by Rachel Kranson

Early 20th-Century Jewish Girls

I am becoming common place, ordinary, the very thought of it maddens me,” wrote 16-yearold Marie Syrkin in her diary in 1915. This diary, as Melissa Klapper points out in Jewish Girls Coming of Age in America (New York University Press, $45), allowed Syrkin to combat her fears of anonymity. Her adolescent writings and those of other young Jewish women give us a unique window into the lives of this middle-class, educated cohort. While Syrkin herself became a well-known author of Zionist history later on in her life, most of the two dozen diarists and 150 memoirists that Klapper uncovers in this excellent study of turn-of the-last century Jewish girlhood were written by women and girls who never achieved great recognition outside of their own circle of family and friends. In their writings, however, they insist upon the value of their own life experiences, no matter how “common place” they might have seemed to others. Klapper takes their claims seriously, allowing them to emerge as distinct subjects of their own history.

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