Gay, Ruth 1922-
GAY, Ruth 1922-
PERSONAL: Born October 19, 1922, in New York, NY; daughter of Mary (Pfeffer) and Harry Slotkin; married Nathan Glazer, September 26, 1943 (divorced, 1958); married Peter Gay (a historian), May 30, 1959; children: (first marriage) Sarah Glazer Khedouri, Sophie, Elizabeth. Ethnicity: Jewish. Education: Queens College of the City of New York (now Queens College of the City University of New York), B.A., 1943; Columbia University, M.L.S., 1969. Politics: Democrat.
ADDRESSES: Home—270 Riverside Dr., New York, NY 10025. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, assistant to director of education, 1943-44, teacher in Education Department, 1943-46, and education director of Leisure Wear Joint Board, 1944-46; Labor and Nation, staff writer and assistant editor, 1946-48; American Joint Distribution Committee, researcher and editor, 1948-50; freelance writer and editor, 1950-72 and 1985—; Yale University, New Haven, CT, archivist and cataloger at university library, 1972-85, instructor, spring, 1983.
AWARDS, HONORS: Grants from Yale University (for Germany), 1984, and Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, 1985; National Jewish Book Award for nonfiction from Jewish Book Council, 1997, for Unfinished People: Eastern European Jews Encounter America.
Jews in America: A Short History, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1965.
The Jews of Germany: A Historical Portrait, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1992.
Unfinished People: Eastern European Jews Encounter America, Norton (New York, NY), 1996.
Safe among the Germans: Liberated Jews after World War II, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 2002.
Contributor to periodicals, including American Scholar, Midstream, Dialogue, Commentary, Conservative Judaism, and Present Tense. Editor, JDC Review, 1948-50.
WORK IN PROGRESS: The Yiddish King Lear Comes to America, forthcoming by Yale University Press.
SIDELIGHTS: Much of Ruth Gay's writing chronicles the experiences of Jewish people—through the Holocaust and its aftermath in Germany and as immigrants in the United States. According to some critics, she deals with aspects of her subjects that are sometimes ignored by other historians, and she personalizes her works with insights from her life as the daughter of Eastern European Jewish immigrants and sometimes displays a welcome sense of humor.
The Jews of Germany: A Historical Portrait covers German Jewry beginning in the days when the German lands were part of the Roman Empire, continuing through medieval and modern times and up to the decimation of the Jewish population under Adolf Hitler's rule. In addition to Gay's text, it contains numerous illustrations and excerpts from writings representing various periods of German Jewish history. The book "provides not only a fine introduction to its subject but visual delights even for those already familiar with it," related Jerry Z. Muller in Commentary. It also, noted Julia Neuberger in History Today, "makes the important point that not all German Jewish history is about sadness and destruction." Gay devotes space to the times, such as the nineteenth century, in which Jews were well accepted in Germany, and she "records the achievements of those years … with love and respect," Neuberger reported.
Unfinished People: Eastern European Jews Encounter America details the lives of the Jews who came to the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and also provides information about Gay's own family, with stories from her immigrant parents and remembrances of her youth in New York, NY's Bronx borough. She discusses how immigrants adapted to their new country, holding on to many facets of their culture but changing or abandoning others, and she finds meaning in everyday necessities such as food, clothing, and home furnishings.
"In Gay's hands, the humdrum becomes a conundrum whose solution reveals the ethical essences she shares with other Jews," observed Gus Tyler in the New Leader. Full of "witty insights," the book "reads well and tastes good," he added. New Statesman reviewer Anne Applebaum likewise praised Unfinished People, describing it as "beautifully written, meticulously researched and very personal." Henry L. Feingold, a contributor to the Historian, thought it a bit too personal, however, saying Gay may have relied a bit too much on her family's history. "Generalizing from such a narrow sampling can lead to a misreading of the Jewish immigrant experience," he wrote, but he added that Gay "writes in a clear narrative style and has a good eye for detail," and he found she did well "in her probing of the Jewish immigrant psyche."
Gay returned to the topic of Germany in Safe among the Germans: Liberated Jews after World War II. This book focuses on a little-studied subject—how after Hitler's downfall, Allied-occupied Germany came to be a secure and welcoming home for Jews, many of them refugees from Eastern European countries where there was hostility to Jews, and how these Jews rebuilt their culture and community. Thanks to the Allied forces, Gay explains, Germany had ironically become a safe harbor for Jews. More than 250,000 Jewish refugees came there immediately after the war, with many of them living in displaced-persons camps. Most of the refugees eventually moved to other countries, leaving about 20,000 Jews in Germany in 1950. But by the end of the twentieth century, their number had increased to 100,000, partly due to new arrivals from Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Gay "describes a period that has largely remained a gap in postwar collective memory," reported Steve Lipman in the Jewish Week. This gap has occurred, related Lilith reviewer Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, because "most survivors [of the Holocaust] who tell their stories 'stop and draw breath' at the moment of liberation, and most scholarship accordingly ends there. Now, the rich subject has finally found its author." Gay tells her story "skillfully," Lipman noted, mixing "individual stories and a sociological perspective." New York Times Book Review critic Diane Cole thought that "at times [Gay's] larger themes become lost in the recitation of so many facts," and a Publishers Weekly contributor had a similar criticism, saying Gay "loses focus" on occasion, but concluded that Safe among the Germans is "intriguing if uneven." Library Journal commentator Maria C. Bagshaw, on the other hand, termed the work "succinct and well-documented," "scholarly yet readable," and Tuhus-Dubrow praised Gay's "eloquent prose."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Commentary, March, 1993, Jerry Z. Muller, review of The Jews of Germany: A Historical Portrait, p. 61.
Historian, summer, 1998, Henry L. Feingold, review of Unfinished People: Eastern European Jews Encounter America, p. 859.
History Today, February, 1993, Julia Neuberger, review of The Jews of Germany, p. 55.
Jewish Week, November 15, 2002, Steve Lipman, "An Unlikely Refuge: Chronicling the Lives of Postwar Jewish Refugees on German Soil," p. 36.
Library Journal, August, 2002, Maria C. Bagshaw, review of Safe among the Germans: Liberated Jews after World War II, p. 115.
Lilith, winter, 2002, Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow, review of Safe among the Germans, p. 43.
New Leader, January 13, 1997, Gus Tyler, review of Unfinished People, p. 18.
New Statesman, February 28, 1997, Anne Applebaum, review of Unfinished People, p. 46.
New York Times Book Review, October 20, 2002, Diane Cole, review of Safe among the Germans, p. 24.
Publishers Weekly, September 23, 1996, review of Unfinished People, p. 64; July 8, 2002, review of Safe among the Germans, p. 41.