Supplementary Reader #2 : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread

Bread Givers

By Anzia Yezierska

Submitted by Jill Katrin

January 10, 1999

In the book Bread Givers, Anzia Yezierska describes her familys life as Jewish immigrants in America. This book is autobiographical in the sense that this story depicted the realistic life of Anzia Yezierska as portrayed through the characters. Yezierska is identified with the character name of Sara Smolinsky. Sara was one of four daughters in the Smolinsky family. She was also the youngest. Saras father was a Jewish rabbi who studied the Holy Torah daily. He spent most days in holy study while his wife and daughters tended to household chores and the family income. Life was full of many hardships and struggles.

Saras family lived off the neighbors contributions of food and clothing, and her mothers and sisters earnings from selling small items in the market. The Jewish community honored a wife and children who supported such a man. Poverty was looked upon as a source of pride as well as hunger and cold. For Mrs. Smolinsky, poverty meant constant work and continuous sacrifice for her husband and children. Only men were allowed to study the Torah. A womans existence was to serve her husband and father. Only through a man has a women existence. Only through a man can a woman enter Heaven, states Saras father.

Growing up for Sara and her sisters meant learning how to do household chores and working jobs to help support the family. As Saras sisters approached young adulthood, husbands were chosen for them by her father, the matchmaker. Their lovers were cast aside to make room for more so called suitable husbands. Mr. Smolinsky became known as the matchmaker of the Jewish community. He was called upon for his matchmaking advice and paid for his services. Sara describes the unhappy and dissatisfied lives her sisters all had with their planned marriages.

Sara wanted a life different from her sisters. She wanted to be more than a servant of men or an extension of her husband. She wanted the life of a free American. Sara had the courage to rebel against the Jewish beliefs and family traditions. She left her home in hope of acquiring an education. Her dream was to become a teacher. She spent six lonely years studying, working in sweatshops, and living in dark, dirty, crowded apartments. She longed hard to become educated, but at the same time she missed her family and some of the old world traditions. She had rejected family life and violated Jewish tradition to make a life of her own.

After Sara became educated she acquired a teaching job in her old neighborhood. She had longed to give back something to the people she had left behind. She struggled daily as she was pulled by both worlds. She looked at her new life as an adventure, a chance to make something of herself. At the same time, she felt her real roots lie in the community she was trying to escape. Even in college I had not escaped from the ghetto. Here loneliness hounded me even worse than in Hester Street. Was there no escape? Will I never lift myself to be a person among people?, states Sara.

The first time she saw her mother in six years brought her deep pain. She saw pain and suffering in every feature of her mothers face. She was deeply saddened to see her mother ill after the many years she had spent away from her. She committed herself to caring for her mother every spare moment she had until she was swept away to the hands of God.

Sara dedicated the rest of her life to teaching and caring for her old world father until his death. She continued listening to his words. His constant preaching was a reminder of why she had left years ago, but she remained the dedicated daughter. She struggled daily with the choices she had made and the life she continued to live. But in my rebellious youth, I thought I could escape by running away. And now I realized that the shadow of the burden was always following me, and here I stood face to face with it again, she states. Sara realized that she would live a life of constant guilt as she longed the life of a free Americanized Jew. The book ends with Sara saying, But I felt the shadow still there, over me. It wasnt just my father, but the generations who made my father whose weight was still upon me.

I read this book for a cultural diversity class I am taking. This story helped me understand what life was like for a Jewish immigrant. Their struggles and hardships gave me an awareness of what I take for granted on a daily basis. This story intensifies the clear message of how our culture, beliefs, and family traditions help mold and shape us. We are a part of our history.

This book will help me with my professional journey of understanding how to overcome the oppression that surrounds us. I can visualize the similiarity between the teacher in charge and the dutiful students with Sara and Rabbi Smolinski. We dont want to stagnate childrens learning by being the boss teacher. We have the opportunity as educators to provide a classroom that encourages freedom of expression, creativity, decision making, problem solving, and cooperative learning. We as educators can plant seeds in our students minds to help them understand the importance of respecting and appreciating each individual for who he or she is.

-- Anonymous, January 11, 1999

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