Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

The Jew Store: A Family Memoir

The Jew Store: A Family Memoir

4.6 9
by Stella Suberman

See All Formats & Editions

"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&


"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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1920, two years before the author was born, her family became the first Jews to live in the small town of Concordia, Tenn. Against the objections of his wife, Aaron Bronson, a Russian Jewish immigrant who had worked in dry goods stores in Savannah, Ga., and Nashville, started his own business by opening Bronson's Low-Priced Store in Concordia, which the locals called "the Jew store." In this richly detailed memoir, in which her father's optimism contrasts sharply with her mother's anxiety about their ability to provide their children with a Jewish education in their new surroundings, Suberman evokes early-20th-century life in the rural South and depicts her family's struggles to find a place in a town where African Americans suffered discrimination and poverty, the Ku Klux Klan was on the march and townspeople viewed Jews with suspicion. Suberman provides vivid characterizations of Concordia's residents, especially Brookie Simmons, who not only gave the Bronsons a home but fought to end child labor in the town's factory. In 1933, Aaron finally yielded to his wife's entreaties and moved with her and their three children back to New York City, even though they had come to regard Concordia as home.
Library Journal
After retiring in 1995 as a publicist, Suberman returned for the first time to her birthplace, a small town in northwestern Tennessee. She decided to recount, using fictionalized names and places, her Jewish family's 11 years in that small town, from 1922 to 1933. The author's father, Aaron Bronson, a Jew orphaned from birth in pre-revolutionary Russia, immigrated to New York City. Eventually, he moved his family to rural Tennessee, where he opened up Bronson's Low-Priced Store. Since the Bronsons were the first Jews in town, residents referred to their business as the "Jew Store." Writing with a personal passion (with chapters on "The Bar Mitzvah Question" and "New York Aunts"), Suberman captures the trials her family faced and positive human relationships they formed while trying to adapt to an alien, closed, Southern Christian society. -- Charles C. Hay, Eastern Kentucky University Archives, Richmond
School Library Journal
YA-Russian immigrant Aaron Bronson took his wife and children from their enclave of New York Jews to a tiny Tennessee town where he set himself up as a successful storekeeper in the 1920s. The social, economic, and even spiritual experiences of the Bronson family are recounted by its youngest member, who evidently was a keen listener to family tales as well as an observer of events around her in early childhood. Nearly half of this autobiographical work predates Stella Ruth's birth and even when she appears on the stage, she is no scene-stealer. Her mother had to hide her ethnicity on her jobs in New York, and took years to assimilate to life in Tennessee. Joey and Miriam, the older children, dealt with the blunt questions asked by local children about their Jewishness with aplomb and made good friends. Mr. Bronson had to sell the insular town of Concordia on the idea that a "Jew store," a low-priced dry-goods store, was even needed and, being a "born sal-es-man," he succeeded in selling the idea and the goods as well. Suberman's fine writing and her ability to record tones and scents as well as images make this a lively and engaging story. Anti-Semitism is presented factually, as are the limitations of various townsfolk's penchant for doing good or evil. This will attract casual readers and serve as a useful auxiliary text in classrooms.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA
Chicago Tribune
Suberman tells her family's story with compassion and humor....authentic and postive.
Chattanooga Times
An utterly delightful book.
Jewish Book News
The Jew Store is that rare thing an intimate story that sheds light on a piece of American History.
Marisa Kantor Stark
Like the story, which is practically a character in its own right, the people in The Jew Store linger in the mind. -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
In this first book by a retired book reviewer for the Miami Herald, Suberman recounts the story of her family's sojourn as the only Jews in a rural Tennessee town in the 1920s. When Aaron and Reba Bronson arrived in Concordia, Tenn., (Suberman changed the town's name for the book) in 1920 to establish a dry-goods store, the hamlet had a population of 5,318 and the expectations of more to come when a new shoe factory was slated to open shortly after. Of those 5,318, almost all were God-fearing Christians of one denomination or another. The vast majority had never seen a Jew but "knew" that the Jews had horns and had killed Jesus. Yet the response of the town to the presence of the Bronsons turns out to be, for the vast majority, a bemused tolerance growing in many cases into outright love. When the Depression threatens the town, it is Aaron who proves to be the best "Christian" of them all, simply by being the most resourceful and caring of men. The Jew Store is as much a book about Jewish fear of Christian hostility as a story of overcoming anti-Semitism; Suberman is admirably frank about her mother's fears of the townspeople, which are no less destructive than the few manifestations of genuine hostility. The town is populated with the sort of colorful characters that a novelist dreams of creating, from the Northern-educated wealthy spinster agnostic who befriends the Bronsons to her overbearing, overweight, Klan-loving cousin, who is the local real estate magnate. The book is by turns charming, funny, and moving, artfully but simply written and invested with a warm glow of family love. An admirable debut by Suberman, vividly told and captivating in its humanity.

From the Publisher
"Suberman's fine writing and her ability to record tones and scents as well as images make this a lively and engaging story." ---School Library Journal

Product Details

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Sales rank:
File size:
3 MB

Read an Excerpt


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.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

The Jew Store: A Family Memoir 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
joansie More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Darlene67 More than 1 year ago
A sweet story that I really enjoyed!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
'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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago