What The Rebecca Rubin Doll Means For Real Jewish American Girls

rebeccarubin1Earlier this week details were revealed about Rebecca Rubin, the first Jewish American Girl doll, and the latest addition to the company’s steadily growing line of historical characters who hail from different ethnic backgrounds.

Like those who came before her, Rebecca’s figurine comes paired with a series of books that weave her fictional backstory into a real era of American history. In the case of 9-year-old Rebecca, the scene, partially based on the author Jacqueline Dembar Greene’s own family history, will be set in a row house on the Lower East Side in 1914 where she lives with her Jewish-Russian immigrant parents, her siblings and her grandmother known as Bubbie.

While the doll may fill another niche in a long line for the brand, Rebecca’s debut marks a significant moment for young Jewish American girls and women like me who don’t often get to see themselves in the commercial space. Especially in doll form. In part, because defining what a Jewish girl looks like can be such a touchy issue. Not only for the toy industry, but also within the culture where it’s increasingly common for girls to seek out surgical and cosmetic procedures to correct their “Jewish noses” or straighten their “Jewish hair.” Even girls who don’t fit the stereotype, can be made to feel uncomfortable about the Jewishness or lack thereof of their appearance with ambiguous comments like, “You don’t look Jewish.” (It’s been 23 years and I still don’t have a good comeback).

Although specific physical traits like these become non-issues with the brand’s uniform look, and many would agree that their inclusion would be unnecessary regardless, the mere visibility of a well-defined Jewish character makes a statement. A statement that’s further reinforced by the company’s years of extensive research, including consultations with both the American Jewish Historical Society and the Yeshiva University Museum. As an offering by a mainstream company, Rebecca invites girls of any background (in theory. It’ll be interesting to see whether non-Jewish girls also seek her out) to embrace, explore and gain a better understanding of Jewish culture. An invitation that for girls growing up in cities like L.A. or New York may seem natural and comforting (looking back my only distinctly Jewish fictional girl icons lived in YA books like Sally J. Freedman), but may especially resonate with those who live outside of Jewish centers.

Regardless of whether Rebecca’s looks or background (her family immigrates to escape the pogroms in Russia) match up with a girl’s own, the sense of harboring an internal difference will certainly ring true for many. We’ve come a long way in terms of tolerance from 1914, but awkward dilemmas like an instance in one book where Rebecca’s teacher asks the class to make Christmas centerpieces still have their modern day equivalent.

Yes, some will say that the doll is a token gesture by the company and clearly Rebecca will not represent every Jewish girl in America. Only time will tell if this is just a one-off, or if we’ll ever see a Jewish tween icon on par with Miley Cyrus, talking freely about her faith. In the meantime, if Rebecca’s presence and story inspire young girls to ask questions about their heritage, to feel more comfortable explaining that they don’t actually celebrate Christmas, and to just generally want to celebrate their Jewish identity, then it’s hard not to give American Girl credit for the effort.

For more coverage of the tween space, check out the Ypulse Tweens Channel, sponsored by the Tween Tribune.

3 Comments

  1. Janet

    I applaud this doll from American Girls. I love their whole collection and find this one particularly adorable - that outfit and hair are too cute! However, why is it that this article say that American Girls should be given credit for their effort even though it may not be perfect and that “Yes, some will say that the doll is a token gesture by the company and clearly Rebecca will not represent every Jewish girl in America.” but your previous article regarding the Black Princess Tiana in Disney’s Princess and the Frog does nothing but fault Disney for having it not be perfect? No, Disney does not use Tiana to respresent every black girl in the world, but if they tried to do that - it would be a mess. They should be given credit for their effort because if you fault someone for making a step forward, why should they keep trying? People get upset when Disney doesn’t have a Black Princess, and they get upset when they do. Also, one cannot cite Dumbo as being proof of Disney being insensitive because that was a different time - was it right? No, but it was socially acceptable in 1941. Lots of people did lots of things that were ok then, but would never be so today. I’m sorry, but this is a very sensitive subject for me, and yes, I am black.

  2. anastasia

    Hi Janet—Just to clarify: the posts were by two different writers with different perspectives. This one was from Meredith Sires, our managing editor. The Tiana post was written by Meg Reid who is on our Youth Advisory Board. I appreciate your comments and welcome differing opinions both in our comments and from the different voices we publish on the site.

  3. Outing Jon Stewart [Leibowitz] | Ypulse

    [...] identity despite his choice of an assimilated "stage name." Just as Meredith recently wrote about the power of the first Jewish "American Girl" doll for tweens, I actually believe that someone as influential as Jon Stewart could have an impact on Jewish [...]

Got something to say?

YPULSE, INC.
143 WEST 29TH, 7TH FLOOR
NEW YORK, NY 10001
646-797-2779