cover image Nice Jewish Girls: Growing Up in America

Nice Jewish Girls: Growing Up in America

Laura Shaine Cunningham, Grace Paley, Dinah Berland. Plume Books, $14 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-452-27397-9

This mixed but mostly marvelous collection of essays, fiction and poetry touches on the issues of being female and Jewish in America. Permeating a number of the pieces is a sense of being ""other,"" whether it's as a Jew in a Christian society (e.g., Kathryn Hellerstein's prep-school bout with the Christmas Chorale) or in one's alienation from tradition or other Jews (e.g., Shira Dicker's tale of a child taunted for belonging to the ""wrong"" shul). Among the best of this literary congregation of excerpts, reprints and original pieces are Allegra Goodman's fictional account of a woman's far-flung geographic and spiritual journeys; Teresa Weisberg's oral history of a ludicrous wedding during the Depression; Karen Bender's reverie about being inside the Ark with the Torahs; and familiar excerpts by Laura Cunningham, Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Vivian Gornick. There are some weaker works (notably Erica Jong's trite poem) and some omissions: Where, for example, are Cynthia Ozick, Blu Greenberg or Rebecca Goldstein? This may be caviling. As Marks points out in her introduction, many male ""archetypes of Jewish womanhood"" have been ""fatally demeaning."" (Think Sophie Portnoy, Brenda Patimkin or Marjorie Morningstar). So, even if this anthology isn't the final word on the experience of Jewish women in America, it is a welcome antidote to the old and a good start. (Apr.)