In her last post, Alli­son Amend wrote about Jews in odd places. She will be blog­ging all week for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and MyJew­ish­Learn­ings Vis­it­ing Scribe.

My aunt, Jack­ie Cohen, put togeth­er a his­to­ry of my rel­a­tives. In the only pic­ture of my great-grand­fa­ther Joe, he is stand­ing proud­ly in his gro­cery store, apron wrapped around his prodi­gious mid­dle, goods stacked to the rafters all around him. Like most peo­ple of his gen­er­a­tion, he doesn’t smile (when did smil­ing in pic­tures start?).

It was this image I had in mind when I cre­at­ed Haurowitz/​Harris’ Goods and Sun­dries in my nov­el, Sta­tions West:

Moshe looks around the store. They have built rows of shelves and ordered glass cas­es. There are stacks of Indi­an blan­kets and pipes, hot water bot­tles and cloth. There are huge vats of pecans, hides of var­i­ous prove­nances hang­ing from the walls, met­al goods such as pots, pans, teaket­tles, and flour grinders. There are small bot­tles of ton­ics, large glass jars of spices, salt and pep­per, and Mason jars for can­ning. There is wire for chick­en coops and fish­ing line. There are chis­els and lath­es and knives and chi­na, tin sil­ver­ware, salt-back pork, chico­ry, and tobac­co. There are old news­pa­pers, and a part of the store that can be roped off with cur­tains when the pho­tog­ra­ph­er comes to town. A sign out­side says HAU­ROWITZ SUNDRY in large gold-paint­ed letters.

One small obser­va­tion I was inter­est­ed in explor­ing in my nov­el, was the idea that Jews can­not farm. Obvi­ous­ly, that is not par­tic­u­lar­ly true, yet the stereo­type stands. It is true that most Jew­ish immi­grants in this coun­try became sales­men and trades­peo­ple, own­ing stores, or becom­ing tai­lors or importers. Why is that? I looked for an answer and could not find one. It’s not a func­tion of edu­ca­tion, for after the ini­tial wave of Ger­man immi­grants, most of the Jews that came to Amer­i­ca were uneducated.

My char­ac­ters ini­tial­ly try to farm but are stymied by the nature of the soil in Okla­homa (which gets quick­ly exhaust­ed by cot­ton). A store seems like a log­i­cal exten­sion of some­one used to def­er­en­tial behav­ior and used to pro­vid­ing a ser­vice. Is that why oth­er Jews seemed to open stores rather than farm?

Alli­son Amend’s first nov­el, Sta­tions West, is now available. 

Alli­son Amend, a grad­u­ate of the Iowa Writ­ers’ Work­shop, is the author of the Inde­pen­dent Pub­lish­er Book Award-win­ning short sto­ry col­lec­tion Things That Pass for Love and the nov­els Sta­tions West (a final­ist for the 2011 Sami Rohr Prize for Jew­ish Lit­er­a­ture and the Okla­homa Book Award) and A Near­ly Per­fect Copy. She lives in New York City.