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36 Letters
One Family's Story

By Joan Sohn (author)

An American success saga

Read the new review of 36 Letters in the Philadelphia Jewish Voice

One hundred years from now, it is unlikely that a similar book to Sohn’s will be published about an engaged couple’s cryptic emails and tweets, cell phone conversations and texting. Sohn’s book reminds us that letters are not just a link, but a lasting connection.”--The Forward. Read the full blog post about this book from The Forward

“…a powerful portrait of the immigrant Jewish experience itself, and the journey of European Jewry to America. …and the 36 letters themselves will transport you to other times and places. Bravo! This book is a gift! Read more" —Arthur Kurzweil, author of From Generation to Generation: How to Trace Your Jewish Genealogy and Family History, and The Encyclopedia of Jewish Genealogy

"A profoundly poignant memoir, rich in personal photographs, letters, documents, and riveting quotes." — Rabbi Simcha Weinstein, chair of the Religious Affair's Committee at Pratt Institute, New York

“Far more than family lore, this is a narrative for all to enjoy and savor. — Susan A. Popkin, vice president, Philadelphia Jewish Archives Board

“…a must read for those interested in Jewish history, the immigrant experience … and all who appreciate what their ancestors sacrificed to make their own lives possible. — Rabbi Andrea L. Merow, Beth Sholom Congregation, Elkins Park, PA

Of course every family has stories and each of these stories is special. We are fortunate to have letters, first-person accounts of our family’s experience during a period in history when there was upheaval and change. Perhaps what makes these letters so special is that they are not terribly unique, and that they represent the experiences of a whole generation of immigrants from Eastern Europe. Anti-Semitism and revolution led to violence and fear in the towns. Parents were faced with farewells to children they might never see again, and families tried to anticipate new beginnings in a foreign, and faraway, country. And still, young people met and fell in love.”

Joan Sohn found her grandparents’ 36 letters, tucked away for 65 years in a small brown paper bag. When she read them, her family’s story came alive. Of course, there were missing pieces—many of them; and so she began a long labor of love, filling in the gaps.

Thanks to those letters and Sohn’s determination, we have that story — about people who left their homes for a new start and never returned. They reinvented themselves; they changed their citizenship, their language, their customs, and even their names.

36 Letters is about separation, personal struggle, and achievement. It’s about people who landed at Ellis Island and made their way, somehow, to New York’s Lower East Side, and then to Philadelphia, where they grew and multiplied and made remarkable contributions to the city’s development.

Accompanied by over 100 stunning photographs, maps and illustrations, and, of course, the letters.

About Joan Sohn

Joan Sohn grew up in Philadelphia and still has strong family ties there, but she has called Toronto her home for 35 years. Active in her community, she is on The National Board of Canadian Friends of the Israel Museum. Sohn, who received a degree in graphic design from Carnegie-Mellon University and studied at Ontario College of Art, turns her art expertise into visual stories in 36 Letters.