Lily of the Val­ley: An Amer­i­can Jew­ish Journey

Xian­na Michaels
  • Review
By – July 14, 2016

Laili quick­ly becomes Lily when she is allowed to enter the Unit­ed States at Ellis Island. Escap­ing the Cos­sacks and their pogroms, she is deter­mined to live life as a Jew where you are not burnt out like rats and ants.” How­ev­er, the Gold­ene Med­i­na is not all that she hoped for. In order to sur­vive she and her sis­ter work in a sweat­shop sewing wom­en’s clothes. Life goes on and Lily mar­ries and has three chil­dren. After her hus­band sud­den­ly dies, she and her teenage daugh­ters return to the fac­to­ry to work, where Lily dies in a huge fire. Their aunt tells the sur­viv­ing girls they must return to Europe. One of the girls, Mol­ly, remains, remem­ber­ing her grand­par­ents’ prayers that their chil­dren’s lives will be bet­ter than theirs.

The read­er watch­es fam­i­lies accli­mate to Amer­i­ca and improve their qual­i­ty of life, although as they become more suc­cess­ful, they become less obser­vant. They ratio­nal­ize this by rec­og­niz­ing the need to work on Shab­bos in order to sur­vive eco­nom­i­cal­ly and fit into the Amer­i­can way of life. In a lat­er chap­ter, one descen­dent, Max­ine, search­es for more spir­i­tu­al­i­ty and becomes Ortho­dox. It is her daugh­ter, the final Lily of the book, who ful­fills the orig­i­nal dream. 

This novel­la, pre­sent­ed in poet­ry, gives the read­er a short his­to­ry of Jew­ish immi­gra­tion in the late 19th and 20th cen­turies from a wom­an’s point of view. Some pre­vi­ous Juda­ic knowl­edge may be nec­es­sary to ful­ly under­stand the sto­ry. There is an author’s note at the end of the book which defines sev­er­al terms, but addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion would be help­ful to make the events of the sto­ry come alive. The fact that it is writ­ten in poet­ry may not be an entice­ment for some readers.

Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 10 – 13

Marge Kaplan is a retired Eng­lish as a Sec­ond Lan­guage teacher. She is a con­sul­tant for the children’s lit­er­a­ture group for the Roseville, MN school sys­tem and is a sto­ry­teller of Jew­ish tales.

Discussion Questions