A True Story of One Woman’s Daring in Twentieth-Century America
In 1918, Rebecca Goldberg―a Jewish immigrant from the Russian Empire living in rural Wilmington, Massachusetts―lost her husband, Nathan, to a railroad accident, a tragedy that left her alone with six children to raise. To support the family after Nathan’s death, Rebecca continued work she’d done for years: keeping chickens. Once or twice a week, with a suitcase full of fresh eggs in one hand and a child in the other, she delivered her product to relatives and friends in and around Boston.
Then, in 1920―right at the start of Prohibition―one of Rebecca’s customers suggested that she start selling alcoholic beverages in addition to her eggs to add to her meagre income. He would provide his homemade raw alcohol; Rebecca would turn it into something drinkable and sell it to new customers in Wilmington. Desperate to feed her family and keep them together, and determined to make sure her kids would all graduate from high school, Rebecca agreed―making herself a wary participant in the illegal alcohol trade.
Rebecca’s business grew slowly and surreptitiously until 1925, when she was caught and summoned to appear before a judge. Fortunately for her, the chief of police was one of her customers, and when he spoke highly of her character before the court, all charges were dropped. Her case made headline news―and she made history.
Praise for Prohibition Wine
As a feminist and aging activist, I found Prohibition Wine compelling. This book highlights the importance of giving voice to women’s stories as part of American history. It is relevant today as current generations of immigrant women rise up to the challenges of life. It touches the lives of all of us across multiple generations as we all cope with the pandemic challenges. Prohibition Wine is powerful narrative and inspiring read!
’Ma knows best,’ Rebecca, an immigrant from Lithuania, tells her sons. These three words sum up the strength and determination with which she supports and steers her family through disastrous challenges and losses to ultimate success. Her powerful story recalls the ingenuity and sheer grit with which many of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers–– immigrants, widows, women who birthed and buried countless babies, women who faced poverty and discrimination––held the world together for future generations. A timely reminder.
We first meet a feisty teenaged Rebecca Goldberg fleeing a Cossack and later as a young widow who became a bootlegger. Hats off to Marian Knapp for uncovering this powerful story of her grandmother and sharing it with us!
This is a stunning story of the trials, tribulations, tragedies, and triumphs of a Jewish immigrant, the indefatigable Rebecca Wernick Goldberg, and her survival financed in part by a self-generated clandestine enterprise, making and bootlegging wine in Massachusetts during the days of Prohibition.
‘In many ways, Rebecca Goldberg wasn’t unusual,’ Marian Knapp writes in Prohibition Wine, her brief, poignant biography of her extraordinary grandmother. But of course Rebecca Goldberg was unusual, or there would be no reason to read this engrossing tale. This is a fun, short book proving that, if America isn’t the greatest country ever, it is certainly one of the most quixotic, and interesting. Well done!
Marian Knapp’s reconstruction of Rebecca Goldberg’s life―as a Jewish immigrant, a struggling widow and mother, and a Prohibition-era bootlegger―both confirms and confounds our preconceived notions of the history of American Jewish women. This little book goes deep into the archives, telling a story that heightens our understanding of the past and our empathy for those who lived through it.