The youngest Smolinsky daughter and narrator of Bread
. The most fiercely independent of Reb Smolinsky’s daughters,
Sara wants more than any of them to create a life of her own. Though she admires
her father’s dedication and inner flame, she is also deeply resentful of his
hypocrisy and the chances he has denied all his daughters. She develops crushes
on men with similar dedication and fire, seeking a more willing and
understanding role model than Reb Smolinsky, as well as a companion who will
acknowledge and appreciate the identity she’s struggled to build. Sara is
willing to work hard to get what she wants, but her ceaseless craving for
companionship and tendency to romanticize her situation sometimes distract her
from her ultimate goal.
in-depth analysis of Sara Smolinsky.
The head of the Smolinsky family and Sara’s major antagonist.
Extremely dedicated in his religious beliefs, Reb Smolinsky has devoted his
entire life to studying the Torah and other Jewish holy books. The spirit he
gathers from these studies fills him with a holy light that leaves others in awe
but causes family problems when Reb Smolinsky confuses this spiritual knowledge
with more worldly wisdom. His innocence often leads him to make foolish
decisions that he refuses to acknowledge, insisting that a man as learned as he
could never make such mistakes. After his wife dies, he remarries quickly and
forces his daughters to remain with him as long as possible because he knows he
needs someone to take care of him.
in-depth analysis of Reb Smolinsky.
Sara’s mother and Reb Smolinsky’s long-suffering wife. Shena is truly
in awe of her husband’s holiness, though she complains bitterly about the
poverty it forces on her. She also feels protective of her husband—he lives so
much in his own world that it’s hard for him to function in the real one. She
firmly believes a woman’s highest aspiration is to be a wife and mother, and
despite her husband’s manipulations, she genuinely wishes to see her daughters
settled into good marriages. Though she doesn’t understand why Sara desires a
different route, she loves her enough to support her in the best way she
The oldest Smolinsky daughter. Bessie is the major financial support
for the family, and even at a young age she is worn out from constant stress and
work. She despises her father for using up all her good years for himself but is
afraid to leave because providing for others is the only life she knows.
Resentful of her status as an old maid, Bessie finds joy in her eventual
marriage to Zalmon only because of the affection that her youngest stepson,
Benny, feels for her. The only reason Bessie agrees to marry Zalmon is that
Benny needs her.
in-depth analysis of Bessie Smolinsky.
One of the middle Smolinsky daughters. Mashah is extremely beautiful,
and the rest of the family thinks she is vain. In fact, Mashah needs beauty to
sustain her, and her own looks, as well as the music in the park, are the only
resources she has. She falls in love with the music Jacob Novak makes
before she even sees Jacob himself, and when he breaks her heart, he
destroys her hope of finding any more beauty in the world. She
wastes away to a worn, quiet shadow of her former self, and hints of her former
spirit show only in her enjoyment of her children and the cleanliness of her
in-depth analysis of Mashah Smolinsky.
One of the middle Smolinsky daughters. Comfortable with speaking her
mind, Fania goes further than either Bessie or Mashah in defending her
sweetheart. However, Fania is also more practical than her sisters and attempts
to make her father’s choice of husband work for her. Ultimately unsuccessful,
she complains bitterly about her marriage at every opportunity and, though she
frequently derides Sara’s accomplishments, appears jealous of her sisters, as
well. Though she lives across the country, Fania keeps in regular contact with
her mother and sisters.
The clothing cutter with whom Bessie falls in love. An ambitious
young man who plans to open his own shop, Berel wants to marry Bessie because
she’s a sensible, competent girl who would be a great help in running his
business. Somewhat sporadic in his religious observance, Berel thinks anyone who
clings to the old ways is crazy and has no patience for anyone who attempts to
make him follow those ways.
The school principal with whom Sara falls in love. An intelligent,
well-respected man, Hugo is filled with the knowledge that Sara longs for and
admires. A kind man who treats everyone with respect, Hugo puts far more value
on his personal observations about people than on what others might say about
them. Hugo still feels a great bond with the old country and the customs he was
raised with, and he holds Reb Smolinsky’s learning in awe.
The poet with whom Fania falls in love. A pale young man with a
shabby coat and a desperate need for a haircut, Morris believes strongly in the
power of both love and poetry. When Reb Smolinsky forces Fania away from him,
however, he becomes bitter enough to crush Sara when she comes to him with her
own dreams. Morris earns a living writing for newspapers and spends his free
time at the library.
The piano player with whom Mashah falls in love. The son of wealthy
parents, Jacob has grown up with money but doesn’t share his father’s prejudice
against those who haven’t. Though he cares deeply for Mashah, Jacob loves music
more than anything else and will temporarily sacrifice even Mashah in order to
continue performing it.
The diamond dealer Reb Smolinsky chooses to be Mashah’s husband. A
charming and generous man on the surface, Moe is in fact a calculating liar who
will say anything to get what he wants. Unable to hold down a regular job, he
emotionally abuses Mashah and thinks nothing of dining out and wearing fancy
clothes while his wife and children starve.
The fish peddler Reb Smolinsky chooses to be Bessie’s husband. A
basically honest man who desperately needs help caring for his children, Zalmon
genuinely means to give Bessie everything he promises her during their
courtship. However, he is too conservative to bother finding out what might
actually win her over—one of many concerns he feels is too
The cloaks-and-suits dealer Reb Smolinsky chooses to be Fania’s
husband. Abe substitutes expensive presents for genuine affection or attention,
both during courtship and after he and Fania return to Los Angeles. A compulsive
gambler, Abe uses his wife’s appearance to show the world how affluent he
Abe’s partner, who comes to New York to court Sara. A self-made
businessman who is derisive of the education he never had, Max is completely
focused on money, possessions, and potential profit. During his time with Sara,
he flaunts his wealth and worldliness instead of showing any interest in her
Reb Smolinsky’s second wife. Originally a widow who lived above the
Smolinskys’ place, Mrs. Feinstein pretends to be a supportive woman but
truthfully cares only about financial gain. She feels life owes her a certain
amount of wealth, and when she doesn’t get it, she takes vengeance on everyone