Will the Real Janet Sobel Please Stand Up?


later spoke to Leah and Sol Sobel on the telephone and Leah told me that Janet’s father had been killed in Russia, probably in an anti-Jewish pogrom, that I learned that Janet, her mother, and Janet’s two unnamed brothers had come to America alone, after Janet’s father’s death. Despite the Sobels’ near reticence in discussing Janet’s father’s death with me, Gail Levin seems eager to portray Janet Sobel as a victim of great trauma. Levin writes that Sobel’s “work hints at psychic distur- bance: her adolescence was interrupted twice, first by the violent death of her father and again by her family’s narrow escape to the U.S.”88  Leah Sobel had not expressed great certainty in telling me that Janet’s father had been killed in a pogrom in Russia, nor did she say that Janet spoke to Sol and her of Janet’s father’s death, or that Janet and her mother and brothers made a narrow escape from Europe to America, although the Sobels may have suggested to Levin that Janet had experienced these trauma. Janet apparently did tell them that because she and her family did not speak a word of English when they arrived at Ellis Island, their difficult-to-pronounce last name was changed to the Anglophilic surname “Wilson.” Janet’s mother was known by their new name for the rest of her life, and even beyond, for “Fannie Wilson” is the name on Janet’s mother’s tombstone in the Sobel family plot in the Beth Israel Cemetery in Woodbridge, New Jersey, where Janet; Janet’s husband, Max; Janet and Max’s oldest son, Bernard; and Bernard’s wife, Rose, are also buried.89

               Levin, unfortunately, refers even more incorrectly to the subject of Janet’s birth name and its change to Wilson.90 Pointing to information she claims to have “found” in Janet and Max Sobel’s marriage certificate (of which I was the source), Levin writes that Janet Sobel’s “marriage certificate, however, lists her as ‘Jennie Wilson,’ and her mother-in-law as ‘Ida Lechovsky.’ Her son Sol recalls hearing that the immigration service at Ellis Island assigned his mother’s family the name ‘Wilson.’ But if it was Lechovsky, it is possible that Janet’s father was related to her husband’s family, as cousins often married in shtetl life.”91 In addition to not providing any evidence for her assertion that shtetl cousins often married each other, Levin fails even more to prove her contention that Janet’s father and mother-in-law may have been related because if Levin had read the Sobels’


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All texts copyright © Libby Seaberg, 2009