Normally, I save my musings about American Girl dolls and their roll in life for home – we have three daughters ranging in age from 15 – 8, so it’s not unfamiliar territory. But comments about the release of the new doll, due out May 31st, are stunningly revelatory about common attitudes towards Jews and Jewishness in America. And I don’t mean on the part of the manufacturers, but on the part of Jews.
Let’s start with the fact that this is the 14th doll in the American Girl series, but it’s being greeted like something for which we have been waiting with as much anticipation as we do the Messiah. I mean I understand the value of having dolls which reflect and affirm the experience of the kids who play with them, but I also like the fact that my youngest daughter chose a doll that is not even Caucasian, let alone Jewish!
I also find it a little weird when other writers and bloggers make declarations like “this is our history, right here in this doll”. Oh really, which “our” do they mean?
I know that a large percentage of American Jews have roots in eastern Europe, but a large percentage today also have roots in Ireland, Mexico, and Japan, just to name a few. And that doesn’t even address that the first Jews to come to America, more than 200 years before this doll’s parents arrived from Russia, were Sephardim!
We are a community that has entered Jewish life through inter-marriage, adoption, conversion, etc. And it would be far more interesting to address what it means to celebrate the Jewishness that could be found in any of the 13 previously created dolls, for none of whom that I know, does religion play nearly the role it does in the biography of little Rebecca Rubin.
It’s not that I think this is a bad thing. In fact, the more dolls the better….except for my budget. I am just not sure why having dolls whose “life” stories are written by an author who struggled to come of age as a Jew in the 50’s, is the place to begin for little Jewish girls today.