A Jew Grows in Brooklyn: The Curious Reflections of a First-Generation American

A Jew Grows in Brooklyn: The Curious Reflections of a First-Generation American

by Jake Ehrenreich

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The Arguably Dysfunctional Insights of a 'Kid' from Brooklyn

As a boy, Jake Ehrenreich wanted nothing more than to fit in. The reality of being the first American-born child of Holocaust survivors with thick European accents made him cringe, and he did everything he could to fit his vision of what it meant to be a 'real' American. His expertise


The Arguably Dysfunctional Insights of a 'Kid' from Brooklyn

As a boy, Jake Ehrenreich wanted nothing more than to fit in. The reality of being the first American-born child of Holocaust survivors with thick European accents made him cringe, and he did everything he could to fit his vision of what it meant to be a 'real' American. His expertise on the ball field, good looks, and extraordinary musical talent gained him popularity, but deep inside, he was uncomfortable with his identity and his family's haunting past.

Only through his life-changing experiences—living a perilous rock 'n' roll lifestyle, battling drug abuse, womanizing, coping with his mother and two sisters' early-onset Alzheimer's disease, finding love, fathering the only child who will carry on his family name, and then dealing with his beloved dad's courageous battle with Parkinson's disease—did Jake Ehrenreich begin to appreciate and honor his family's heritage as well as himself.

Based on his hit show 'A Jew Grows in Brooklyn'—which ran in the heart of Broadway and continues to entertain audiences nationwide and which the New York Times described as 'beautiful . . . touching . . . funny'—these stories mine the same life-affirming voyage of self-discovery, while delving deeper into Ehrenreich's rich experiences.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this print adaptation of his successful one-man show, featured on Broadway, playwright and performer Ehrenreich tells his story of growing up in Brooklyn as the first-born son of Holocaust survivors in the years following WWII. Desperate to acquire the "all American" identity he feels denied as part of a foreign, Jewish family of war survivors, Ehrenreich plied his love of rock music into an adolescent romance with the drums; during his teens and twenties, Ehrenreich became involved in a number of musical projects, performing for vacationers in the Catskills and playing clubs around the country, eventually finding himself among famous musicians like Richie Havens and glam-rock band KISS. Along the way, the married-with-children Ehrenreich divulges entertaining details of his wilder years, including a string of romantic conquests and a struggle with drug abuse. Ehrenreich also devotes a chapter to each member of his family, recounting fond memories as well as tragic details of the early-onset Alzheimers that claimed his mother and two sisters. His style and timing perfected over years of performance, Ehrenreich proves inspirational and entertaining throughout, showing readers how he weathered troubled times to discover an unconditional love for life. B&W photos.
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Health Communications, Incorporated
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Read an Excerpt

A Jew Grows in Brooklyn

The Curious Reflections of a First-Generation American
By Jake Ehrenreich


Copyright © 2010 Jake Ehrenreich
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780757314667

Setting the Stage

'The greatest thing in this world is not so much
where we are, but in what direction we are moving.'
—Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

I anxiously waited in the back of the social hall at the community center in Washington Township, New Jersey, and watched the eight (yes, eight) audience members settle in as I prepared to go onstage for the 2005 premiere of my comedy/drama/musical 'Growing Up in America.' My God, What was I doing?!
I was already in my forties, I had a beautiful wife and son, and I was making a great living as a musician and performer. Who needs this? I asked myself, but I already knew the answer. Somehow, I'd always known that I would one day have to tell this story. I needed this.

