Archive | Historical Perspective by Jerry Kasten

‘Thanksgiving Story’ is not all that factual

Posted on 29 November 2018 by admin

Each year, approximately 50 million elementary school students in the United States are taught the “Thanksgiving Story,” which goes something like this;

When the Pilgrims arrived in America, they were destitute and had great difficulty living off the land.

A group of Wampanoag Indians led by Massasoit befriended the pilgrims at Plymouth, showing them how to live off the land, growing corn and using fish to fertilize their fields.

In celebration of their successful harvest and improved living conditions, the Pilgrims and Indians enjoyed a three-day feast, becoming the first Thanksgiving.

It is estimated that this annual festival lasted no more than one generation. You may have been one of those children who was told the fairy-tale version of the story, which states that ever since the first Thanksgiving, it has been an annual tradition…

The reality of growing European colonialism affected the native peoples in a decimating fashion. As the number of European settlers increased, Native Indians were pushed farther into the interior, losing traditional hunting and farm land.

Any Native contact with Europeans led to widespread epidemic diseases to which most Europeans were immune.

It is estimated that eventually 90 percent of the Native American population of North America died as a result of having never been previously exposed to smallpox, measles and flu.

The original unified celebration of Thanksgiving took on a more sinister singular nature in 1637, when Massachusetts Bay Gov. John Winthrop proclaimed a day of Thanksgiving a day after the Pilgrims carried out a surprise attack on a defenseless Pequot village, resulting in the slaughter of 700 native men, women and children.

From then on, successful massacres of Indians were usually followed by a “Thanksgiving celebration” (not the type of Thanksgiving we normally think of).

In grade-school classrooms this Thanksgiving Week, students will re-enact that “first Thanksgiving.” Hopefully, their teachers have done their research, not depending on that state-adopted text book for the “facts.” Some misconceptions:

• The English settlers did not wear somber black clothing and silver-buckled shoes, as usually depicted. They didn’t even refer to themselves as “Pilgrims.”

• Nor did the native Wampanoags wear the full-feathered head dress they are usually depicted as wearing.

• Their Thanksgiving food of deer meat, corn and shellfish bear little resemblance to today’s plethora of turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberries and pie.

What is more important than what they looked like and what they ate was how they interacted with each other. Squanto, a member of the Pawtuxet tribe, had earlier experiences with Europeans and knew English. After helping the settlers learn to plant corn and use fish to fertilize their fields, both sides agreed to defend each other against any attacks by other tribes.

The peaceful arrangement was short-lived, as increasing numbers of additional European colonists pressured government support for additional land expansion in the colonies. To most colonists, the Indians were “in the way.”

Teachers have an opportunity to provide a learning environment where the Indian people are not marginalized as they often are (in textbooks and instructional materials).

More Native Americans today live in urban areas (20,000 in the D-FW area) than they do on reservation land. They are not just part of our past to be considered one day each year as a “feel-good” story.

The Thanksgiving Story can be a good start to the even bigger story of how people should not treat each other.


Jewish War Veterans honor their own at gravesites

Posted on 09 November 2018 by admin

Most TJP readers are probably used to seeing the Jewish War Veterans or members of their Ladies Auxiliary collecting donations in front of local eateries and delicatessens around Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
These funds are used to help pay for needed items at the VA Medical Center that Congress has not funded. There is another area of giving by the Jewish veterans organization which you may not be aware of: concern for deceased JWV members and their families.
A mitzvah activity by the JWV is the placement of American flags at the gravesites of its deceased members at each of Dallas’ five Jewish cemeteries, sometimes assisted by Jewish Boy Scouts.
Approximately 125 flags are placed at gravesites around Memorial Day in May and are replaced again around Veterans Day in November, totaling 250 per year.
The placement of flags is a solemn occasion culminating in a ceremony at the flagpole of the Congregation Shearith Israel Cemetery, where the Pledge of Allegiance is said and “Taps” is played by a bugler.
Deceased veterans who were JWV members are automatically entitled to have an engraved JWV flag holder buried at the gravesite, free of charge.
In addition, if the deceased veteran’s family desires and there is enough time to prepare, the JWV provides an honor guard ceremony involving the folding of the flag, the reading of the JWV tribute and the playing of “Taps,” all coordinated with the rabbi.
In cases in which the deceased was a career veteran, having served 20 or more years, they are entitled to a military honor guard from the National Cemetery, including riflemen and bugler.
At times, the JWV and the military honor guard have coordinated their efforts in a combined ceremony.
The Jewish War Veterans truly honor the military men and women of the Jewish faith who have served their nation.


