Sunday, May 24, 2009

Finally, a Jewish American Girl Doll!

I spent years ooing and awing over the American Girl catalogs that were diligently delivered to my house as a child. I wanted the dolls, the clothes, the accessories -- but all I got were the American Girl playing cards, which I purchased with meager birthday earnings at Silver Dollar City, a "resort"-type place in Branson, Missouri, where people dressed up in old clothing and pretended to rob train passengers. Those were the days.

But who would have thought that all of these years later, after they introduced Addy, the African American American Girl doll to much applause and cheering, that they would finally come around and introduce a Jewish American Girl Doll. So far, there has been an (American) Indian, a Latino and an African-American, but so far no Jewish or Arab or Asian (are those PC terms?).

Now, however, you can get your very own Jewish American Girl doll, with a story line and all! Her name is Rebecca Rubin, a 9-year-old girl living on the Lower East Side in 1914 with her Russian-Jewish immigrant family, including a grandmother known lovingly as "Bubbie."

Here's some more from The New York Times article. Feel free to donate some cash-money to me so I can finally get an American Girl doll. I've always wanted one, and now I can have one who represents, well, I'm not sure what she'd represent, but I want it!
The goal is that no one be offended and that Jewish and non-Jewish little girls alike will want to play tenement house with their new toy, which costs $95 — plus more for accessories like a sideboard with a challah resting on it.
The preliminary research that led to Rebecca’s development started in 2000, said Shawn Dennis, the senior vice president for marketing. American Girl had wanted to do a doll focused on the immigrant experience. After work by two in-house historical researchers, and interviews with focus groups, it was decided to make the character Jewish.
“Russian-Jewish immigration, that group has an effect on the labor movement, that group has an effect on the burgeoning Hollywood entertainment business,” Ms. Dennis said. “We thought it would have the makings of what would be a relatable story to tell.”
To write the books, the company found Jacqueline Dembar Greene, who had written a historical novel for young adults set in 1654 about Jewish immigrants to New Amsterdam.
Ms. Greene and company researchers made a trip to Manhattan, visiting the Lower East Side Tenement Museum and a row house on East Seventh Street.
There was back and forth between Ms. Greene and American Girl executives about how to handle certain situations, including the fact that in the first book Rebecca and her father work in his Rivington Street shoe shop on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath.
“There were full meetings about that,” said Ms. Dennis, who learned a lot about Judaism during the project. “There were so many different styles of Jewish practice, some stricter than others, in 1914 and today. What our research told us was the greater pressure during that time period was assimilation and blending in and becoming American.”
As Ms. Greene worked on the books, company designers set about figuring out what Rebecca should look like. The company’s research had found that Rebecca’s Russian-Jewish descent allowed a range of physical characteristics, creating a wide palette of choices, said Megan Boswell, the director of design and development. Facial structure is not typically an issue because the company generally chooses from an existing set of molds.
Hair color was a big issue, debated for years. At first it was a dark auburn, but it was thought that might be too untypical. Ms. Boswell said. Then dark brown, the most common hair color for Russian-Jewish immigrants, was discussed. But perhaps that would be too typical, too predictable, failing to show girls there is not one color that represents all Jewish immigrants.
“In the end, after many discussions weighing out the advantages of both approaches,” Ms. Boswell said, “we created what we felt was an optimum combination and gave her a new mid-tone brown hair color with russet highlights.”
Perhaps the most amusing line from the article, though?
The company hopes the doll will appeal to everyone. If a blond Christian girl in North Dakota enjoys pretending she is living in a tenement on the Lower East Side in 1914, helping her Bubbie make latkes for Hanukkah, American Girl will be happy to sell her a toy menorah.
But seriously, I want one of these puppies! Mostly so I can buy all the awesome Jewish accessories. Her release date? May 31. Start your buying engines!

Hat tip to @JewishTweets for making this mention to the world.