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Numerous other unpublished memoirs by women are found in archives throughout North America.

Antler, Joyce, ed. America and I: Short Stories by American Jewish Women Writers. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990. 355 p.
Arranged historically, this anthology takes readers on a tour through Jewish women’s experience in America as registered by the creative imagination of twenty-three gifted authors, from Mary Antin and Edna Ferber writing in the second decade of this century through Cynthia Ozick, Grace Paley, and others in the 1980s. Antler’s introductory essay reviews the recurrent Jewish themes in the writing (assimilation versus tradition, loss of identity, unfamiliar cultures, quest for moral meaning in Judaism, antisemitism, marginality, generational conflict, social commitments, and the importance of writing) and provides a historical/biographical context for the selections.

Blicksilver, Edith, ed. The Ethnic American Woman: Problems, Protests, Lifestyle. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 1978. 381 p. and rev. ed., 1989, 471 p.
Jewish women’s voices chime in throughout this anthology, with selections ranging from union leader Rose Schneiderman on her childhood to Judith Plaskow’s 1973 address on Jewish feminism at a National Jewish Women’s Conference.

Fishman, Sylvia Barack, ed. Follow My Footprints: Changing Images of Women in American Jewish Fiction. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England for Brandeis University, 1992. 506 p.
Anthology of short stories and excerpts from novels that trace the development of the self-sacrificing mother in nineteenth-century Yiddish literature (from I.L. Peretz, Sholom Aleichem, and others) into the domineering, overprotective mother and her materialistic princess daughter in twentieth-century American works most associated with Philip Roth. Adds section by contemporary women writers (from Tillie Olsen, Grace Paley, Cynthia Ozick, and more) who write of the struggles of women protagonists balancing American and Jewish values. Fishman opens with an essay on the historical position of women in Jewish life and provides brief introductions to each selection.

Frommer, Myrna Katz and Harvey Frommer. Growing Up Jewish in America: An Oral History. New York, Harcourt, 1995. 264 p.
Almost half the voices of teachers, writers, librarians, administrators, business people, Jewish communal workers, and other twentieth-century Jews in this entertaining collective memoir are women’s.

Kaye/Kantrowitz, Melanie and Irena Klepfisz, eds. The Tribe of Dina: A Jewish Women’s Anthology. Boston: Beacon Press, 1989. 360 p.
Diverse collection of poems, stories, interviews, and essays by Jewish women past and present from the United States, Europe, and Israel. Irena Klepfisz’ essay on secular Jewish identity (“Yidishkayt in America”), Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz’ “To Be a Radical Jew in Late Twentieth Century,” and Bernice Mennis’ “Jewish and Working Class” are moving statements of their Jewish connections. Other contents of historical interest include a story and poem by immigrant Yiddish writer Fradel Schtok, translated by Klepfisz, an interview with long-term political activist Lil Moed, and Sarah Schulman’s “When We Were Very Young: A Walking Tour Through Radical Jewish Women’s History on the Lower East Side, 1879-1919.” A version of The Tribe of Dina appeared as issue 29/30 of Sinister Wisdom in 1986.

Kramer, Sydelle, and Jenny Masur, eds. Jewish Grandmothers. Boston: Beacon Press, 1976. 174 p.
Gripping oral histories of ten elderly women in Chicago, whose collective lives stand for the experiences of thousands of “ordinary” Jewish immigrants. What emerges from the narratives are portraits of risk-takers, rebels against traditional attitudes, and women fiercely committed to education.

Krause, Corinne Azen. Grandmothers, Mothers and Daughters: Oral Histories of Three Generations of Ethnic American Women. Boston: Twayne, 1991. 231 p.
Based on oral histories conducted for the study “Women, Ethnicity, and Mental Health,” sponsored by the American Jewish Committee in the 1970s, this is a highly accessible book for the general reader. In assessing the interviews with successive generations in the same families, Krause found that what each grandmother thought and said affected how her daughter and granddaughter lived their lives. Jewish grandmothers in the study often had worked in factories before marriage and in husband-wife businesses afterwards, yet did not consider their role in the businesses as “work.” Instead, they “helped out,” but their real focus was on their children. The daughter generation was better educated, but also centered on raising families and on the accomplishments of their children. The granddaughters had still more education than their mothers, and, influenced by feminism, careers that they valued. Includes edited narratives of three generations of two Jewish families, with similar chapters for Slavic and Italian women. Krause re-interviewed the women still alive in 1989 and added updated information. The Jewish women’s family lines are Sylvia Sacks Glosser-Naomi Cohen-Cathy Droz and Eva Rubenstein Dizenfeld- Belle Stock-Ruth Zober.

Marks, Marlene Adler, ed. Nice Jewish Girls: Growing Up in America. New York: Plume, 1996. 292 p.
Collection of over forty coming-of-age stories by established writers such as Vivian Gornick, Erica Jong, and Grace Paley, and newer writers Carolyn White, Karen Golden, and others. Engagement with Judaism and Jewishness characterizes the stories as a whole. Sections of the book focus successively on events in early childhood, memories of Jewish rituals, adolescent experiences, and encounters with the non-Jewish world.

