The New American Girl doll: She’s Jewish, She’s Poor, And Her Name is Rebecca


rebeccaJTA reports: It’s official. The newest American Girl doll is 9-year-old Rebecca Rubin, a Jewish-American girl who lives with her family on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 1914. The much-anticipated latest addition to the American Girl series of historical characters, Rebecca goes on sale May 31, along with six books about her life. No cheap date, she costs $95 with one book, or $118 if accompanied by the complete set. Rebecca joins 14 other historical dolls in the series – from Kaya, a Nez Perce girl set in 1764, to African-American Addy, a Civil War doll, to World War II-era Molly, part of an Irish immigrant family. Her unveiling will include a tie-in at the Tenement Museum in New York City, and a harbor cruise with “kosher-style” food, according to USA Today.

She’s a feisty girl, our Rebecca. In one book, she rescues her cousin Anna from the top of a stalled Ferris Wheel. In another, she marches in a garment workers strike and gives an impassioned speech about labor rights.

Rebecca lives with her Russian-immigrant parents, siblings and grandparents in a Lower East Side row house, just a step up from the tenements of Orchard Street, and they struggle mightily to save boat fare to bring more family over from the Old Country.

The Jewish blogosphere has been floating guesses about her name, release date, and details of her life for more than a year, with an intensity that belied her insensate status. She is, after all, just a doll. But Jews love history, especially their own, and Jewish parents hip to the American Girl formula of nicely-made dolls and well-written books about the period of American history they represent wanted a piece of their own people’s story to give their daughters.

Rebecca confronts many of the same dilemmas faced by today’s American Jewish children as they navigate between tradition and modernity. In “Candlelight for Rebecca,” her teacher asks the class to make X-mas centerpieces, and Rebecca agonizes over what to tell her parents. In “Meet Rebecca,” she asks her grandfather, an observant Jew who keeps kosher, why he opens his shoe store on Shabbos (they need the money, he explains).

The six books about Rebecca’s life were penned by children’s author Jacqueline Dembar Greene, who based some of the stories on her own family’s history. She quizzed her mother-in-law about the correct usage of certain Yiddish words, and her 92-year-old father about his memories of riding the Ferris Wheel at Coney Island.

Greene’s mother worked as a stitcher in a garment factory in Hartford, Conn., much like the one where Rebecca’s uncle and cousin suffered two decades earlier. “Nothing had changed,” Greene says. “She told me about the bosses walking up and down, yelling at the workers, about being locked in, even though it was totally illegal. They weren’t allowed to talk or hum, they were timed when they went to the bathroom.”

Even the X-mas story came out of her own experience. She was in third grade in the 1950s when her teacher asked the class to make X-mas decorations. “I brought mine home and burst into tears. My wise, wise mother said, I bet Mrs. Crocker would love it.” Mrs. Crocker was a widowed neighbor, much like the widower Mr. Rossi in Rebecca’s book, whom the fictional character gives her own Christmas decoration. “I gave it to her and walked home feeling proud as punch.”

{JTA/ Newscenter}


  1. Did they write a story about her marrying a shaygitz too? Maybe that’ll be the sequel. Pathetic, but sadly all too true. Somebody give her Oorah’s number.

  2. This is a mesorah from our bubbies in Europe. Did you ever see the tons of dolls collected by the yimach shemo, Nazis, from the kehillos hakedoshos. Seriously, dolls have been part of little and big girls lives for eternity.

  3. Its ridiculous for the above comments to be made. We should be happy this company is enhancing cultural and religious knowledge, even if it’d not in depth, by introducing it to children from all walks of life…even if it is through a doll. Ignorance is what breeds prejudices. This is a positive thing. Shame on the above commentators for belittling anything that reflects on us positively. There are other dolls that represent other American cultures and you don’t hear them complaining. I am proud my child now has a doll with stories she can find something in that she can relate to.

  4. My daughter wrote to the American Girl company about 15 years ago asking them to please make a Jewish American Girl doll. We loved the fact that the dolls represented different historical times, but knew that the immigration story should be told, and a Jewish doll could do that.

    Unfortunately, my daughter’s now 25, but I’m so happy there is finally a doll that reflects some aspects of the Jewish American history.

  5. I can not wait till she comes out. I also think its good to teach us kids me being won about immagration and other rules in 1914. and how fortunate we should be that its not like that anymore

  6. I also think it shouldn’t matter if your American or Russian it does not matter that doll is a beautiful doll and if people don’t buy her cause shes Russian that is plain right stupid and its there loss if they don’t want to learn about the culture or not have the beautiful doll! BUY THE DOLL SHE’S AWESOME(:

  7. I am so happy that American Girl is finally making a Jewish historical doll. I also am glad they decided to go against making her blond with blue eyes (yes, they were thinking that color combo) I love the way she looks and she haas green eyes like I do. I am so glad that there is a doll that not only looks like me but is Jewish like me too.