Step onto the stage and let your heart take the lead: Rebecca’s story
As a first-generation American living in New York City, Rebecca is excited when she learns her cousin’s family hopes to migrate from Russia, too. But the voyage will be dangerous—and expensive. Can Rebecca’s secret plan to raise money help smooth rough waters and aid her relatives' escape from Russia?
Rebecca Rubin tugged at her wooden doll until the top and bottom pulled apart to reveal a smaller doll nesting inside. There were seven painted dolls in all, each one tucked inside the next. They reminded Rebecca of her family, which numbered exactly seven.
The dolls had belonged to Mama when she was growing up in Russia, before Rebecca was born. But now the Russian dolls were Rebecca’s treasure. She lined them up along the parlor windowsill, behind the sheer curtains.
“Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please!” said Rebecca to her imaginary audience. Slowly she drew back the curtains and wiggled the doll she thought of as the mother to the front of the windowsill stage.
“It’s almost sundown,” Rebecca said in a no-nonsense mama voice. “I hope you’ve all had your baths.” She moved the mama closer to one of the smaller dolls. “Beckie, dear,” she said sweetly, “you are so grown-up now. Tonight you may light the candles.”
Rebecca pretended two of the bigger dolls were her older sisters. She moved them to face the mama and squawked in a high voice, “She’s not old enough! She’s practically a baby!” The two big-sister dolls butted into the little Beckie doll, and it wobbled close to the edge of the windowsill.
Rebecca pushed the papa doll until it stood in front of the others. “Well, curl my mustache,” she said in a deep voice. “Beckie’s not a baby anymore. She knows the Hebrew blessing perfectly. She is certainly old enough to light the candles tonight.”
Before Rebecca could make her brother dolls speak, Mama’s very real voice broke into her performance.
“Beckie, you’ll have to put away your dolls,” she called from the kitchen. “It’s time to set the table.”
“Phooey!” Rebecca said under her breath. She let the curtains fall across her dolls and turned back to the parlor. Extra leaves had been placed in the table to make room for everyone, and Rebecca smoothed the large white tablecloth. She set out two silver candlesticks and placed one white candle in each.
Every Friday, Mama cooked and cleaned all day to prepare for the Sabbath. Bubbie, Rebecca’s grandmother, came down from her apartment upstairs to help cook. Before the sun set, the family came together for a special dinner. Friday night was Rebecca’s favorite time of the week. But Mama should let me do something more important than just setting the table, she thought as she lifted a tall stack of Mama’s best dishes from the sideboard.
Mama looked in from the kitchen. “Don’t carry too many plates at once!” she cautioned. “And we need one extra tonight.”
“Who’s coming?” Rebecca asked, adding a plate to the stack. Through the doorway, she could see Bubbie frying fish in a black iron pan. Mama and Bubbie glanced at each other, but Mama did not answer Rebecca’s question.
That made Rebecca even more curious to know who would be sharing their Sabbath dinner. “Who is it, Mama?”
Mama stirred sizzling potatoes and onions as she answered. “My cousin, Moyshe.”
Now Rebecca nearly did drop the plates. “The actor?” she asked. She had overheard her parents talking about Moyshe before, but she had never met him. He usually traveled around the country, acting in vaudeville shows, but other times he was out of work and needed to borrow money from Papa. Rebecca had always wondered what an actor was like in real life, when he wasn’t onstage. Tonight she would find out.
Rebecca took special care setting the table. She folded the linen napkins so that the crocheted edges were lined up neatly. If a real actor was coming to dinner, she wanted everything to be perfect.
“Sadie! Sophie!” Bubbie called. A few strands of gray hair slipped from her neat bun and framed her round face. She opened the oven door and slid out two braided loaves of hallah bread. Bubbie only baked hallah for Friday nights and holidays. Each loaf needed two eggs, and eggs were expensive.
Rebecca’s twin sisters hurried in, wearing matching dresses. Sadie’s eyes sparkled, and she looked eager to help. Sophie followed behind her.
“Come check if hallah is done,” Bubbie instructed them.