Historic sites continue legacy of Jewish pioneers

Posted on 26 September 2018 by admin

Coming off the wonderful new comfortable seats in Temple Shalom’s main sanctuary after a day of Yom Kippur worship service with two great rabbis, cantor and choir, I thought of just how blessed we Dallas Jews are in so many ways.
And not just at Shalom, but the other welcoming synagogues we have available to us in the Dallas area.
But it wasn’t always this way. Let’s not forget those Jews who first came west, the true pioneers. They are part of our heritage.
Two events, one in Eastern Europe, pogroms and persecution, where Jews worked the land that they could never own, and the second, beginning in 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law, promising free land to those willing to work for it.
Thousands of Eastern European Jews joined America’s westward movement, especially after the Civil War had ended.
Under the Homestead Act, they had five years to clear and cultivate 160 acres to establish a homestead, earning it free and clear.
The Native Americans who had originally been given these lands by treaty were never consulted.
While the original structures built by these Jewish pioneers on the prairie have long disappeared, there are some historic sites worth a Jewish heritage visit.
Here are just a few.
In Boise, Idaho, stands the oldest shul west of the Mississippi that is still in use. Congregation Ahavath Beth Israel, a Reform synagogue that started with 25 families in 1896, now has 200 members in the state’s largest city.
A Jewish cemetery near Ashley, North Dakota, is the final resting place for Russian and Romanian Jews who struggled on their farms, yearning to own their land.
The Ashley Cemetery, created in 1913, is the only evidence of what was once the largest settlement of Jewish farmers in Montana, North Dakota or South Dakota.
The cemetery is perpetually cared for by both descendants of those buried and citizens of nearby Ashley hired to help maintain the burial grounds.
Finally, I recommend you visit The Sons of Jacob Cemetery first established in 1883 by the Garske Colony in North Dakota.
You can easily “visit” by computer by Googling Sons of Jacob Cemetery near Devils Lake, North Dakota.
This website is full of interesting stories recalled by descendants.
In all the stories told, reflecting the experiences of those Jewish pioneers, what comes through more than anything else is that despite all the hardships and disappointments these Jewish pioneers on the prairie experienced, their steadfast belief in their Jewish faith gave them the confidence they needed to persevere.
We should never forget those who came before us.


Historical Markers Help Us Remember Jewish History

Posted on 13 September 2018 by admin

If my mail is any indication, there are a lot of Jewish organizations, all worthy of our support. But there is one which does not send out mailers and also deserves our support.
The Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation (JASHP) came to my attention recently, when I read that it assisted in the rededication of the Leo Frank Memorial in Marietta, Georgia. The marker had been removed because of road reconstruction.
Leo Frank, a Jewish factory manager, was found guilty in the 1913 killing of Mary Phagan, a 13-year-old employee.
Emotions ran high among the local citizens. Although evidence indicated that the custodian was the more likely killer, Frank’s religion and position probably worked against him.
The judge, feeling pressured, found Frank guilty, but gave him a life sentence instead of the death penalty.
The townsfolk had other ideas. Frank was forced out of prison and was hung to death close to where the memorial is now located.
Leo Frank’s innocence is still being sought. He received a full pardon as a result of an unfair trial, but he was never fully exonerated for the crime with which he had been charged.
Seventy years after Frank was murdered, a witness admitted that he had seen the custodian, Jim Conley, carrying the victim’s body the day she died.
He had kept silent for fear of he would be killed if he had spoken up. Conley had been the main witness for the prosecution.
Hopefully, this recent rededication and the efforts of the JASHP and the local Jewish community and friends will eventually result in Frank’s full legal exoneration.
As the rededication ceremony began, word arrived that in a few months, a 30-inch black granite marker would soon be installed next to the Leo Frank Marker, recognizing every person lynched in the United States.
This national anti-lynching memorial honoring over 4,000 victims will have the following inscription, “In respectful memory of the thousands across America, denied justice by lynching, victims of hatred, prejudice and ignorance.”
Markers such as these help us to remember our past so that important people, places and events will not be forgotten.
Admittedly, not every historical marker reflects an important person, place or event.
Texas, with its 16,000 thousand markers, has its share of seemingly insignificant inscriptions, such as “Former site of Bob’s Barber Shop.” But then again, if Bob’s Barber Shop was the only one in town, those folks probably did think it was pretty important.
Historic markers help us to learn and remember our history. Texas and American History textbooks fail to mention the 4,743 lynchings that occurred in the United States from 1882-1968.
More markers cannot erase the evil which occurred, but they can help us to be less ignorant of the truth.


