Once We Were Slaves: The Extra­or­di­nary Jour­ney of a Mul­ti-Racial Jew­ish Family

September 1, 2020

An obses­sive geneal­o­gist and descen­dent of one of the most promi­nent Jew­ish fam­i­lies since the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion, Blanche Moses firm­ly believed her mater­nal ances­tors were Sephardic grandees. Using fam­i­ly heir­looms to unlock the mys­tery of Moses’s ances­tors, Once We Were Slaves over­turns the reclu­sive heiress’s assump­tions about her fam­i­ly his­to­ry to reveal that her grand­moth­er and great-uncle, Sarah and Isaac Bran­don, actu­al­ly began their lives as poor Chris­t­ian slaves in Barbados.

Discussion Questions

Cour­tesy of Lau­ra Arnold Leibman

  1. For the per­son who chose this book: What made you want to read it? What made you sug­gest it to the group for dis­cus­sion? Did it live up to your expectations?

  2. What did you like or dis­like about this book?

  3. What did you know about the sub­ject pri­or to read­ing this book? If you knew of the sub­ject before, did any­thing you read change your opinion?

  4. What new infor­ma­tion did you learn about Jews in ear­ly Amer­i­ca or mul­tira­cial Jews?

  5. How did race and racism impact Sarah and Isaac’s lives?

  6. How did Sarah and Isaac’s lives com­pare to those of oth­er mul­tira­cial Jews in the book?

  7. What did you learn about the time peri­od in which the book is set that you did not pre­vi­ous­ly know? Dis­cuss the time peri­od in his­to­ry that each per­son in the group enjoys read­ing about most, and why.

  8. Has read­ing this book inspired you to do fur­ther research on the sub­ject and the time peri­od discussed?

  9. What did you find the most sur­pris­ing in this book?

  10. What were Sarah and Isaac’s most admirable qual­i­ties? Are they some­one you would want to know or have known?

  11. If you could go back in time and ask Sarah or Isaac any ques­tion, what would you ask?

  12. Does this book remind you of any oth­ers you have read for this group?

  13. What changes/​decisions would you hope for if the book were turned into a movie?

  14. Why do you think the author wrote this book? What was her biggest theme or message?

  15. Did you like the book’s ending?

  16. Did you have any ques­tions for the author?