“But the loaves are so hot,” Sophie complained. She pulled away from the open oven. Sadie wasn’t timid at all. She rapped two fingers against the shiny crust. A hollow sound echoed back.
“Done,” Sadie announced.
Why doesn’t Bubbie ever ask me to check the bread? Rebecca wondered. Bubbie treats me like a little child! She pushed past her sisters.
“I can do it, too,” she said.
“So, give a tap,” Bubbie told her. “When dough is done, bread sounds empty.”
As Rebecca knocked on the bread with her knuckles, her older brother, Victor, sneaked up and rapped on her head. “Done!” he teased. The twins giggled.
Rebecca tried to swat Victor’s arm, but before she could catch him, a rhythmic knock sounded at the kitchen door. Everyone turned to stare as it creaked open. A tall young man wearing a jaunty straw hat and holding a polished cane poked his head into the room.
“Moyshe!” Mama exclaimed.
The man put his finger to his lips, signaling everyone to be quiet, and began sprinkling something in the doorway. Rebecca couldn’t see anything in his hand. Her little brother, Benny, squatted down. He looked at the floor, and then up at Moyshe.
“What you are putting on this clean floor?” Bubbie cried.
Moyshe peered into the hallway and looked around nervously. Then he made more frantic sprinkling motions. Finally, he spoke. “It’s lion powder,” he said solemnly.
Rebecca frowned. “What in the world is that?”
“Why, don’t you know?” Moyshe asked. “It keeps the lions away.”
Benny’s eyes grew wide. “Lions?”
Sadie sniffed. “That’s ridiculous. There aren’t any lions around here.”
“You see how well it works!” Moyshe announced.
Benny heaved a sigh of relief. Sadie and Sophie shook their heads at the silly joke. Rebecca burst out laughing.
Moyshe flashed a gleaming smile. “At least one person in this audience likes my joke,” he said. “If you make them laugh, your audience will love you.” He winked at Rebecca. “Remember that!”
Rebecca had never imagined that Mama’s cousin would be so exciting. He even looked interesting, with his bright, dark eyes and the cane draped over his arm.
“Come in and close the door, Moyshe,” Mama said.
“Excuse me, but it’s no more Moyshe Shereshevsky,” her cousin said. “I am Max Shepard, if you please.” He gave a low bow, sweeping his hat off his head. “An American name for an American actor.”
“America,” Bubbie grumbled. “Always changing with the names. You don’t change a name like a dirty shirt!”
Max didn’t argue. “You must be little Beckie,” he said, giving Rebecca his full attention. “You were toddling around like a windup doll the last time I saw you. Now you’re a young lady!”
Rebecca beamed. Visitors never talked to her first when they met the family—they always fussed over Sadie and Sophie because they thought twins were so remarkable. If only they knew how left out Rebecca felt, being their younger sister!
Max turned to Benny. “And you weren’t even born! Now you’re old enough to grow buttons.”
“Buttons don’t grow!” Benny said.
Max pulled something from Benny’s ear. “This sure looks like a button to me.”
Benny’s eyes grew wide as Max dropped a shiny brown button into his hand. Rebecca chuckled. How did Max do it?
“And this must be the bar mitzvah boy!” Max exclaimed, shaking Victor’s hand. “Your mother tells me you’re almost thirteen now, and studying hard for your bar mitzvah.” He dropped his voice lower, as if sharing a secret. “But I hear sneaking out to play baseball is a lot more fun than studying Hebrew.” Victor grinned.
“Good Shabbos!” Rebecca’s grandfather called as he and Papa came in. Grandpa and Bubbie often mixed Yiddish words with their English. Yiddish was the language most Jewish immigrants in the neighborhood spoke. Rebecca could speak it, too, and she knew Shabbos meant Sabbath.
Papa handed Mama a penny bouquet of flowers, as he did every Friday. “Almost as pretty as you,” he smiled. Mama blushed at the compliment as she hung her apron on a nail by the stove.
“Good evening, Moyshe,” Papa said, shaking hands.
“Excuse me, but that’s Max,” Bubbie corrected him. “There is no more Moyshe.”
