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American Girl Introduces First Jewish Doll

Jewish Journal, News Report, Julie Gruenbaum Fax Posted: Jun 04, 2009

Rebecca Rubin is a spunky, conflicted, compassionate and determined 9-year-old girl. Not bad for someone 18 inches tall.

Rebecca, the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants on New Yorks Lower East Side in 1914, is the first Jewish girl among the American Girl dolls set during a pivotal period of American history. Rebecca, one of an annual series of new dolls, will be introduced May 31 during a brunch at The Grove shopping mall, kicking off a summer of Rebecca-related activities.

The American Girl doll brand has inspired a fervent following of mostly 7- to 12-year-olds who collect the dolls, which sell for $95 each only through the companys Web site, catalogues and emporiums in seven cities, including at The Grove. Consumers spent $463 million last year on the dolls and their clothes, accessories and furniture, as well as at the emporiums doll salons, hospitals, cafes and theaters. Books and videos tell the girls stories, pulling young readers into the culture and conflict of their historic eras Felicity displays the independence and spirit of 1774, while Julie reflects the hippie love of 1974 San Francisco.

Rebeccas story is told through a series of six books by author Jacqueline Dembar Greene, who drew in part on her own familys Ellis Island experience.

Rebecca wants to be an actress, struggles for identity and attention as the fourth of five children, and in the first book works to raise money to help her Russian cousins journey to America. With a bubbie who tsks, and a grandpa who goes to shul while Papa works in his shoe store, Rebeccas family illustrates the struggles Jewish immigrants faced in the early part of the century.

Rebeccas trousseau includes period outfits, accessories and furniture, such as a sideboard with candlesticks, a challah and samovar. She has flecked brown eyes and highlighted brown hair a palette that took designers years to settle on as the company looked for an appearance that would be authentic without being too stereotypical. Such painstaking research over details in the doll and the stories made Rebecca nine years in the making.

Greenes books, with realistic illustrations by Robert Hunt, have garnered praise from American Jewish leaders.

Its not offensive. Its sensitive, Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman told The New York Times. How about that? Most of the time these things fall into stereotypes which border on the offensive.

Orthodox feminist author Blu Greenberg says the books resonated for her, since her own mother grew up on the Lower East Side.

The author realistically captures the Jewish immigrant experience as well as the conflict and complexity of living as a Jewish minority in a predominately Christian culture, Greenberg said.

While American Girl historical characters include a Hispanic girl in 1824 and Kaya, a Nez Perce girl from 1764, the group has come under fire from Asian Americans who wonder why they arent represented, and the African American community objected to its character, Addy, beginning her story as a slave.

But for the most part, the books are historically accurate, and while the consumerism of the brand makes some parents cringe, most appreciate the redeeming educational insight the historical setting provides.

All in all, Greenberg said, I simply cannot wait to read this to my grandchildren.

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