The Arty Semite

A Birthday and an Anniversary: A Book and Its Inspiration

By Erika Dreifus

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On Monday, Erika Dreifus, the author of “Quiet Americans,” wrote about Jewish-American Literature as Multicultural Literature. Her blog posts are being featured this week on The Arty Semite courtesy of the Jewish Book Council and My Jewish Learning’s Author Blog series. For more information on the series, please visit:


Today is a special day: It’s the official “pub date” for my debut short-story collection, “Quiet Americans,” which is being released by Last Light Studio, a new, Boston-based micropress.

It is also a special day on an even more personal level: It is the 70th anniversary of the date on which my paternal grandparents, Ruth and Sam Dreifus, German Jews who immigrated to the United States in the late 1930s and met here in Manhattan, were married.

In this wedding photograph, my grandparents are pictured front and center, cutting their cake. Although I can’t help being struck, as I always am when I look at this photo, by the many absences — of parents and siblings, aunts and uncles — and by the evidence that my grandmother had no money to spare for a traditional wedding dress (the fancy cake might have been a benefit of my grandfather’s job as a baker), I’m equally moved by the presence of family and friends celebrating with the bridal couple. For my grandparents were, indeed, surrounded by family and friends, including Rabbi Herbert Parzen, who officiated that January day in 1941 and performed my parents’ wedding ceremony 25 years later as well.

Rabbi Parzen (second from the left, standing next to the bride) was family and friend: His wife, Sylvia (front row, second from the right, beside the groom), was a cousin of my grandmother’s. As an American, Aunt Sylvia, as my sister and I called her, helped facilitate my grandmother’s immigration to the United States in 1938, just months before the Kristallnacht. It was in New York that my grandmother found her groom, who had emigrated from Germany the previous year.

In fact, my grandparents met through another émigré present in this photograph: my great-uncle Berthold (“Bob,” seen in profile on the far left). My grandmother had become friends with Bob, and when she went to his boarding-house to pay him a get-well visit while he was recovering from pneumonia, my grandfather — Bob’s older brother — was there, too.

Without the people you see in this photograph, then, many lives would have been dramatically altered, and some (mine included) would not have come to be. Without them, there would be no book, either, because Quiet Americans is inspired so profoundly by the stories that have come to me from my father’s family, and by my preoccupations with the historical legacy I have inherited as a granddaughter of two Jews who were lucky enough to escape Europe in time, and marry in New York City seventy years ago today.

Check back all week for more posts from Erika Dreifus.

The Jewish Book Council is a not-for-profit devoted to the reading, writing, and publishing of Jewish literature. For more Jewish literary blog posts, reviews of Jewish books, book club resources, and to learn about awards and conferences, please visit www.jewishbookcouncil.org.

MyJewishLearning.com is the leading transdenominational website of Jewish information and education. Visit My Jewish Learning for thousands of articles on Judaism, Jewish holidays, Jewish history, and more.


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