I bounded onto the stage and began singing, playing instruments, and telling the scripted stories of my life as the first-born son of Holocaust survivors, of my Brooklyn childhood and Catskills summers, of caring for my mother and two sisters as they each succumbed to early Alzheimer's disease, of my intensely hardworking father, of finding love, and of how, after a long journey, the story came full circle with the birth of my son, Joseph Dov-Behr Ehrenreich.
I got some laughs and tears—and as the week wore on, more than a few audience members. After the first few days, word spread like wildfire. By the end of the week, we were sold out. Eventually, 'Growing Up in America' became 'A Jew Grows in Brooklyn' and went on to break box-office records at the historic Lambs Theater in the heart of Broadway. We played in New York City for a year and half and have been filling houses across the country ever since.
The look in the eyes of audience members as I see them channel their own childhoods, the stories they share with me after the show, and the special bond we form together is something I may never be able to re-create. But I hope to create something similar with this book. No matter where my life and career take me in the future, I will always return to this honest story of hope and renewal.

In part, this book is that story—my family's story, the same one I tell in 'A Jew Grows in Brooklyn'—only without the music and the footlights. And yet it expands it, by chronicling the journey—dysfunction, humor, sadness, and all—that led me to where I am now.

But it's not only about my family and my experiences—it's about your story, too, because our shared journey of life holds the same basic challenges: Challenges of fear and perseverance, of finding beauty and love, of searching for meaning, and of learning that we are so much more than just our circumstances. And if we have a few laughs and lessons along the way, so much the better.

My family arrived in America in 1949—survivors of the Nazi Holocaust that ravaged the Jews and many others during World War II. Unlike their eight brothers and sisters, my parents survived the war by escaping to Russian work camps in Siberia, where my eldest sister Wanda was born. Shortly after the war, Joanie, my other sister, was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany. And me? Well, I was born in Brooklyn—a true-blue 'Yankee Doodle,' destined to tell the story for my family who is now gone. Or perhaps I should say 'Yonkee' Doodle, because I was endearingly called by my Yiddish nickname 'Yonkee' (Yankele) as a boy. I tried every which way to get rid of it, along with my family's history, and just fit in. All I wanted was to be a sure-fired, smack-damn, 100-percent, through-and-through, standard-issue, red-blooded American kid. Fitting in was a big deal for me. (Now, not so much.)

The story of my name is only one of many I want to share with you. Others include stories of my dad who worked seven days a week and our extraordinary relationship and his courageous battle with Parkinson's disease . . . of overcoming drug abuse . . . of being a musician living the rock-'n'-roll lifestyle . . . of my bachelor's obsession with women (that's a good one) . . . of learning to turn adversity into opportunity . . . of realizing that I was funny (yeah, well, we'll see) . . . of the incredible joys and challenges of parenting and marriage . . . of the continuing journey of self-discovery . . . and of the beautiful reactions I have had to my story—from people in all walks of life.

Stories of life and family history have been with us throughout recorded time. They teach, explain, and entertain. My intention is to offer you, through these stories, some glimpses of the attitudes and behaviors I've adopted that have played a part in my growth and success, both professionally and personally. I have, in great part, learned these lessons from others, and I hope, in turn, you will take away at least one lesson, or many, that will serve you and yours on your journey.
This book is about the quintessential American experience—the immigrant experience. Yet, on a deeper level it is about our common human experience, how we approach the inescapable adversity, tragedy, and challenges that life serves up, and how we ultimately find our way to the triumph or defeat of our soul and spirit. It's about choosing to define our circumstances in an empowering way and about learning to apply our focus and energy in a manner that serves us well. It's about living fruitfully and joyously and fully. It's about renewal—of spirit and body and mind. (Wow, I'd like to read this book myself! Will it wash my car? Can it core 'a' apple?)

I hope that traveling these roads with me, not only gets you laughing and thinking, but inspires you to take a look back at the people and events that have been pivotal in your own life. Think about them, write them down, and share them with friends and family. Perhaps recalling your stories (maybe in a writing group or a book club—wait, definitely in a book club!) and discovering what you've learned might inspire others—or maybe just yourself.

With intention and faith, anything is possible. With love and joy and gratitude and an indomitable spirit, we can live our dreams and have a positive, lasting influence on the world and those around us.
So, on with the show. . . .