Matza, Diane, ed. Sephardic-American Voices: Two Hundred Years of a Literary Legacy. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England for Brandeis University Press, 1997. 363 p.
Recovers the words of a minority-within-a-minority, whose works are at the margins of both mainstream and Jewish American writings. According to Matza, Sephardic literature is marked by its cosmopolitanism, the confidence of its women writers, and the examination of patriarchal culture by both men and women. Fourteen of the thirty writers included are women. Descendants of colonial Sephardim, Penina Moise, Emma Lazarus, and Annie Nathan Meyer represent “insiders,” who feel quite at home in America, while Gloria De Vidas Kirchheimer, Rosaly DeMaios Roffman, Emma Adatto Schlesinger, Rae Dalven, and Ruth Behar are twentieth-century writers who display attachments to the world left behind. The only anthology of its kind, this collection is an eye-opener to the unrecognized contribution of Sephardic women and men to American Jewish literature.

Mazow, Julie Wolf, ed. The Woman Who Lost Her Names: Selected Writings of American Jewish Women. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1980. 222 p.
Selections were chosen in which the writers reveal positive views of themselves as women and as Jews (unlike the image of Jewish women found in literature by Jewish men), replete with examples of the importance to them of tradition and family. Most are contemporary writers, but Anzia Yezierska and Emma Goldman are included as well.

Moskowitz, Faye, ed. Her Face in the Mirror: Jewish Women on Mothers and Daughters. Boston: Beacon Press, 1994. 314 p.
Stories, poems, essays, and novel excerpts written since 1945 on facets of the complex relationship between Jewish mothers and daughters. The mother-daughter theme captures the differences between two post-war generations (more limited lives for the mothers; more dangers for the daughters) of American Jewish women. Many of the writers are assimilated Jews who write as outsiders to Jewish life. A few are returning from non-observant backgrounds to tradition. Good mix of all types of women, working class to wealthy, heterosexual and lesbian.

Niederman, Sharon, ed. Shaking Eve’s Tree: Short Stories of Jewish Women. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1990. 279 p.
This is the first short story collection of works consciously both Jewish and feminist. The stories explore what it means to be a Jewish female from her point of view and probe the depths of Jewish identity in America today. LikeHer Face in the Mirror (above) mother-daughter relationships are also an important theme in this anthology by contemporary American Jewish women writers.

Rubin, Steven J. Writing Our Lives: Autobiographies of American Jews, 1890-1990. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1991. 347 p.
Combines in one volume characteristic excerpts from twenty-six autobiographies, including eleven by women. The book is divided into three historical periods, with the earliest featuring writers born around the turn of the century. The immigrant writers Mary Antin, Rebekah Kohut, and Golda Meir sought ways to define themselves within a new culture; their stories become the collective experience of the Jewish people. Edna Ferber is the only American-born writer included from that period. Her experience differs from the others because she deals with small-town Jewish life in the Midwest. The second section includes selections from the children of immigrants, now more assimilated into American culture but aware of the losses of tradition. Feminists Kate Simon and Faye Moskowitz and historian of the Holocaust Lucy Dawidowicz are the women contributors from this period. The three females in the last section have had very different lives. Vivian Gornick’s emphasis on understanding the bond between her immigrant mother and herself epitomizes the experience of a generation of contemporary Jewish women. Holocaust survivor Isabella Leitner’s Saving the Fragments: From Auschwitz to New York (1985) is representative of many survivor autobiographies that deal with unspeakable memories of concentration camps as well as adjusting to life afterwards. Eva Hoffman was born in Poland at the close of the War and came to Canada as a thirteen-year-old. She, too, must adjust to a new life, but her focus is on the relationship between identity and lost language. These excerpts are well-chosen from published autobiographies; eloquent unpublished accounts preserved in archives await a similar treatment.

Rubin-Dorsky, Jeffrey and Shelley Fisher Fishkin, eds. People of the Book: Thirty Scholars Reflect on Their Jewish Identity. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996. 507 p.
Richly textured autobiographical accounts by contemporary academics reflecting on their connections to Jewishness, in particular inquiring of themselves how their scholarship is influenced by being Jewish. Sixteen of the thirty are women. These feminist literary critics, anthropologists, and others have achieved the pinnacle of secular intellectual success, beyond the dreams of their mothers, immigrant grandmothers, and earlier forebears. Each must confront the meaning of gender as well as ethnicity in their search for identity.

Seller, Marine Schwartz, ed. Immigrant Women. 2nd ed. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994. 378 p.
Jewish women’s writing featured includes that of Golda Meir, Emma Goldman, and Anzia Yezierska, as well as excerpts from scholarly writing on Jewish women: “Urbanization Without Breakdown,” on adaptations to America by Italian, Slavic and Jewish women, by Corinne Azen Krause; and “Strategies for Growing Old: Basha is a Survivor,” from Number Our Days, by Barbara Myerhoff (Dutton, 1978). The first edition of Immigrant Womencontains additional essays from Jewish women, including statements by Ernestine Rose and Rose Schneiderman, and excerpts from The Jewish Woman in America, by Charlotte Baum, Paula Hyman, and Sonya Michel (New York: Dial, 1976).

Umansky, Ellen M. and Dianne Ashton, eds. Four Centuries of Jewish Women’s Spirituality: A Sourcebook. Boston: Beacon Press, 1992. 350 p.
Since Umansky and Ashton have an expansive definition of spirituality, encompassing thoughts and deeds of social reformers, literary authors, and Jewish communal leaders imbued with spiritual feelings, this anthology has numerous selections of relevance to all aspects of Jewish women’s history. Although the book begins in the sixteenth century, most of the voices heard are nineteenth-and twentieth-century Americans. Umansky’s essay, “Piety, Persuasion, and Friendship: A History of Jewish Women’s Spirituality,” characterizes women’s spirituality historically as private, spontaneous, and emotional; and introduces the forms of spiritual expression: diaries, memoirs, letters, speeches, sermons, creative writing, and, in late twentieth century, new rituals marking events in women’s lives.