Ambivalent Embrace: Jewish Upward Mobility in Postwar America

By Rachel Kranson | Go to book overview

Introduction

In a 1954 article for Commentary magazine, Sylvia Rothchild, writing under the pseudonym Evelyn Rossman, expressed her dissatisfaction with synagogue services in postwar America. “If the service reminded me of the little shul [synagogue] my father went to, I was sad because I remembered how shabby and poor it was,” she complained. “If I found a wealthy Conservative or Reform temple I sat there like a stranger thinking how insincere and hypocritical it all was. Weren’t all good Jews supposed to be poor?”1

Sylvia Rothchild herself represented one of the many American Jews who, by the postwar period, had left behind economically unstable childhoods and entered the swelling ranks of America’s middle class. Born on January 4, 1923, to Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Romania, she grew up in the densely Jewish neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Before the birth of her first child in 1948, she and her husband, chemist Seymour Rothchild, moved to a spacious, single-family home in Sharon, Massachusetts, an affluent suburb of Boston. There, she witnessed the establishment of her adopted town’s synagogues and religious schools, all funded by the growing group of upwardly mobile Jews who chose to live in leafy, suburban Sharon instead of the urban enclaves in which they had been raised.

By 1951, Rothchild started publishing essays and short stories in American Jewish periodicals such as Commentary, Hadassah, and Moment, and her first novel, Sunshine and Salt, appeared in 1964. Uneasiness about her new life among the middle class surfaced as a prominent theme throughout her work. While she acknowledged the appeal of the space, greenery, and quiet she had never known growing up in the city, she also suffered an acute sense of loss

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