Journal Reading #2 : LUSENET : M.Ed./International Falls : One Thread

Journal Reading #2

-- Anonymous, January 28, 1999


Karen, should we delete this?

-- Anonymous, January 29, 1999

Bread Givers

By Anzia Yerzierska

Anzia Yezierska was a Jewish immigrant who wrote realistic stories of Jewish immigrant life on New Yorks Lower East Side. She published six books between 1920 and 1932. Bread Givers is the most autobiographical of the six. She writes about her life through the character Sara Smolinsky. Sara is the youngest of four daughters of a Jewish rabbi who spends his days reading the Torah and a mother who lives her life in sacrifice to her husband and children.

Poverty meant constant work and continuous sacrifice for everyone in the Smolinsky family except Saras father. The family sometimes had to live off the contributions of neighbors. Since the Jewish community honored a wife and children who supported a learned religious father, poverty was a source of pride. Jewish faith provided both solace and rationalization for their hard life. Only men could study the Torah. To serve her husband and father should be a womans highest wish, and it was, in any event, her only hope of heaven. These tenets are the basis of the struggle between a father of the Old World and his daughters of the New World. Mr. Smolinsky becomes known as the matchmaker as he chooses husbands for his daughters that he feels will be able to support him in the manner that he deserves. Sara watches as her older sisters are forced into unhappy planned marriages. She longs for a different life and eventually refuses to marry her fathers choice for a marriage partner.

Life for Sara now becomes a six year struggle to earn enough money to go to college and become a teacher. Her father has kicked her out of his home and refuses to acknowledge her. She has left behind her family traditions to make a life of her own. Saras struggles do not end when she goes to college. She is met with racial prejudice and feels the sting of loneliness. Sara refuses to give up however, and graduates from college with a teaching degree. Her first job is back in her old neighborhood in New Yorks Lower East Side. When she returns she finds that her mother is dying and she cares for her every day after school until her death. In the end as Sara walks down the streets of her old neighborhood, she sees the lines of pushcart peddlers bent like animals helpless against the cold, pitiless weather. Her happiness in becoming a teacher and finding true love with a man of her own choice makes her feel like one sitting down to a meal while all the people around are howling hungry. She is compelled to go to her father. She invites him to come and live with her. All that he had left of life was his fanatical adherence to his traditions. It was within my power to keep lighted the flickering candle of his life for him. Could I deny him this poor service? Unconsciously, my hand reached out for his.

This book was part of a class on cultural diversity that I am currently taking. It showed me the strength of family traditions in molding the minds and controlling the behaviors of adults and children. It made me feel the pain of oppression as I read it. As an educator, I began to think about the limited roles offered to women by traditional families and how women still struggle for equality in our society today. My own father never wanted my mother to work outside of the home. He did however, encourage me to go to college and to pursue whatever career I wanted. I want to encourage the girls in my classroom to follow their hopes and dreams. I want to create an atmosphere free of gender prejudices and help my students to learn respect for every human as an individual.

-- Anonymous, January 29, 1999

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