From Publishers Weekly
In 1815, Alfred Mordecai, the son of a middle-class Jewish family from Warrenton, N.C., applied as a cadet to West Point, "a bold bid for a Jew." Despite high odds, Alfred was accepted-another step in the complex assimilation of the Mordecai family into U.S. society. Bingham, an independent scholar, draws on a large cache of letters and journals written by members of the Mordecai family and a wealth of other published material, to piece together a detailed history of this remarkable Southern Jewish clan. The Mordecais' history is deftly charted through thee generations beginning with Jacob and Judith moving to Virginia from Philadelphia in 1785, through Jacob's founding, with his grown children, of a renowned primary school and the conversion to Christianity of some family members during the Second Great Awakening of the mid-19th century. From there, Bingham follows the family sundering that occurred in the 1860s, when most of the family supported the Confederacy, and Alfred, refusing either to side with them or to support the war in any way, resigned from the Union army. But as thrilling as this family history is, Bingham's great feat here is to show, through the social, political and religious evolutions of one family, how class, race, ethnicity, region and intellectual affiliation profoundly affected assimilation in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Bingham's prose is as fluid as fiction, but she never sacrifices historical insight for narrative drive or soft-pedals such uncomfortable material as the Mordecais owning slaves. This is an important addition not only to Jewish studies but to the literature on family and gender relations in the 19th century. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Encompassing the Revolutionary War, which formed the nation, and the Civil War, which split it in two, this engrossing book tells the story of three generations of a lower-middle-class Jewish family that settled first in Virginia and later in North Carolina. Drawing on thousands of vibrant letters, diaries, and journals, Bingham offers a portrait of the Mordecai clan, who, as one of them wrote, were determined to become a "little faithful band of love and duty," guided by affection, responsibility, and a deep respect for learning. They pledged to stick by one another through thick and thin, to recognize their God but always tolerate others, and to improve themselves and the world around them. The book becomes a history of religious expression, doubt, and searching as the family sought to find a meaningful and appropriate expression of Judaism in the context of their lives while attempting to assimilate as patriots and as Southerners. Bingham offers an exceptional panorama of one family's effort to belong and to succeed. George CohenCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved