Articles of Faith

Meet Rebecca, Jewish American Girl doll

Rebecca Rubin, an American Girl doll, is 9 years old and lives in Manhattan. Rebecca Rubin, an American Girl doll, is 9 years old and lives in Manhattan.
By Michael Paulson
Globe Staff / May 31, 2009
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Her name is Rebecca Rubin. She is 9 years old and lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in 1914. And she's causing a bit of a sensation as the newest American Girl, because she's also Jewish.

The new doll is part of a series of historical dolls manufactured by American Girl and the first with an overtly religious affiliation. Her backstory (in six books) was written by a local children's author, Jacqueline Dembar Greene of Wayland, and the company's store at Natick Collection is holding an event to promote the doll today. The books tackle issues that faced early American Jews - immigration, labor conditions, the celebration of Christmas in public schools - and feature iconic locales, from Ellis Island to Coney Island.

I asked American Girl spokeswoman Susan Jevens about the decision to have a religious doll, and this is what she said:

"In telling these stories, we strive to be as culturally authentic and historically accurate as possible and, if religion played an integral role in the character's life [like Rebecca], then we make sure to include that aspect in the books. However, our focus is always on the bigger theme, which, in Rebecca's case is the immigrant experience and the significant impact Jewish immigrants made to mainstream American culture. Another example of this would be our character Josefina, our girl of Colonial New Mexico. She's not really intended to represent the Catholic religion, but Catholicism was a big part of Josefina's daily life and is depicted throughout her stories."

'Angels and Demons' as a guide to Rome
Although "Angels & Demons" was not a great film, the one saving grace for me was the production design - the lovingly vivid portrayals of Rome and the Vatican's sumptuous interiors and elaborate vestments.

Some of the events in the movie - the papal funeral, the crowds massing in St. Peter's Square - I witnessed in real life back in 2005, and the recreations struck me as spot-on.

Other moments, such as the destruction of the dead pope's ring and the conclave in the Sistine Chapel, take place in secret, and it was fascinating to see the filmmakers' imaginings of those scenes.

Watching Tom Hanks et al scurry across the Ponte Sant'Angelo, the pedestrian bridge that leads from the city center to the fortress, reminded me that that bridge, which is lined with statues of angels, is a favorite site of Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley, who led reporters from Boston on a walking tour of it in 2006. Many of the other locations depicted in the film were re-created in Los Angeles, including a replica of St. Peter's Square.

A.O. Scott, reviewing "Angels & Demons" for The New York Times, writes: "All those red cardinals' robes swirling dervishlike in the incense-tinted light, those sensuous Bernini sculptures and soundless library stacks nearly steal the movie from the bland, dogged heroes."

And even the US Conference of Catholic Bishops notes the visuals, saying, "Ironically - given Howard's location filming restrictions - Vatican City looks quite splendid, with majestic aerial shots, while the Hollywood re-creations of St. Peter's Square, the Sistine Chapel, and other locales are, as noted by L'Osservatore Romano, 'magnificent.'"

Who knew? Springsteen does 'Hava Nagila'
News you can use: A brief clip of Bruce Springsteen dancing the hora while his band plays "Hava Nagila" is making the rounds of the blogosphere.

The video shows Springsteen, who was raised Catholic, ripping through a burning take on "Little Latin Lupe Lu," then holding up a large sign with "HAVANAGILA" scrawled on it.

The crowd roars as pianist Roy Bittan plays a jazzy open into the familiar lilting riff of the Hebrew folk song and the Boss, holding the sign aloft, dances.

Jeffrey Goldberg, of the Atlantic, was at the May 18 concert at the Verizon Center in Washington, and broke the news the next morning.

Goldberg then discovered that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel facilitated the moment: "Clifford Mendelson, who made the nowfamous

'Hava Nagila' sign, was seated two rows behind Emanuel (and near David Brooks and Andrea Mitchell and other such luminaries in an apparently all-Jewish section of the Verizon Center) ... Rahm Emanuel turns around and sees it and he loves it and grabs the sign. He hands it to a Secret Service agent, who handed it up to Bruce, and then they played it."

The world of Jewish bloggery is talking. Failed Messiah calls the event "a brief but memorable moment in rock history."

And National Jewish Democratic Council blogger Joshua Rolnick observes, "I've been to a dozen or more Springsteen shows, and can safely attest to the fact that normally, people show up with 'Rosalita' or 'Murder Incorporated' or 'Jungleland' signs. This might have been a first."