The Jew Store: A Family Memoirby Stella Suberman
In 1920, in small-town America, the ubiquitous dry goods store--suits and coats, shoes and hats, work clothes and school clothes, yard goods and notions--was usually owned by Jews and often referred to as "the Jew store." That's how Stella Suberman&/b>
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"For a real bargain, while you're making a living, you should make also a life." --Aaron Bronson
In 1920, in small-town America, the ubiquitous dry goods store--suits and coats, shoes and hats, work clothes and school clothes, yard goods and notions--was usually owned by Jews and often referred to as "the Jew store." That's how Stella Suberman's father's store, Bronson's Low-Priced Store, in Concordia, Tennessee, was known locally. The Bronsons were the first Jews to ever live in that tiny town (1920 population: 5,318) of one main street, one bank, one drugstore, one picture show, one feed and seed, one hardware, one barber shop, one beauty parlor, one blacksmith, and many Christian churches. Aaron Bronson moved his family all the way from New York City to that remote corner of northwest Tennessee to prove himself a born salesman--and much more. Told by Aaron's youngest child, The Jew Store is that rare thing--an intimate family story that sheds new light on a piece of American history. Here is One Man's Family with a twist--a Jew, born into poverty in prerevolutionary Russia and orphaned from birth, finds his way to America, finds a trade, finds a wife, and sets out to find his fortune in a place where Jews are unwelcome. With a novelist's sense of scene, suspense, and above all, characterization, Stella Suberman turns the clock back to a time when rural America was more peaceful but no less prejudiced, when educated liberals were suspect, and when the Klan was threatening to outsiders. In that setting, she brings to life her remarkable father, a man whose own brand of success proves that intelligence, empathy, liberality, and decency can build a home anywhere. The Jew Store is a heartwarming--even inspiring--story.
- Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
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Read an Excerpt
SHE HAD SAID THE UNSAYABLE
In my mother's mind the word Jew used all by itself, nakedly, as it were, was not a word but a curse. She believed it was used only by people who hated Jews. If it had its three letters--its "-ish"--on the end, ah, that made the difference. If I said that someone was a Jew, my mother would ask me, "So what is he? A no-goodnik? A gangster?"
As I have understood it, my mother had come out on the porch at the very moment Miss Brookie had used the phrase "Jew store" on the telephone with Tom Dillon, before my father's meeting with Dillon. Miss Brookie used it as shorthand for the kind of business my father had in mind...but all my mother knew at that moment was that Miss Brookie had said the unsayable--had said "Jew store." -- Stella Suberman, from The Jew Store
Meet the Author
Stella Suberman was born in Union City, Tennessee, the setting for her memoir, The Jew Store, and spent her teens in Miami Beach, Florida. After twenty years in North Carolina, she returned to Florida in 1966 as the administrative director of the Lowe Art Museum of the University of Miami. Now retired, she lives in Boca Raton.
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This book was a serendipitous find for me. At times it's laugh out loud funny; always educational, occssionally sad---a very rich meal. Your book club will love it. Ms. Suberman is a fine writer, highly tuned in to the vibes of relationships between different types of people. Her take on the Klan is priceless. I'll be giving this book as a gift to treasured friends for some time to come.
The Jew Store, by Stella Suberman, is an intimate family story about the struggles of Russian society and a new beginning. In 1920, two years before the author was born, her family became the first Jews to live in Concordia, Tennessee. Her father Aaron Bronson, who was a Russian Jewish immigrant, moved his family to America to get away from the pre-revolutionary Russia. When they got to Tennessee they came to know Miss Brookie who took them in. The Bronson¿s soon opened their low-priced store which the locals liked to call, ¿The Jew Store¿. African Americans suffered great discrimination, which the Ku Klux Klan was on the march. But at the same time Jews were viewed with suspicion. The Bronson¿s also faced hardships with trying to bring their children up to be Jewish while they were surrounded by a Christian society. The other members of the Bronson family are Aaron¿s wife Reba, their two older kids Joey and Miriam, and the youngest Stella. They stayed in Concordia until 1933, when Reba¿s optimism finally pushed through and the Bronson¿s moved back to New York to raise their children in Jewish surroundings. Suberman writes by vividly captivating humanity of the surroundings while still having humor. The book captures the times her family faced and the positive relationships they formed while trying not to be alienated. This will attract casual readers and those who are into intimate family experiences. It isn¿t another holocaust book, but rather a family memoir of Jews that were fortunate enough to have missed the troubles overseas, but at the same time faced hardships of their own.
