Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Jew Store

The Jew Store is a very sweet memoir written by Stella Suberman about her family's life in Union City, Tennessee in the 1920s.  Her father, Aaron Bronson, moved the family to Union City, a small town in northwestern Tennessee, to open "Bronson's Low Priced Store" where dry goods were sold and where the Bronsons were the only Jewish family and certainly an anomaly in a town where residents harbored strong antisemitic feelings.

The author is the baby of the family. Her brother Joey and sister Miriam become immersed in the culture as does the father, whereas the mother fears that the children will become assimilated.  She, the mother, lobbies for her son to move to New York so he can be properly trained for a bar mitzvah.  And then when Miriam falls in love with T, a wonderful boy from the community, the mother--while fond of T--convinces the father that after over ten years in Union City, the family must move back to New York.

Interesting and troubling recollections of the Ku Klux Klan, attitudes towards African Americans, child labor, and ignorance.  When they first arrive in Union City (called Concordia in the book) a well meaning young boy refers to Aaron Bronson as Mr. Jew.  The store is known by one and all as the Jew store, and people seriously look for horns when Stella--not yet born when they move to Union City--arrives a few years later.

Impressive depiction of Lizzy Maud, a maid; Miss Brookie a liberal agnostic spinster in a world of God fearing conservativism; and the author's mother and aunts.

Easy read. Troubling in many parts particularly as it relates to the routine and condoned subjugation of African Americans by most people in the town.  When Bronson hires a black clerk the Klan intimates that the store might be in jeopardy and had not the land on which the store sat been owned by a member of the Klan, there was fear that the store might have been destroyed with or without the black clerk.

Worth the few days it will take you to read The Jew Store.

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