Max grinned. “Moyshe, Max, what’s the difference? You can call me anything, as long as you don’t call me late for dinner!”
Rebecca thought Max was funny. He was nothing like Papa, who was usually so serious.
“Such a busy day at the shoe store,” Grandpa said. “But now it’s Shabbos, and time to rest.”
Papa took the pushke, the tin charity box, from the kitchen shelf. Every Friday night he put in his loose change. When the box was full, Papa brought the money to the synagogue. The congregation used the funds they collected to help new immigrants.
Papa dropped in the coins from his pocket, and they clanged to the bottom.
Grandpa added some change. “We must always help those who are less fortunate,” he said. He held the box out to Max, but just at that moment Max stepped into the parlor and started tickling Benny until the boy was screaming with laughter.
“Don’t make him wild,” Mama scolded. “Come, it’s time to light the candles.”
Benny dashed to Papa and pulled at his sleeve. “My turn! My turn!”
Papa lifted Benny in the air, and Benny squealed with delight. “Women light the Shabbos candles,” Papa said.
“No fair!” Benny whined.
“Can’t I light them tonight?” Rebecca begged. “I know the prayer by heart.”
“You heard Papa,” Sadie said. “It’s for the women in the family.”
Rebecca frowned. This was just like her windowsill play!
“The twins will light the candles,” Mama said firmly. “After all, they’re fourteen.”
“And not married yet?” Max joked. “Time to call the matchmaker!” The twins put their hands over their mouths to stifle their giggles.
Rebecca went to the windowsill and poked the big-sister dolls so hard, they rocked a little. “When will I get to light the candles?” she muttered. “The twins get to do everything!”
“Stop pouting and help,” Bubbie ordered. She set a soup tureen on the sideboard and ladled golden chicken soup into bowls. Rebecca served Max first. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, as if smelling a sweet perfume.
The family waited while Bubbie hung her apron in the kitchen. Then she sat down and straightened the lacquer pin she often wore. It was a keepsake she had brought with her from Russia. Rebecca had always loved the picture of the leaping hare that was painted on the pin’s shiny black background. The picture was from a Russian folktale called Clever Karina.
Sadie and Sophie stood before the silver candlesticks. Everyone watched as they lit the white candles with a long wooden match. Then they closed their eyes and recited the Hebrew prayer together, giving thanks for the Sabbath, a day of rest and peace. The candles flickered, lighting up the twins’ faces with a golden glow.
“Beautiful,” Max murmured. The grown-ups nodded approvingly, and Rebecca felt a bubble of envy grow in her chest. She was old enough to do more than just set the table!
Victor raised the special cup of Sabbath wine and recited the Hebrew blessing. Grandpa corrected his pronunciation, and Rebecca felt secretly pleased. Next, Mama removed the delicately embroidered hallah cover from the warm bread. She held up the two loaves, and the whole family gave thanks for their food. Rebecca said the prayer loudly so that everyone would know she didn’t make mistakes.
Rebecca sipped her steaming soup, with Mama’s homemade noodles. She loved the foods that made Friday nights special. But tonight she wasn’t thinking about dinner. An idea was flickering in her mind, forming a glow as bright as the Sabbath candles.
A true star
Rebecca visits a motion picture studio with her cousin Max, and is offered the chance to be in front of the camera. Now she must decide whether to take this big break, or follow her parents’ wishes and close the curtain on her dreams.
Mr. Goldberg cranked the handle on the phonograph in his candy shop, and the bright, tinkly sound of a piano filled the store. Rebecca hummed along, and her friend Rose snapped her fingers in time to the lively music.
“Isn’t it swell to hear records?” Rebecca asked. “Just think—if we had a phonograph, we could play music whenever we wanted.”
The tempo of the song slowed as the machine wound down. Mr. Goldberg put on a new record and cranked the handle.
Rebecca headed toward the door. “We’d better go.”
“Oh, not yet!” Rose protested. She clung to Rebecca’s arm. “Let’s hear the next song.”
