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My Father's People: A Family of Southern Jews
by Louis D. Rubin, Jr.
Louisiana State University Press, 2002
Hardcover, $22.50 (139 pages)
ISBN:  0-8071-2808-2

 

 
 

My Father’s People: A Family of Southern Jews is the story of the American Dream.  Louis D. Rubin, Jr., noted scholar of Southern letters and culture, tells the story of his father’s family.  As stated on the inside flap, “it is a searching, sensitive story of Americanization, assimilation, and the displacement – and survival – of a religious heritage.” 

Hyman Rubin was an immigrant Russian Jew and the son of a Rabbi scholar (though little is known of the family left behind in Eastern Europe).  He marries an American Jew and they have four sons and three daughters.  Hyman becomes an invalid and is financially ruined, thus throwing the family into poverty and humiliation in Charleston, SC, which has a strong class structure.  Harry, the oldest son, stopped his education at elementary school to become an office boy.  Dora, the oldest daughter, remained at home with her young sisters Essie and Ruthie.  Their situation of poverty, forced their mother to send the other three sons (Dan – age 10, Manning – age 8, and Louis – age 7) to the Atlanta Hebrew Orphans’ Home for several years.  When they returned home to Charleston, each started work after finishing elementary school. 

Louis Rubin, Jr., states that the three sisters and his father (the youngest son) remained followers of Reform Judaism, while the older brothers did not worship or follow rituals.  There is a hint that the intellectual and solitary habits of Harry, Dan and Manning lead them to be skeptics about religion.  Yet, they are the strongest link to the Eastern Europe heritage by character.  The culture after the 1880’s to assimilation in America may have played a stronger role.  There was an under current to hide the fact of being Jewish descent.  Reform Judaism had many characteristics of Protestant churches.  Children were given names that blended into America (the Irish did this, too).  Also, Dan and Manning may have been strongly effected by the Atlanta Hebrew Orphans’ Home (but there is nothing in the book to suggest that the boys rejected their faith after treatment in the orphanage). 

What stands out in My Father’s People, is that despite their limited education and poverty, these boys were driven to creative and intellectual success.  Harry was an intellectual who loved to read Southern history.  He had once been offered the position as a reporter, but turned it down for the security of his dry goods position.  Harry Rubin was a family man.  Dan Rubin was a remarkable newspaperman, a successful Broadway playwright and a Hollywood screenwriter.  He chose to remain single, because writing had already become his mistress.  Manning Rubin was a successful newspaperman, who could have gone to larger papers, but chose to remain in Charleston.  It was said that Manning would have benefited from a college education, because he was a scholar.   

Louis Rubin (the author’s father) was not a reader or intellectual as such, but he was creative in his use of practical science.  He made a name for himself first as an electrician and gardener in Charleston, SC, and later as a weather forecaster in Richmond, VA.  A nervous condition caused Louis to claim disability, and he could have put his family in a situation like he had experienced as a child; however, Louis had taken out disability insurance, which helped the family survive. 

My Father’s People is filled with family moments of wit and wisdom.  There are lessons about writing from Dan and Manning; and their influence on Louis, Jr., is evident.  This is the story of a Southern family. 

Louis D. Rubin, Jr., Distinguished Professor of English Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the author or editor of more than fifty books.  He is the founder and former director of Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill; and he is a member and past chancellor of the Fellowship of Southern Writers.   

 

Joyce Dixon
Southern Scribe Reviews

 

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