Women Reflect on American Jewish Identity

Highlights from the Wexler Oral History Project

Lekoved (in honor of) Jewish American Heritage month, we’re thinking about how the women in our oral history collection understand their own American and Jewish identities. What have they learned when negotiating these dual aspects of themselves? We’ve gathered a selection of stories here in which women across generations candidly reflect on Jewishness, American culture, and a well-loved bilingual Yiddish cookbook from a major American brand.

“We’re Legitimate Here”: Honoring American Jewish Identity

Deborah Wexler, former Yiddish Book Center board member, discusses the importance of recognizing the value of Eastern-European Jewish culture in the United States.

Watch her full interview and excerpts. 

Crisco and Jewish Women: An American Company’s Recipes for Traditional Yiddish Dishes

Annette Epstein Jolles—Washington, DC, native and social worker—discusses the bilingual English and Yiddish cookbook that Crisco, the company that produces vegetable shortening, sent to specifically Jewish women, and the nostalgic dishes her family made using recipes from it.

Watch her full interview and excerpts. 

Negotiating Chinese, Jewish, and American Values

Mei Li Isaacson, 2012 January term Yiddish student, compares Chinese and Jewish cultural values and reflects on how growing up in an American household has shaped her beliefs.

Watch her full interview and excerpts. 

American and Jew: Negotiating Identities

Elaine Trehub, z”l, retired Mount Holyoke College archivist, details how she carefully merged her American and Jewish identity, her experiences with other Jews, and her determination to never feel ashamed of her Jewishness.

Watch her full interview and excerpts. 

“Who Your People Are Shifts”: The Multifaceted Nature of American Identity

Leela Corman, graphic artist, discusses her Jewish identity and speaks to how, for her, being an American means having a multifaceted identity.

Watch her full interview and excerpts. 

“I’m an American, I speak English . . . and by the way, your English is terrible!”: My mother at 103

Helen Kurzban, Brooklyn-born native Yiddish speaker and former administrator in the New York City public schools, remembers how as a young girl she helped her mother with her English-language skills. She relates the story of how her mother, at the age of 103, equated mastery of English with being a proud American.

Watch her full interview and excerpts.