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Objects of Love and Regret

A Brooklyn Story

Richard Rabinowitz

ISBN 9780674268593

Publication date: 09/27/2022

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An award-winning historian and museum curator tells the story of his Jewish immigrant family by lovingly reconstructing its dramatic encounters with the memory-filled objects of ordinary life.

At a pushcart stall in East New York, Brooklyn, in the spring of 1934, eighteen-year-old Sarah Schwartz bought her mother, Shenka, a green, wooden-handled bottle opener. Decades later, Sarah would tear up telling her son Richard, “Your bubbe always worked so hard. Twenty cents, it cost me.”

How could that unremarkable item, and others like it, reveal the untold history of a Jewish immigrant family, their chances and their choices over the course of an eventful century? By unearthing the personal meaning and historical significance of simple everyday objects, Richard Rabinowitz offers an intimate portrait connecting Sarah, Shenka, and the rest of his family to the twentieth-century transformations of American life. During the Depression, Sarah—born on a Polish battlefield in World War I, scarred by pogroms, pressed too early into adult responsibilities—receives a gift of French perfume, her fiancé Dave’s response to the stigma of poverty. Later we watch Dave load folding chairs into his car for a state-park outing, signaling both the postwar detachment from city life and his own escape from failures to be a good “provider” for those he loves.

Objects of Love and Regret is closely wedded to the lives of American Jewish immigrants and their children, yet Rabinowitz invites all of us to contemplate the material world that anchors our own memories. Beautifully written, absorbing, and emotionally vivid, this is a memoir that brings us back to the striving, the dreams, the successes, and the tragedies that are part of every family’s story.

Praise

  • Could the flood of memories that for Proust became Remembrance of Things Past have been stirred not by the taste of a tea-soaked petite madeleine—but instead, as in historian Richard Rabinowitz’s deeply moving family memoir, Objects of Love and Regret: A Brooklyn Story, by the accidental discovery of a nearly century-old wooden-handled bottle opener?…His tenderly detailed evocation of times that are no more remind us that we, too, have the tools to pry open the past and revive what we thought we had forgotten.

    —Diane Cole, Washington Post

Author

  • Richard Rabinowitz, a noted historian and museum curator, is the president of American History Workshop. For decades, he has been instrumental in developing new museums and creating lively exhibitions across the nation, including the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, and the New-York Historical Society. He is the author of The Spiritual Self in Everyday Life: The Transformation of Personal Religious Experience in Nineteenth-Century New England and Curating America: Journeys through Storyscapes of the American Past. Among his many honors are a Guggenheim Fellowship and the American Historical Association’s Herbert Feis Award for distinguished contributions to public history.

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • 1-1/8 x 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press

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