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July 04, 2003 - Image 153

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-07-04

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

JEWISH" IDENTITY

from page 55
While the women would write social
letters,
full of details of daily life, the
more children. The family went on
men
sent
mostly business letters with
to found a respected school in
some personal details, although less of
Warrenton, and later moved to
those survive. Readers will not
Richmond, Va.
One family member goes on to West encounter the actual letters here, other
than an occasional quote; the book
Point, a very bold move for a Jew in
includes
extensive endnotes.
the early 1800s; another becomes the
She
also
visited the cemeteries —
first Jew admitted to the North
both
Jewish
and gentile across the
Carolina bar, several are slave owners;
South where family members are
one of Jacob's sons is named George
buried. On Jacob's tombstone in the
Washing-ton. Mordecai.
A grandson of Ja.cob's becomes a doc- Riclunond Hebrew Cemetery, where
tor and advocate of free love and utopi- there is a Mordecai section, are the
words in Hebrew and English, "God
anism; he wrote a book that he hoped
will
redeem my soul from the power of
would revolutionize social and sexual
the
grave,
for he will redeem me."
relations. The family has left its name
For Bingham, a 38-year old member
on several Southern institutions, and
of a celebrated family
there's a Emily home in
that
includes a long line
North Carolina that's
of
newspaper
editors
1•101114
1E
CAI
now a museum.
and
publishers,
the
Although Jacob held
strenuous
ideals
of an
onto his Judaism, and
ambitious family rang
educated himself to be
familiar. The author
le to answer the
any gentiles
ecided to end her story
the 1880s, and di ' t
alieng ed
orts.

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Pe
ws, havin
eople in the broa
was a new experience.
"I know that I'm not co
om
ewish
background,"
Bingham
says,
r.
g that she tried to be particularly
nsitive on these issues. "What I saw
as a family that found so many differ-
= resolutions to a conundrum of tran-
tion of class, religion, intellectual life,
gender and other identities as well."
She adds, "I hope that this opens up
the discussion." -
Bingham speaks with enthusiasm for
her research, and she feels lucky to
have had the opportunity to look at as
many original documents as she did.
The Mordecais' handwritten letters
were written on good paper, with fine
inks, so they have survived to this day.
Some family members had beautiful
handwriting; some wrote on both sides
of the paper, and then wrote across in
the opposite direction to save paper.

rneone
has received a lot o pu • limy; she says
that she knows what it's like to have
living family members written about
— and she chose not to.
In the course of writing the book,
she gave birth to her two children, and
she says that in many ways the
Mordecais — with their steadfastness
and their ability to endure with digni-
ty and strength, in spite of disagree-
ments and obstacles -- have been a
model for her. This has made rile a
much better Emily member," she said.
The book's cover, appropriately, fea-
aires a Torah binder, or wimpel, from
Ohio, that dates back to 1869.
Embroidered onto the cloth are an
American flag and a domestic scene in
a chandelier-lit room.
"The individual characters and dra-
matic results of this family's aspirations
are, as one would expect, unique to the
Mordecais," she writes, "but the ingre-
dients that produced those results are
woven into the fabric of American fam-
ilies of their times and our own." I

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57

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