A Jew Grows in Brooklyn: The Curious Reflections of a First-Generation American

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9780757314667: A Jew Grows in Brooklyn: The Curious Reflections of a First-Generation American
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The Arguably Dysfunctional Insights of a 'Kid' from Brooklyn

As a boy, Jake Ehrenreich wanted nothing more than to fit in. The reality of being the first American-born child of Holocaust survivors with thick European accents made him cringe, and he did everything he could to fit his vision of what it meant to be a 'real' American. His expertise on the ball field, good looks, and extraordinary musical talent gained him popularity, but deep inside, he was uncomfortable with his identity and his family's haunting past.

Only through his life-changing experiences―living a perilous rock 'n' roll lifestyle, battling drug abuse, womanizing, coping with his mother and two sisters' early-onset Alzheimer's disease, finding love, fathering the only child who will carry on his family name, and then dealing with his beloved dad's courageous battle with Parkinson's disease―did Jake Ehrenreich begin to appreciate and honor his family's heritage as well as himself.

Based on his hit show 'A Jew Grows in Brooklyn'―which ran in the heart of Broadway and continues to entertain audiences nationwide and which the New York Times described as 'beautiful . . . touching . . . funny'―these stories mine the same life-affirming voyage of self-discovery, while delving deeper into Ehrenreich's rich experiences.

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About the Author:

Jake Ehrenreich is an accomplished musician, actor, playwright, singer, and comedian. A child of Holocaust survivors, Jake now appears nationally in his hit Broadway show "A Jew Grows in Brooklyn." He has also appeared on Broadway in "Dancin','' "Barnum," and "They're Playing Our Song," and toured internationally as Ringo in Beatlemania. An exciting Master of Ceremonies, Jake has been tapped to headline at national conventions of major corporations. He lives with his wife and son in New York.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Setting the Stage

'The greatest thing in this world is not so much
where we are, but in what direction we are moving.'
―Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

I anxiously waited in the back of the social hall at the community center in Washington Township, New Jersey, and watched the eight (yes, eight) audience members settle in as I prepared to go onstage for the 2005 premiere of my comedy/drama/musical 'Growing Up in America.' My God, What was I doing?!
I was already in my forties, I had a beautiful wife and son, and I was making a great living as a musician and performer. Who needs this? I asked myself, but I already knew the answer. Somehow, I'd always known that I would one day have to tell this story. I needed this.

I bounded onto the stage and began singing, playing instruments, and telling the scripted stories of my life as the first-born son of Holocaust survivors, of my Brooklyn childhood and Catskills summers, of caring for my mother and two sisters as they each succumbed to early Alzheimer's disease, of my intensely hardworking father, of finding love, and of how, after a long journey, the story came full circle with the birth of my son, Joseph Dov-Behr Ehrenreich.
I got some laughs and tears―and as the week wore on, more than a few audience members. After the first few days, word spread like wildfire. By the end of the week, we were sold out. Eventually, 'Growing Up in America' became 'A Jew Grows in Brooklyn' and went on to break box-office records at the historic Lambs Theater in the heart of Broadway. We played in New York City for a year and half and have been filling houses across the country ever since.
The look in the eyes of audience members as I see them channel their own childhoods, the stories they share with me after the show, and the special bond we form together is something I may never be able to re-create. But I hope to create something similar with this book. No matter where my life and career take me in the future, I will always return to this honest story of hope and renewal.

In part, this book is that story―my family's story, the same one I tell in 'A Jew Grows in Brooklyn'―only without the music and the footlights. And yet it expands it, by chronicling the journey―dysfunction, humor, sadness, and all―that led me to where I am now.

But it's not only about my family and my experiences―it's about your story, too, because our shared journey of life holds the same basic challenges: Challenges of fear and perseverance, of finding beauty and love, of searching for meaning, and of learning that we are so much more than just our circumstances. And if we have a few laughs and lessons along the way, so much the better.

My family arrived in America in 1949―survivors of the Nazi Holocaust that ravaged the Jews and many others during World War II. Unlike their eight brothers and sisters, my parents survived the war by escaping to Russian work camps in Siberia, where my eldest sister Wanda was born. Shortly after the war, Joanie, my other sister, was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany. And me? Well, I was born in Brooklyn―a true-blue 'Yankee Doodle,' destined to tell the story for my family who is now gone. Or perhaps I should say 'Yonkee' Doodle, because I was endearingly called by my Yiddish nickname 'Yonkee' (Yankele) as a boy. I tried every which way to get rid of it, along with my family's history, and just fit in. All I wanted was to be a sure-fired, smack-damn, 100-percent, through-and-through, standard-issue, red-blooded American kid. Fitting in was a big deal for me. (Now, not so much.)

The story of my name is only one of many I want to share with you. Others include stories of my dad who worked seven days a week and our extraordinary relationship and his courageous battle with Parkinson's disease . . . of overcoming drug abuse . . . of being a musician living the rock-'n'-roll lifestyle . . . of my bachelor's obsession with women (that's a good one) . . . of learning to turn adversity into opportunity . . . of realizing that I was funny (yeah, well, we'll see) . . . of the incredible joys and challenges of parenting and marriage . . . of the continuing journey of self-discovery . . . and of the beautiful reactions I have had to my story―from people in all walks of life.

Stories of life and family history have been with us throughout recorded time. They teach, explain, and entertain. My intention is to offer you, through these stories, some glimpses of the attitudes and behaviors I've adopted that have played a part in my growth and success, both professionally and personally. I have, in great part, learned these lessons from others, and I hope, in turn, you will take away at least one lesson, or many, that will serve you and yours on your journey.
This book is about the quintessential American experience―the immigrant experience. Yet, on a deeper level it is about our common human experience, how we approach the inescapable adversity, tragedy, and challenges that life serves up, and how we ultimately find our way to the triumph or defeat of our soul and spirit. It's about choosing to define our circumstances in an empowering way and about learning to apply our focus and energy in a manner that serves us well. It's about living fruitfully and joyously and fully. It's about renewal―of spirit and body and mind. (Wow, I'd like to read this book myself! Will it wash my car? Can it core 'a' apple?)

I hope that traveling these roads with me, not only gets you laughing and thinking, but inspires you to take a look back at the people and events that have been pivotal in your own life. Think about them, write them down, and share them with friends and family. Perhaps recalling your stories (maybe in a writing group or a book club―wait, definitely in a book club!) and discovering what you've learned might inspire others―or maybe just yourself.

With intention and faith, anything is possible. With love and joy and gratitude and an indomitable spirit, we can live our dreams and have a positive, lasting influence on the world and those around us.
So, on with the show. . . .

©2010. Jake Ehrenreich. All rights reserved. Reprinted from A Jew Grows in Brooklyn. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the written permission of the publisher. Publisher: Health Communications, Inc., 3201 SW 15th Street, Deerfield Beach, FL 33442

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