Cover image for The peddler's grandson : growing up Jewish in Mississippi
Title:
The peddler's grandson : growing up Jewish in Mississippi
Author:
Cohen, Edward, 1948-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Jackson : University Press of Mississippi, [1999]

©1999
Physical Description:
xi, 195 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : portraits ; 21 cm
Language:
English
Personal Subject:
ISBN:
9781578061679
Format :
Book

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F349.J13 C64 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
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Summary

Summary


Edward Cohen grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, the heart of the Bible Belt, thousands of miles from the northern centers of Jewish culture. As a child he sang "Dixie" in his segregated school, said the "sh'ma" at temple. While the civil rights struggle exploded all around, he worked at the family clothing store that catered to blacks.

His grandfather Moise had left Romania and all his family for a very different world, the Deep South. Peddling on foot from farm to farm, sleeping in haylofts, he was the first Jew many Mississippians had ever seen. Moise's brother joined him and they married two sisters, raising their children under one roof, an island of Judaism in a sea of southern Christianity.

In the 1950s, insulated by the extended family of double-cousins, Edward believed the world was populated totally by Jews--until the first day of school when he had the disquieting realization that he was the only Jew in his class. At times he felt southern, almost, but his sense of being an outsider slowly crystallized, as he listened to daily Christian school prayers tried to explain his annual absences to classmates who had never heard of Rosh Hashanah. At Christmas his parents' house was the only one without lights. In the seventh grade, he was the only child not invited to dance class.

In a compelling work that is nonfiction throughout, but conveyed with a fiction writer's skill and technique, Cohen recounts how he left Mississippi for college to seek his own tribe. Instead, he found that among northern Jews he was again an outsider, marked by his southernness. They knew holidays like Simchas Torah; he knew Confederate Memorial Day.

He tells a story of displacement, of living on the margin of two already marginal groups, and of coming to terms with his dual loyalties, to region and religion. In this unsparingly honest and often humorous portrait of cultural contradiction, Cohen's themes--the separateness of the artist, the tug of assimilation, the elusiveness of identity--resonate far beyond the South.


Author Notes

Edward Cohen lives in Venice, California, where he is a freelance writer and filmmaker. Previously he was head writer and executive producer for Mississippi Educational Television, where he wrote numerous award-winning documentaries.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 1

Booklist Review

Cohen grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, in the 1950s and 1960s. In a city of 100,000 people, mostly Baptists, he was one of about 300 Jews. His immigrant grandparents settled there, coming from Romania, Russia, and Poland. Cohen remembers that the only Jewish institution in town was Temple Beth Israel, located next door to the state women's club, which didn't allow Jews, and down the street from his high school, which did allow Jews but not blacks. Farther north was the Jackson Country Club, which allowed neither. Cohen's grandfather and great uncle founded a clothing store in Jackson, where his father worked all his life and where the author worked every Saturday for much of his childhood. Cohen describes how he left Mississippi for college (the University of Miami), where he met northern Jews and felt again like an outsider because of what he termed his southerness. This thoughtful and beautifully written memoir is a revelation about the allure of assimilation and the evasiveness of identity. --George Cohen


Table of Contents

Introductionp. ix
Chapter 1 The Big Housep. 3
Chapter 2 Worlds in Collisionp. 31
Chapter 3 The Templep. 85
Chapter 4 The Storep. 117
Chapter 5 The Lost Tribep. 165
Epiloguep. 191
Acknowledgmentsp. 195