J.D. Salinger’s Jewish Roots


Although J.D. Salinger’s most widely-known character is The Catcher in the Rye‘s Holden Caulfield, his most enduring characters may prove to be Seymour Glass, the protagonist of two of his other books, and the other Glass siblings.

Like the 7 Glass kids, Salinger was the son of a Jewish father and an Irish Catholic mother. His paternal grandfather was a rabbi who emigrated from Lithuania to Louisville, Kentucky, where he served at a local shul. His father, Sol Salinger, was a kosher cheesemonger, and his mother, Marie Jillich, never properly converted, though she changed her name to Miriam when she married in order to pass as Jewish. Salinger didn’t even find out about her Catholic upbringing until shortly after his bar mitzvah.

Like Seymour, Salinger also wrestled with his Jewish and Catholic identities. At the McBurney School, a now-shuttered elite Manhattan private school, he was bullied for being Jewish, and told people to call him Jerry instead of the more Jewish-sounding Jerome. Problems persisted, and he was transferred to Valley Forge Military Academy. However, his new schoolmates weren’t much better than his old ones, and his experiences there proved excellent fodder for Catcher in the Rye—which still sells 200,000 copies a year.

Watch a trailer for the new film Salinger:

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