Jewish American Girl Doll Eats Bagels Sans Schmear

To much fanfare, American Girl recently introduced its first Jewish doll, Rebecca Rubin, a 1914 New Yorker of Russian ancestry. While the dolls have a reputation for historical accuracy, I couldn't help but be surprised to discover what appears to be a striking anomaly among one of her accessories.

Rebeccarubin A "school set" (inset) includes a pretend lunch of a bagel, rugelach, and pickles. But, look closely at the bagel, and you will see that it's adorned with two suspect slices of orange cheese that look strangely like American cheese. A Shonda! I mean, really, where's the cream cheese?

What we now know as American cheese wasn't even patented until 1916, much less produced on a large scale until the 1950s. So, this has to be wrong. But, how were bagels eaten back then. Did Jews spread cream cheese on their bagels in the early 1900s, or something else?

I contacted Maria Balinska, author of The Bagel: The Surprising History of a Modest Bread, to get a historical perspective on bagel toppings.

She told me via email that not only did the cheese look suspect, so too did the way the bagel was presented:

In 1900, bagels were unlikely to have been sliced. If you look at photographs from the time, bagels have much bigger holes and a lot less dough - they looked more like a pretzel. The dough then was much denser (therefore also difficult to slice) and typically would have been eaten by breaking in half and dipping in something. I've come across accounts of being dipped in tea and eaten with coffee. There is also a Yiddish short story form the beginning of the century where the protagonist has a bagel with butter. I personally haven't seen any accounts (until the 1960s) of bagels with sliced American cheese.

What about cream cheese?

I am not an expert on cream cheese but from what I can see cream cheese in its Philadelphia form dates from the late 19th century. I have some ads from the Jewish Forward where cream cheese is being advertised with bagels from the 1940s. Interestingly, my informants from pre-war Poland told me they ate bagels with goosefat which has a similar consistency to cream cheese - but doubt American girl was into that!!

Another possible topping might have been smoked fish:

What I do know is that Isaac Bashevis Singer talks about eating bagels with herring in Warsaw as a child - (he was born in 1902) - so I assume that the custom of eating them with smoked/preserved fish was imported with East European Jewish immigrants to New York but of course herring being a food for poorer people it would have been replaced as soon as one could afford it, with lox.

So, there you have it from a bagel expert. Here's hoping American Girl corrects the inaccuracy and introduces an assortment of new pretend bagel condiments, from goosefat to herring.



ok so i have a girl who loves ag dolls and she has rebecca stuff so it doesnt matter ok dang


looks to me like it could be lox, not American cheese. Lox is also pretty orange and is more likely to fall downwards and stick to the side of the bagel than American cheese, since it's heavier, stickier and more flexible.

The "lox" interpretation also seems plausible in light of the fact that rugelach and pickles are pareve (no meat or dairy), and so is lox. Perhaps little Rebecca wants to snack on corned beef within a shorter time before/after her lunch, so she intentionally packed a non-dairy meal.


You make a good case for lox. However, the description actually reads "cheese bagel."


It' certainly not American cheese- or any cheese- of course like Sam said it's lox. As for American cheese- that's about the last thing I'd expect to see on a bagel regardless of who's eating it. Yuck.


actually, Sam, rugelach are usually dairy....just saying


I just assumed it was cheddar cheese (not processed American cheese).


If you look at the American Girl website/catalog the doll wears a Fleur-de-lis necklace, not a Star of David as one might expect. It makes one wonder who had these ideas at American Girl.


Rebecca is a cool American girl doll. I liked reading the page it was fun to read. I engoyed it . Erica Saunders


Ellen, you are mistaken, as Rebecca does not wear a necklace at all. Many of the historical American Girl collections include a trademark necklace, but Rebecca's is not one of them; she instead has a painted broach.


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