“I think we’ve hung around long enough without buying anything,” Rebecca whispered. “I don’t want to annoy Mr. Goldberg.”
“I don’t think he minds,” Rose said. “It’s awfully quiet in here for a Saturday afternoon.” Only two customers sat on swiveling stools, sipping frothy egg creams. “Since this week is Passover, I guess hardly anybody is eating out.” Rose looked longingly at jars filled with brightly colored jelly beans. “I sure would love a handful of those.” She followed reluctantly as Rebecca held the door open.
“So would I,” Rebecca said, “but Mama won’t even let me order a soda. There are so many foods we can’t eat during Passover, she and Bubbie don’t trust anything they haven’t made in their own kitchens.”
The girls strolled up the street, enjoying the sunshine that warmed the spring afternoon. Rose shrugged. “Still, it’s fun eating the special Passover foods we have only once a year, like matzo. Don’t you think so?”
“Usually I do,” Rebecca agreed. “Except for this year.” She hesitated a moment. “Tomorrow’s my birthday.”
“Oooh—your birthday!” Rose exclaimed. “That is one of the best things in America. Back in Russia, my family never celebrated birthdays—not like here. Are you going to have a party?”
Rebecca scuffed her shoes along the sidewalk. “That’s the problem—we’ve been so busy cleaning and cooking for Passover, I think everyone has forgotten.” She kicked at a pebble and added glumly, “Anyway, I couldn’t have a birthday cake unless it was as flat as matzo! What fun is a birthday without a big, fluffy cake?”
“Oh, Rebecca,” Rose said, putting her arm around her friend, “how awful. No party, and no cake either. Well, if you’re not having a party this year, then next year I think you should have two!”
Rebecca knew that her friend was trying to cheer her up. She forced a small smile.
“Let’s walk the long way to your house and see what’s playing at the movie theater,” Rose said as she steered Rebecca down a side street.
“What a boring day,” Rebecca grumbled. “First we go to the candy store, where I can’t even order a soda, and now to the movies, which my parents say I’m too young to see.”
“It’s fun looking at the posters, though,” Rose said. “Don’t you love seeing the beautiful actresses?”
The girls ducked around a gang of boys playing stickball and passed some girls playing jacks on the sidewalk. Soon they came to the marble columns of the Orpheum Photo Play Theater. Giant letters blazed across the golden marquee:
Lillian Armstrong in “Cleopatra”!
Rebecca and Rose stepped into the shade under the marquee. It gave Rebecca shivers to be so close to the theater. She still remembered the afternoon last fall when Cousin Max had brought the entire family to see a Charlie Chaplin movie. It was the first and only time her parents had let her attend. When the theater lights dimmed and the show began, Rebecca had felt an excitement like nothing before. It was astonishing to see pictures moving on a screen.
“Look at this!” Rose exclaimed. Rebecca gazed at the posters in gilded frames on either side of the entrance. A sultry actress with shadowed eyes outlined in black stared boldly out at them. Her straight hair was adorned with a golden headdress. She wore a low-cut dress and held an open-mouthed snake close to her chest.
“My family would especially never let me see this one!” Rebecca croaked. “It looks scary!”
“But it’s about a real person,” Rose said. “It’s the story of Cleopatra, who was queen of Egypt. It’s about history!”
“Try telling that to Bubbie,” Rebecca muttered, imagining the stern look her grandmother would give her if she dared ask to see such a movie. “Maybe she’d let me go to the movies if they made one about the history of Passover, when the Jews escaped from slavery in Egypt.” She pretended to be a barker calling people to the theater. She cupped her hands around her mouth and called in a husky voice, “See Moses lead his people to freedom! Watch as the Jews flee across the desert with nothing to eat but unleavened bread!”
“You know, that’s not a bad idea,” Rose remarked. “You should tell your cousin Max. Isn’t he a movie actor?”
Rebecca nodded. “The best part would show how the Jews couldn’t get across the Red Sea. The pharaoh’s soldiers would be right behind them, and the Jews would be sure they’re going to be captured. But Moses raises his staff, and the sea parts as the Jews rush across safely.” She raised her arms in a sweeping gesture. “Let my people go!” she recited in a deep voice, as if she were playing the role of Moses.