This book explained much. My mother grew up in a small town in Alabama that still has a 'Jew Store'. I never realized what those were until I heard an interview with author Stella Suberman by Rebecca Bayne(sp?) on Nashville Public Radio. I bought the book and enjoyed it greatly. This could be the story of anyone who is different in a small town anywhere. It's captures the joys of small town life as well as some of the negatives. You can sympathize with the father for wanting to live in a small town and enjoy the amenities, but you can feel the isolation that the mother feels. The story is absorbing and frequently funny. The language and settings are both Southern and New York and sympathetic - Ms. Suberman does not picture the townspeople as ignorant or unintelligent, but instead stresses their appeal as warm, neighborly people. But there are some dark moments. You will not regret purchasing this book. Very entertaining.
A sweet story that I really enjoyed!
My book club (a group of Catholic women!) picked this book on a whim, and we all absolutely loved it! It's a wonderful story, light-hearted read, but you also learn a few things. The characters stay with you for a while afterwards. One of those books you are sorry to end, and glad you read.
What a trip down memory lane! If you were raised in the south, you lived with a Jew store in town. I loved every word of this memoir, but more than the words, I loved remembering about the people that ran the Jew store. Excellent Read!
'For a real bargain, while you're making a living, you should also make a life.' That was Aaron Bronson's motto. Well, Russian Jewish immigrant Bronson did both, 'in spades,' as he would say. His daughter, Stella Suberman, has now written a book, and she's done it 'in spades.' This warm memoir of her family's experiences as the first Jews to live in Concordia, Tennessee, is vibrant with wit and cogent with commentary about 1920s life in a small Southern town. Rather than a pejorative title, Ms. Suberman says 'the Jew store' is what people really called such shops, businesses owned by Jews who catered to farmhands, share croppers, and factory hands, offering them inexpensive clothes, piece goods, and linens. 'They didn't know about political correctness in those days,' she said, 'that is just what it was called.' Seeing opportunity in the South, Aaron Bronson, his wife, Reba, and their two children, Joey and Miriam (Stella was not yet born) set out from New York City to open a dry goods store. Upon arriving in Concordia, population 5,381, the family was taken in by voluble, independent Miss Brookie. Reba, who came with a mood that was 'like a thing on her chest,' was ill-at-ease, fearing the Ku Klux Klan, and people who believed Jews had horns on their heads. Later, she faced what she considered to be an even greater terror: Joey might not have a bar mitzvah and Miriam might be in love with a Gentile. On the other hand, Aaron took to the town immediately and opened 'Bronson's Low-Priced Store,' so identified by gilt lettering on the windows. His elation at having his own business knew no bounds; Reba described him as 'Flying with the birdies.' Aaron's shop flourished, as did he, becoming the first to hire a black as a salesperson. In years to come, he would make invaluable contributions to his Depression wracked community. Detente preceded affection as the townsfolk overcame their initial skepticism of Jewish people and grew to view the Bronson family as neighbors and friends. Miss Brookie gave Miriam piano lessons and attempted to enlist Reba in a battle to do away with child labor in the local shoe factory. Nonetheless, In 1933 Reba held sway and, although Aaron thought of Concordia as home, he agreed to take their three children and return to New York City, where he would open a garage and each child would eventually marry within the Jewish faith. Stella Suberman has turned a poignant family remembrance into a rich, sometimes funny, always touching story. In addition, she has shed light on a little known facet of Jewish/American history.
My family owned 'the Jew store' in a small town in Mississippi before I was born. I have heard stories of those times and this book gave me more insight into my own family's experiences. A must read for Jews born in the south or those that have been transplanted to the south.