"The best parts are the touching personal portraits, anecdotes, and photographs gathered through hundreds of documented interviews, all woven with the skill of an artist completing a beautiful pastiche."
I had a writing instructor who told me, “Once you know who you are, you can never not know that you know.” When readers finish Dr. Leonard Rogoff’s Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina, they will not only have a deeper understanding of an important minority, they’ll have a clearer picture of who they themselves are, regardless of their faiths.
From the arrival of the first Jewish colonist in the Carolinas — Joachim Gans, a member of Sir Walter Raleigh’s second expedition in 1585 — to the present, Rogoff carefully documents Jewish history in North Carolina. But that’s just part of the book. The best parts are the touching personal portraits, anecdotes, and photographs gathered through hundreds of documented interviews, all woven with the skill of an artist completing a beautiful pastiche.
There’s the quirky story of the Baltimore dry goods company matching lone Jewish merchants and lonely Jewish daughters of marrying age; then there’s the story of peddlers called upon not only for mercantile needs, but also to perform circumcision ceremonies. It’s all compiled in detail, with Rogoff never shying away from the ugly and scary.
As a Jewish native of Sylva, I read Down Home like my own memoir. Regardless of where Jewish readers come from, they will read it the same way. And much like the fact that you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy matzah ball soup and gefilte fish, you don’t need to be Jewish to be engaged by Rogoff’s clear and fascinating history of this relatively small but integral group of North Carolinians.
University of North Carolina Press. 2010, 422 pages, hardback, $35. Available at uncpress.unc.edu.