The Reformer's Apprentice - Discussion Guide


Discussion Guide

  1. How would you describe Frieda? Which of her qualities are innate? Which evolve out of her experiences? 
  2. Kosher boardinghouses sprang up in the pioneer American West to accommodate observant Jewish males who were single, or unaccompanied by their wives. The author portrays the boarders at Levie's as caring, humorous, lascivious, knowledgeable, dull-witted, and largely group-bound. Does the mix strike you as lifelike or caricature? 
  3. The Sisters of Service was patterned after philanthropic girls groups in old San Francisco. Membership expands Frieda's range of experience and heightened her aspirations. It also created painful schisms between her and family. Were those conflicts avoidable? If so, how? 
  4. What do you think of Frieda's responses to the demands of her father, Aunt Chava, and Minnie? Which scenes remain fixed in your mind? 
  5. What kinds of social discrimination does she suffer? Anti-Semitism? The Jewish caste system (German versus Eastern European)? Affluence versus poverty? 
  6. Are the languages, foods, and observances at the boardinghouse authentic? Is Frieda convincing as a good Jewish cook and baker? 
  7. Does Miss O'Hara impress you as a genuinely able and dedicated teacher and group leader? Would you subject your young daughter to her ideals and practices? What do you think of the qualities of the Elevated Feminine Spirit-the nurturing heart, loving gaze, and spiritual touch? 
  8. Does the social and political thought and action depicted strike you as more typical of the twentieth than the late nineteenth century?  
  9. Frieda's father's parting words are, "If he ain't nice, don't be ashamed to come home." Is she likely to regret having opted for Bennie and an Arizona-Sonora border outpost? If so, would she return to the boardinghouse? 
  10. How does Jewish life in Far West as portrayed coincide with your impressions of nineteenth century Jewish life elsewhere in the United States?