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Lies About My Family

A Memoir

Amy Hoffman

Publication Year: 2013

This well-crafted family memoir is about the stories that are told and the ones that are not told, and about the ways the meanings of the stories change down the generations. It is about memory and the spaces between memories, and about alienation and reconciliation. All of Amy Hoffman’s grandparents came to the United States during the early twentieth century from areas in Poland and Russia that are now Belarus and Ukraine. Like millions of immigrants, they left their homes because of hopeless poverty, looking for better lives or at the least a chance of survival. Because of the luck, hard work, and resourcefulness of the earlier generations, Hoffman and her five siblings grew up in a middle-class home, healthy, well fed, and well educated. An American success story? Not quite—or at least not quite the standard version. Hoffman’s research in the Ellis Island archives along with interviews with family members reveal that the real lives of these relatives were far more complicated and interesting than their documents might suggest. Hoffman and her siblings grew up as observant Jews in a heavily Catholic New Jersey suburb, as political progressives in a town full of Republicans, as readers in a school full of football players and their fans. As a young lesbian, she distanced herself from her parents, who didn’t understand her choice, and from the Jewish community, with its organization around family and unquestioning Zionism. However, both she and her parents changed and evolved, and by the end of this engaging narrative, they have come to new understandings, of themselves and one another.

Published by: University of Massachusetts Press


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication, Quote

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pp. i-vi

Table of Contents

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pp. vii-xii

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pp. 1-18

Hair. In response to an often-debated question about human nature: yes, people can change. Sometimes it may take a while. At eighty, musing about my sexual preference, my mother said, “I used to be so upset about it. Now I can’t even remember why.”...

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At the Lake #1

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pp. 19-30

Among the members of Temple Beth-El, remembering the names of the Hoffman kids was practically a party game, like listing all seven dwarfs. There are six of us. Oldest to youngest: Amy, David, Judy, Priscilla, Rebecca, Joshua. Add to that my ...

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My Grandmother Was Sent Forth

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pp. 31-46

My mother’s mother was sent forth, as God commanded: pick yourself up and go, from your land and from your birthplace. There, they had nothing to give her for the journey but feathers, gathered carefully day by day from the barnyard and the kitchen. ...

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The Sylvia Plath of the Lower East Side: An Immigrant Tragedy

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pp. 47-48

On his way home from the factory, my grandmother’s brother Meyer decides to go for a shave—this is in around 1935, let’s say late on a Friday afternoon. Sabbath is approaching, he’s just gotten paid, his wife is at home in the apartment, humming...

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The Madorskys Come to America

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pp. 49-56

The Moiseyev Dance Company toured the United States for the first time in 1958, to usher in a new era of cultural exchange. My mother, who loves ballet, excitedly gathered the family to watch the special performance on the Ed Sullivan Show....

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A Precious Family Artifact: The Tape

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pp. 57-68

My father’s grandfather on his father’s side was Baruch- Mordechai Zaetz, the Zayde mitn bord, the grandfather with a beard; his grandfather on his mother’s side was Isaac Madorsky, the Zayde ohne bord, the grandfather without a beard. My ...

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The Draft

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pp. 69-79

The men in my family don’t tell war stories, they tell draftevasion stories.
At the age of eighteen, my father’s father, then called Moishe Zeitz, fled to America to escape conscription into the czar’s army—nothing unusual there, so did my mother’s father and...

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pp. 80-90

My grandmother was known for her cooking. My father remembers her canning fruit all summer—peaches, plums, cherries both sweet and sour. She stored the jars on shelves in the cellar, where they glowed deliciously in the darkness, orange, purple, red....

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Communists and Socialists and Their Ambitions

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pp. 91-105

Sol. In 1900 the Baron DeHirsch Fund established the Jewish Agricultural Society, with the purpose of moving immigrants out of the urban slums and onto the land: “free farmers on their own soil,” in the words of the society. Most of the...

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My Bat Mitzvah

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pp. 106-116

My Dress. Jean and Abe Lipstadt were friends of my parents from temple, a childless couple who wanted us to consider them our honorary aunt and uncle. At their request, my parents gave us special permission to call them by their first names rather...

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The Jewish Policeman

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pp. 117-122

In my early twenties I dated a lovely Jewish guy—yes, a guy. I wanted to be a lesbian, but none of the women I had crushes on would even look at me, which is not surprising since I did nothing to let them know my feelings. On the contrary I did my best to conceal them, not out of shame about the nature of...

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Jazzin’ with the Greats

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pp. 123-128

I keep a photo on my bookshelf of me and my father, dancing at my brother Josh’s wedding, October 1995, Hartford, Connecticut. My father’s bow tie is slightly askew, and he’s half-smiling, his right arm around my shoulder and my left hand in his, in the classic ballroom clasp. He’s wearing a rented tuxedo with ...

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My Father’s Regrets

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pp. 129-138

My father and I snag a table in the hospital lunchroom.
Upstairs, my mother struggles with one thing after another, all of which started, she claims, because she foolishly tripped on her shoelace and fell against the coffee table in the living room while turning off the lights in preparation for bed. Impossible,...

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The Wedding

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pp. 139-142

A few years ago—I never remember how many exactly, but I know it was Thanksgiving weekend—Roberta and I got married: because we live in Massachusetts, because it was there, so to speak. I don’t want to be too cynical, because the wedding itself was a kind of event I’d wanted to plan for a long time—family...

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My Father Goes Down to Hell

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pp. 143-145

On Yom Kippur my mother says she wants to go to the yizkor service, but my father says he has no need of it, not because he is an unbeliever, which he is, but because even at his age not a day goes by when he doesn’t think of his parents. He doesn’t need to go to a special service to remember them....

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At the Lake #2

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pp. 146-148

When I tell people I learned to swim in Lake Erie, they look at me funny. But that was back in 1959. I was seven and consented to submerge myself only because my brother David, two years younger, had done it first, humiliating me. By the late 1960s, the idea of a family vacation there had become ludicrous. Erie had...


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pp. 149-150

About the Author, Back Cover

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pp. 151-BC

E-ISBN-13: 9781613762578
E-ISBN-10: 1613762577
Print-ISBN-13: 9781625340023
Print-ISBN-10: 1625340028

Page Count: 168
Illustrations: 12 illus.
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Hoffman, Amy.
  • Rutherford (N.J.) -- Biography.
  • Jews -- New Jersey -- Rutherford -- Biography.
  • Jewish lesbians -- Biography.
  • Hoffman family.
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