“That would make a thrilling moving picture,” Rose agreed, “as long as God parted the sea again for the filming.”
“Come on,” Rebecca said. “It’s getting late.”
But Rose lingered under the marquee, reading all the posters out loud. She pointed to the glamorous poster of Lillian Armstrong. “I don’t think I’ve heard of this Cleopatra actress before.”
“She must be new,” said Rebecca. “I haven’t seen her in a motion picture magazine. Of course, I only get to see the ones I can sneak away from my sisters.”
The air was turning cooler. “We really should go,” Rebecca insisted. At last, Rose headed back to the sidewalk and ambled along toward Rebecca’s row house, stopping to admire the window displays in the stores along the route. The girls paused at a tempting array of pastries and cakes in the window of an Italian bakery.
“You’d think that even at Passover, it would be okay to have a birthday cake,” Rebecca blurted out. “I mean, Moses led the Jews out of Egypt thousands of years ago. We know they escaped without enough time to let their bread rise, and the unleavened bread was baked into flat matzos—but why do we have to worry about it today?”
“To remember how hard life was when the Jews were slaves,” Rose said. “Eating matzos instead of bread and cake helps us remember our ancestors.”
Rebecca felt a twinge of guilt. Mama and Bubbie had cooked for days to prepare the seders, the festive Passover meals they shared on the first two nights. The seders were feasts of delicious foods that followed a retelling of the Jews’ journey out of Egypt to freedom. Passover was one of the most important Jewish holidays.
“It’s probably wrong to even wish for a cake,” Rebecca confessed. “I guess I just have to skip my birthday this year.”
“Think about something fun,” Rose suggested as they approached Rebecca’s building. “I know—let’s play hopscotch. Do you have any chalk?”
“I don’t really feel like it,” Rebecca said, heading up the front stoop.
“Well, let’s just sit outside for a while, then,” Rose said, plopping herself down on the top step.
“It’s too chilly,” Rebecca said, pulling Rose up.
Rose followed Rebecca into the kitchen, but the apartment was strangely quiet. “Oh, Rebecca! You’re home already?” Mama asked, hastily throwing a napkin over a plate. “Everyone’s out playing,” Mama added quickly. “I’ve got to take this upstairs to Bubbie.” She picked up the covered dish and headed out the door.
“I’m hungry,” Rebecca said to Rose after Mama had left. She looked in the icebox, but there was nothing except a jar of cold leftover soup. Rebecca sighed. She took a piece of matzo from a basket on the table and offered one to Rose. “Do you want jam on it?” she asked.
Rose shook her head. “I’ve got an idea—let’s go up and give the pigeons a taste. I wonder if they like matzo.”
Rebecca smiled at the thought. “Good idea!” She loved feeding the pigeons that Mr. Rossi, the building’s janitor, kept in cages on the rooftop.
As the girls stepped into the hallway, Rebecca heard Bubbie calling from the top landing. “Rebecca! Come by me for a minute.” Rebecca sighed. She couldn’t think of any chores she might have forgotten. She peered up the stairwell.
“Come help me, bubeleh,” her grandmother said, using her favorite Yiddish word for “sweetie.”
Rebecca took a few steps up. “Can I come up later?” she called. “My friend Rose is here.”
“So, you’ll both come,” Bubbie said. “Hurry, now.” Rebecca trudged up the stairs. Rose followed a few steps behind her.
Bubbie smiled, her eyes crinkling at the corners as she nudged Rebecca inside. What was Bubbie so pleased about?
“Rose and I were—” Rebecca started to explain, but before she could finish, a chorus of voices shouted, “Surprise!”
From behind the furniture, Rebecca’s friends Lucy, Gertie, and Sarah all jumped out, along with her cousin Ana. Aunt Fannie and Uncle Jacob stepped from behind the bedroom door, laughing. Her cousins Josef and Michael called “Mazel tov—congratulations!” Mama and Papa and Rebecca’s brothers and sisters were all crowded into the tiny apartment. Rebecca was speechless.
