Her name is Rebecca Rubin. She’s 9 years old and poor, and she lives with her Russian-immigrant parents in Manhattan’s great Jewish ghetto of the early 20th century. There they struggle to save money to bring other family members over to to maintain their traditions (TRADITION!):
Rebecca confronts many of the same dilemmas faced by today’s American Jewish children as they navigate between tradition and modernity. In “Candlelight for Rebecca,” her teacher asks the class to make Christmas centerpieces, and Rebecca agonizes over what to tell her parents. In “Meet Rebecca,” she asks her grandfather, an observant Jew who keeps kosher, why he opens his shoe store on Shabbat (they need the money, he explains).
The six books about Rebecca’s life were penned by children’s author Jacqueline Dembar Greene, who based some of the stories on her own family’s history. She quizzed her mother-in-law about the correct usage of certain Yiddish words, and her 92-year-old father about his memories of riding the Ferris Wheel at Coney Island.
Greene’s mother worked as a stitcher in a garment factory in Hartford, Conn., much like the one where Rebecca’s uncle and cousin suffered two decades earlier. “Nothing had changed,” Greene says. “She told me about the bosses walking up and down, yelling at the workers, about being locked in, even though it was totally illegal. They weren’t allowed to talk or hum, they were timed when they went to the bathroom.”