Mary Antin's Promised Land
Boston, MA-- Last night the New Center for Arts and Culture presented an evening of music and storytelling drawn from the history of Boston’s early Jewish community.
Readings from Mary Antin’s classic autobiography, The Promised Land, were threaded through the performance. Accomplished violinist Yevgeny Kutik stirringly interpreted Maurice Ravel’s “Kaddish,” and the Yiddish folk song “Oyfin Pripitchik.”
After the event, which JWA co-sponsored, Executive Director, Gail Reimer, commented on the point made by Tufts University Professor Barbara Grossman, a founding JWA Board member, that in 2012 no one would be surprised that women were key players in the building of Boston’s Jewish community. Reimer couldn’t help but think back to 1995, when Barbara Grossman and 15 other women founded the Jewish Women's Archive to remind us that women’s contributions to the building of this country were very real and their stories needed to be told.
Mary Antin’s is one of those stories. Antin, who is featured in JWA’s online encyclopedia, begins The Promised Land with “I was born, I have lived, and I have been made over. Is it not time to write my life’s story?” Her book celebrates the immigrant experience and documents the effort it took to realize the opportunities of her new country.
Antin’s account offers a valuable perspective: To approach American life and education as a gift, as a treasure. What a revolutionary antidote to 21st century cynicism! During Antin’s formative years in the 1890s, grade levels were determined by a command of the English language. And so, at age 13, with her schoolbooks, her dreams, and a bit of moxie, she humbly sat at a desk made for a kindergartner. She progressed rapidly though, eager to excel and gain mastery, catapulting through grammar school in four years, determined to become a writer. She achieved her dream, publishing her first book in 1899, when she was still in school.
By shedding light on these stories, we are shedding our “surprise” about the many ways in which Jewish women have shaped our world. Through the efforts of JWA and the New Center for Arts and Culture, Jewish women’s stories will undoubtedly take up residence, occupying center stage in the hearts and minds of continued generations. Huzzah for that!