Mama gave her a hug. “Did you really think we’d forget your birthday?” she asked.
Rebecca felt giddy with pleasure. They hadn’t forgotten after all. She grinned at Rose. “You knew about the party all along! That’s why you kept thinking of excuses not to come back here.”
“I could barely keep it secret!” Rose giggled. “You were so glum thinking you couldn’t have a party because of Passover.”
“What, you think we can’t eat because of this holiday?” Bubbie said, passing around a plate of sweets. “Holidays are for eating—and so are birthdays!”
“And we’re going to make egg creams for everyone,” Papa announced. He held a blue glass bottle of seltzer, while Grandpa brought out a jar of homemade chocolate syrup.
There was a sharp knock on the door. Rap-rap-a-tap-tap! Rebecca knew the code. She ran to the door and gave two taps to complete the rhythm. Rap-rap! She pulled open the door, and sure enough, there was cousin Max.
“I hear there’s a party with lots of food!” Max stepped into the crowded room. “Come with me, birthday girl,” he said, leading Rebecca to a chair. He pulled a flowery scarf from his pocket and draped it around Rebecca’s neck. Then he cocked his head to one side. “Hmmm . . . I don’t think this is quite right for you,” he decided. Making a fist with one hand, he pushed the scarf into it with the other. Everyone watched, mesmerized, as the scarf disappeared.
“It’s magic!” exclaimed Benny, Rebecca’s little brother.
Max slowly tapped his fist with one finger and said, “Abracadabra!” With a dramatic flick, he opened his hand. The scarf was gone, and in its place was a pink paper rose.
“Oooh!” cried the group. They gave Max a round of applause. He bowed, handing Rebecca the flower. She beamed at Max.
Max scratched his head. “I don’t know. What good is a rose without any place to put it? Hold on . . .”
He retrieved a large round box from the hallway, which he placed in Rebecca’s lap. She pulled the lid off and lifted out a beautiful hat with a large brim decorated with flowers.
“Goodness gracious!” gasped Mama. She frowned at Max. “I think you’ve been around theater people too long. Rebecca’s only turning ten, you know!”
Max ignored Mama’s protest. He tucked the rose in with the other flowers and set the hat on Rebecca’s head.
“Oh, Max,” Rebecca sighed, “I feel just like a movie star!”
“We have a present for you, too,” said Rebecca’s sister Sadie, “although it’s not nearly as dramatic as that hat.”
Sophie, Sadie’s twin, handed Rebecca a small envelope. Inside was a colored postcard with a picture of Charlie Chaplin on it. On the back, her sisters had written, “This entitles Rebecca Rubin to one motion picture show, with an ice cream soda to follow.”
Rebecca enfolded her sisters in one big hug. “Do you really mean it?”
“Now that you’re ten,” Sophie smiled, “we think you’re old enough to go to the pictures with us.”
Rebecca opened the rest of her presents and thanked everyone. Then Max stood in front of her and arranged the hat brim at a stylish tilt. When he stepped aside, Rebecca peered from under the brim to see Mama holding a big birthday cake, covered in swirly white frosting. Ten candles glowed on top.
“Happy birthday to you,” Max began singing, and everyone joined in.
“A cake!” Rebecca cried. She ought to make a wish, but what more could she wish for? She blew the candles out in one breath. “I didn’t think there could be a birthday cake on Passover!”
“It’s a sponge cake,” Mama explained, “made with special matzo flour.”
“But how did you get it to rise up so high and fluffy?” Rebecca asked.
“It’s easy when you use twelve eggs!” Mama replied.
“Twelve eggs?” Rebecca repeated in disbelief.
“It’s extravagant, I know,” said Mama, “but it’s not every day that your daughter turns ten.”
Grandpa and Papa made fizzy egg creams in tall glasses while Mama served the cake. Everyone ate and laughed. Too soon, the party was over, and people began to leave.
Gertie turned to Rebecca. “Where will you wear that hat? I don’t think Miss Maloney will allow it at school.”
