Losing Our Religion

What Fiddler on the Roof is for most American Jews — an emotional bull’s-eye on any family’s saga that began in a shtetl and wound up in the United States — The Lehman Trilogy is for me. My family, like the Lehmans, came here from Germany in the early nineteenth century. Both families left the old country as Lehmanns; we lost an “h” at the dock in New Orleans in 1836, they lost an “n” at the dock in New York in 1844. In both cases, the family saga began with a young single man from a small town — Rimpar, Bavaria in their case, Essenheim, Hesse-Darmstadt in ours — coming to America alone, starting out as a backpack peddler in the slaveholding antebellum South, and establishing a dry goods store. Theirs was in Montgomery, Alabama; ours was in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, and still exists there in altered form as Lemann’s

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