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The Peddler's Grandson: Growing Up Jewish in Mississippi
     

The Peddler's Grandson: Growing Up Jewish in Mississippi

by Edward Cohen
 

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Edward Cohen grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, the heart of the Bible Belt, thousand of miles from the northern centers of Jewish culture. As a child he sang "Dixie" in his segregated school, said the "sh'ma" at temple. While the civil rights struggle exploded all around, he worked at the family clothing store that catered to blacks.

His grandfather Moise had

Overview

Edward Cohen grew up in Jackson, Mississippi, the heart of the Bible Belt, thousand of miles from the northern centers of Jewish culture. As a child he sang "Dixie" in his segregated school, said the "sh'ma" at temple. While the civil rights struggle exploded all around, he worked at the family clothing store that catered to blacks.

His grandfather Moise had left Romania and all his family for a very different world, the Deep South. Peddling on foot from farm to farm, sleeping in haylofts, he was the first Jew many Mississippians had ever seen. Moise's brother joined him and they married two sisters, raising their children under one roof, an island of Judaism in a sea of southern Christianity.

In the 1950s, insulated by the extended family of double-cousins, Edward believed the world was populated totally by Jews--until the first day of school when he had the disquieting realization that he was the only Jew in his class. At times he felt southern, almost, but his sense of being an outsider slowly crystallized, as he listened to daily Christian school prayers tried to explain his annual absences to classmates who had never heard of Rosh Hashanah. At Christmas his parents' house was the only one without lights. In the seventh grade, he was the only child not invited to dance class.

In a compelling work that is nonfiction throughout but conveyed with a fiction writer's skill and technique, Cohen recounts how he left Mississippi for college to seek his own tribe. Instead, he found that among northern Jews he was again an outsider, marked by his southernness. They knew holidays like Simchas Torah; he knew Confederate Memorial Day.

He tells a story of displacement, of living on the margin of two already marginal groups, and of coming to terms with his dual loyalties, to region and religion. In this unsparingly honest and often humorous portrait of cultural contradiction, Cohen's themes--the separateness of the artist, the tug of assimilation, the elusiveness of identity--resonate far beyond the South.

Edward Cohen lives in Venice, California, where he is a freelance writer and filmmaker. Previously he was head writer and executive producer for Mississippi Educational Television, where he wrote numerous award-winning documentaries, including Passover, Hanukkah, and The Last Confederates.

Editorial Reviews

John Webb
In The Peddler's Grandson Cohen writes with a sensitivity that belies his lack of sentimentality. He forsakes moss-draped Southern romanticism for a detached, scrutinizing eye. Cohen inspires compassion with his drama of the gifted child torn between a distaste for Bible Belt anti-intellectualism and a need to assimilate among the good ol' boys. You walk away from the The Peddler's Grandson with a sense of the importance of making a separate peace, an understanding that a person can be defined not by how he fits into the world, but by how he stands defiant in the face of a world apart.
USA Today

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781604736885
Publisher:
University Press of Mississippi
Publication date:
08/01/1999
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
3 MB

What People are Saying About This

Stella Suberman
An intelligent and candid amount of the author's love-hate relationship with each of the powerful, often conflicting cultures that shaped him.
— Stella Suberman, author of The Jew Store: A Family Memoir

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