Bessie’s Pillow – A Young Immigrant’s Journey to America
Written by Linda Bress Silbert, Ph.D.
Two Editions, in English and in Spanish
Published by: Strong Learning Publications
288 pages, $19.95
Review by Michael Leppert
Bessie’s Pillow is the remarkable and touching story of a young Eastern European Jewish immigrant woman, who comes to the United States in the early 1900s to escape the anti-Semitic violence of the region. She leaves behind her family, friends and home environment. As she is about to step on the ship that will carry her away, a family friend hands her a pillow, a handmade gift for the woman’s son, and asks Bessie to give it to him upon her arrival. It is inscribed with the words “May this pillow bring you peace.”
Bessie has adventures on the ship and in arriving in New York and meeting her family contacts there. She finds various jobs and makes friends and contacts, quickly becoming part of her local community of other Jewish immigrants to America. It takes her some time to adjust to her new life and after a considerable time, she remembers her promise to deliver the pillow and searches for the young man who is to receive his mother’s gift. Her continuing saga of joys, sorrows, victories and defeats, mirrors that of virtually all immigrants and all human beings.
In this time of constant controversy about immigration and immigrants, Bessie’s Pillow is an invaluable source of knowledge and understanding of the world of those who are new to the United States – an unfamiliar language, customs, negative reactions from others and possibly dangers, too.
Bessie was the author’s grandmother and the story is told in Bessie’s voice and Dr. Silbert gained her knowledge from her own mother, other family members, their friends and historical sources. Bessie’s recounting of the Atlantic crossing, landing in New York, finding her family contacts there, experiencing the frightening, yet exciting, new world in a much safer environment, is the story of countless millions of people who came to the U.S. from all over Europe to find a better life and make their dreams come true. It is also provides insight into character-building that was so important in bygone days and should be renewed today. This is the continuing story of today; only the departed countries have changed.
The author has thoughtfully created two separate editions – one in English and one in Spanish — and a study guide for each edition. This makes it possible for Spanish-speaking immigrants to read of their own experience, albeit 100 years ago, and to be inspired to continue their journey to citizenship and making their dreams a reality. Bessie’s Pillow also provides an excellent Light to encourage teachers to discuss and guide their students to investigate their ancestries as a way to learn the greater history of the world — and their own. MjL