)2010. Jake Ehrenreich. All rights reserved. Reprinted from A Jew Grows in Brooklyn. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442


Excerpted from A Jew Grows in Brooklyn by Jake Ehrenreich Copyright © 2010 by Jake Ehrenreich. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are saying about this

Scott Benarde

"Jake Ehrenreich has written an uplifting memoir that doubles as an inspiring user-friendly primer on how to be comfortable in your own skin. But instead of sitting in a classroom or therapist's office, Ehrenreich's tone makes you feel like you're shooting the breeze in your best friend's living room. A Jew may be growing in Brooklyn, but a marvelous, compassionate storyteller is also growing before our eyes. Ehrenreich hits the mark with his honest and inspiring quest for identity and redemption."

Scott Benarde, author of
Stars of David: Rock 'n' Roll's Jewish Stories

Scott Benarde,

Tovah Feldshuh
"Mr. Ehrenreich has more than a sense of humor, he has a sense of humanity that dives into the common river of human experience and gives voice to the silent, and sometimes forgotten, depths of our own precious memories. He is a storyteller-philosopher par excellence well worth the read."

—actress Tovah Feldshuh, six-time Tony and Emmy nominee

Pat Phillips

"Jake Ehrenreich, a hip guy who made it—but deep down, just a kid from Brooklyn. The son of Holocaust survivors, Jake takes you on a fascinating personal journey as he tells his story with warmth, depth, fun, and love. He almost makes you feel like part of his extended family while he helps to remind us that who we are has a lot to do with our past. This is a great, funny, and inspiring book—full of personal insight."

Pat Phillips, Producer, Carnegie Hall, Songwriters Hall of Fame, Board Member Grammy Awards

Alan Dershowitz

"As another Jew who grew in Brooklyn and punched a 'spaldeen' two sewers, I laughed out loud and cried tears of nostalgia at Ehrenreich's stories. Even people who grew up elsewhere will enjoy. So go ahead, why not?—read it and kvell."

Alan Dershowitz, bestselling author and Harvard law professor

Alan Dershowitz,

Lenore Skenazy

"You don't have to be Jewish to love Jake's wry take on childhood, family, tragedy, the Beatles, and Alka Seltzer. Reading Jake Ehrenreich is like eating a pastrami sandwich while playing stickball: wild, crazy, fun—and you may find yourself choking up."

Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry

Neil Sedaka

"Jake Ehrenreich is a funny and articulate storyteller. This is a magically, well-written universal story of identity and tradition that anyone, Jew or Gentile, can relate to. A Jew Grows in Brooklyn is so deeply rooted with honesty, humor, and emotion in every turn of the page, you will soon find it growing in your heart."

Neil Sedaka, singer and songwriter

Ken Howard

"I loved reading A Jew Grows in Brooklyn. Jake Ehrenreich has written a joyous reflection on his life that anyone can relate to. It made me think of my own childhood and I recalled my parents in a most loving and positive light. The spirit of this book reminds me of an adage I often heard growing up in New York, 'When you're in love, the whole world is Jewish.' And I'm a goy!"

Ken Howard, Emmy Award–winning actor and president of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG)

Joan Micklin Silver
"Despite a childhood shadowed by the Holocaust and family illness, Jake Ehrenreich has an ebullience and a humor that makes his ­memoir sheer pleasure. From Brooklyn to the Catskills to the Village . . . he remembers it all and tells it with a tender, funny, and thoughtful voice."

Joan Micklin Silver, Director of
Hester Street, Crossing Delancey

Meet the Author

Jake Ehrenreich is an accomplished musician, actor, playwright, singer, and comedian. A child of Holocaust survivors, Jake now appears nationally in his hit Broadway show "A Jew Grows in Brooklyn." He has also appeared on Broadway in "Dancin','' "Barnum," and "They're Playing Our Song," and toured internationally as Ringo in Beatlemania. An exciting Master of Ceremonies, Jake has been tapped to headline at national conventions of major corporations. He lives with his wife and son in New York.

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