What The Rebecca Rubin Doll Means For Real Jewish American Girls
- May 29th, 2009
- 3 Comments
Earlier 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.