“Since it’s school vacation this week,” Lucy pointed out, “she can wear it at home.”
Max frowned. “You can’t have a hat like this one and only wear it at home. This hat is meant to be seen.” His face lit up. “I’ve got it! Wear it Monday when I go to work at the motion picture studio.”
Rebecca was puzzled. “Why should I wear it when you’re at work?” she asked.
“Because you’ll be coming with me,” Max said. “Movie people can truly appreciate a hat like this!”
Rebecca caught her breath. “Come with you to the picture studio? Will I get to see a movie being made?” She glanced at her sisters. Sadie and Sophie looked positively green with jealousy.
Bubbie cleared her throat. “Just because there is no school doesn’t mean pitcher-making place is for a respectable young lady to go. And in such a hat!”
All eyes turned to Max. “I beg to differ, my dear woman,” he said with dignity. “All the actresses at the studio are respectable ladies.”
“I don’t think we should encourage this moving-picture nonsense,” Papa said.
Bubbie put her hands on her hips. “And what she will eat for lunch?”
Grandpa chimed in. “Monday is school vacation, maybe, but is still Passover. Moving-pitcher place doesn’t have Passover food.”
Rebecca didn’t dare argue with Bubbie and Grandpa and Papa, especially in front of everyone. She looked at Mama and pleaded with her eyes.
Mama hesitated a moment and then put her hand on Papa’s shoulder. Rebecca held her breath. “I could boil a couple of eggs and give her a banana and some leftover party cookies. And of course”—Rebecca joined in for the last item—“matzo!” she and Mama said in unison.
Mama smiled. “I think it will be all right for her to go with Max just this once. After all, she’s not going to turn into an actress just because she visits a movie studio.”
Guidance for girls today
By exemplifying the Jewish tradition of helping others, Rebecca plays a positive role in others’ lives with qualities every girl can aspire to:
Integrity. By backing up her beliefs with actions, Rebecca meets life’s challenges boldly and inspires girls today to act on their principles.
Compassion. Rebecca’s decision to share the stage with her cousin during a school performance proves that one simple act of kindness makes a big difference to someone else.
Chutzpah. This Yiddish word loosely translates as "confidence," something Rebecca displays when she speaks up about poor working conditions at a local sweatshop.
“The story of Rebecca is a marvelous introduction to the Jewish immigrant experience. In Rebecca’s ‘own words,’ this American girl sounds a clear, pure note in the orchestra of American cultures and traditions.”
“The story of Rebecca is a marvelous introduction to the Jewish immigrant experience. In Rebecca’s ‘own words,’ this American girl sounds a clear, pure note in the orchestra of American cultures and traditions.”
—Rabbi David Wolpe, author, speaker, and head rabbi of Sinai Temple
Authentic from the start
The Rebecca series highlights America’s melting pot—a period when millions of immigrants came to this country to start a new life.
To capture the lively details of Rebecca’s story, we collaborated with experts in American Jewish history and American immigration. They described the living conditions in the New York boroughs at the turn of the 20th century and the cultural struggles Jewish families encountered while acclimating to life in America.
In addition, we selected historical novelist Jacqueline Dembar Greene to write Rebecca’s stories. Greene visited Ellis Island, New York museums, and a synagogue to help build Rebecca’s background. To supplement her research, she watched documentaries and read more than 100 books. Inspired by what she learned, Greene even named characters after ones she saw for Russian immigrants in old census lists. Together, this research blended into a world realistically rendered for girls today to enter and explore.
Ferries carried thousands of immigrants from Ellis Island, known as "the gateway to America," to their new home in New York City.
The movie industry began in the early 1900s, launching the media empires we know today. Magazines like this one featured popular actors of the time.
To help support their families, young immigrant boys earned money delivering milk and working in warehouses instead of going to school.
Putting it all into play
“Not only is this doll beautiful; she comes with a significant story of historical value. I love that all the dolls have strong, positive characteristics. The fact that Rebecca celebrates her Jewish heritage, especially during these troubling times of increased anti-Semitism, is very important.”
American Girl Customer
Explore more of Rebecca’s world