LBJ had to hide his efforts to save refugee Jews

Posted on 29 August 2018 by admin

Earlier this week, Aug. 27, was the birthday of Lyndon B. Johnson, our 36th president of the United States, who served from Nov. 22, 1963, to Jan. 20, 1969.
Those TJP readers old enough to remember the events of those years probably recall LBJ taking the oath soon after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
The prolonged Vietnam War and growing numbers of anti-war protestors, despite the false “success” reports being issued, always seemed to dog the president.
On the more positive side, LBJ’s “Great Society” and “War on Poverty” programs, bolstered by a strong economy, proved to be generally popular during this time of economic prosperity.
Most striking about LBJ was his markedly aggressive, often intimidating personality, especially when he was trying to persuade legislators to vote his way, whenever he favored or opposed something or someone.
What is much less known about LBJ’s past are his activities as a young Texas congressman, secretly participating in the illegal rescue of European Jews from Eastern Europe in 1938 and in 1940, before America’s entry into World War II.
LBJ’s strong Christian upbringing fostered by his family taught him to support and protect the Jews for their eventual return to the Holy Land.
Soon after taking office in 1937, he broke with his party to support a bill, which failed to pass, that would have allowed illegal aliens, mostly Lithuanian and Polish Jews, to become naturalized citizens.
In another case, LBJ was told of a young Jewish musician from Austria who was awaiting deportation to Austria during the Holocaust’s early days.
LBJ sent him to the U.S. Consulate in Havana to get a residency permit, which allowed Erich Leinsdorf to remain in the United States. He eventually become a world-class symphony conductor with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
These actions by this junior congressman ran counter to the State Department’s restrictive immigration policies, but his efforts were not known.
By Dec. 30, 1963, however, enough time had passed and circumstances were such that it was much safer to talk about LBJ’s role in saving refugee Jews.
President Johnson was making good on a promise he had made much earlier to attend and speak to the Austin congregation of newly constructed Agudas Achim Synagogue upon its completion.
LBJ’s good friend and political ally, Jim Novy, originally was Shimeon Novodvorsky, a poor Jewish teenage refugee from Poland, who worked hard, eventually making his fortune in the scrap metal business.
Novy became a philanthropist of many Jewish causes and a strong supporter of LBJ throughout his political career.
At the opening of Agudas Achim, while Johnson sat smiling, Novy described the many ways that the president helped save Jews.
Through the use of bribes, false passports and visas from Mexico and other Latin American countries, Johnson saved hundreds of Jews, entering the United States primarily through Galveston, hiding them in the Texas National Youth Administration, a youth work training program of which LBJ was the Texas director.
According to LBJ’s wife, Lady Bird, at the end of the ceremony, among the people pushing forward to meet the president, people pulled at her sleeve to get her attention, saying that if it weren’t for her husband, they wouldn’t be there. He had saved their lives.
Happy birthday, LBJ. Thank you for the good you did.


A trip on the Rhine hides the dark past of Germany

Posted on 16 August 2018 by admin

It was all that the travel brochure promised and more. Lounging, gazing and photo- graphing as our sleek river ship cruised past ancient castles, luxurious estates, quaint villages and lush green vineyards of Germany.

Watching the vessel maneuver through the many Rhine River lochs we traveled through was another form of entertainment for some folks. Each day, local tour guides, holding up their numbered signs, led us with our hearing aids through parts of their city, describing its ancient history, historic buildings and churches.

After a couple of days of touring, I realized that the guides rarely mentioned World War II, Hitler, their Jews or the Holocaust.

In each city we visited, the tour guide said little if anything about their Jewish population, other than the fact that most of the Jews came from the Soviet Union after its collapse.

I can understand their reluctance to discuss Hitler, the Holocaust or the war, but not mentioning it in any manner is a denial that it occurred.

The next day, we were to stop to visit Cochem and its 1,000-year-old imperial castle, 15th-century church and monastery.

I asked the guide for the location of the Jewish cemetery and was told that it was in the forest below the castle, “not well marked and difficult to find.”

He offered to show me plaques about Cochem’s Jews on a wall we would be walking by on the way back to our ship.

The plaques reveal the following: Cochem’s first Jews appeared in 1242. In 1287, 17 Jews, including 10 children, were killed in Cochem.

Additional massacres occurred in 1337 and 1349. Jews living in Cochem were expelled in 1418 and again in 1589.

Jews numbered 49 in 1834, 104 in 1894 and 49 in 1932.The synagogue, built in 1861, was destroyed by the Nazis in 1938.

The Jewish residents of Cochem murdered in the Holocaust were from the Dahl, Goetzoff, Haimann, Hein, Hirsch, Mayer and Simon families.

Given the horrible treatment of Jews throughout Cochem’s history culminating in the Holocaust, the placement of two metal plates high on a street wall, where they can hardly be noticed, fails to properly honor their memory.

Shame on the people of Cochem and other German cities failing to honor the memory of their Jewish neighbors.


The anguish of child separation: 1869, 1938 and 2018

Posted on 01 August 2018 by admin

The current maelstrom of child separation from parents trying to enter the United States from its southern border is tearing families apart.

Many critics of the Trump administration charge that family separation is being used as a “weapon” in an attempt to frighten would-be undocumented aliens with children from entering our country, seeking sanctuary from gangs and violence in their native lands.

Approximately 3,000 children have been separated from parents who are unaware of their child’s location. Children cry themselves to sleep at night, not knowing where their parents are.

As Jews, we cannot forget that ”child separation” is also part of our history.

Jewish families in Nazi Germany and Austria also suffered family separations soon after Kristallnacht, Nov. 9-10, 1938, when Jewish men were rounded up and sent to concentration camps, leaving mothers to consider where to send their children for greater security.

Some children were sent to Palestine while others were sent to Great Britain by way of the Kindertransport. Here too, children cried themselves to sleep, no longer able to hug their parents.

Among the Jews unable to exit Germany early enough, well over 1 million children are estimated to have died in the Holocaust.

From the Native Americans’ perspective, their post-Civil War fight for survival ended in defeat and they were forced onto lands not considered desirable by white America.

If it is wrong and heartless to separate children from their parents, then we must also not forget the more than 100,000 Native American children who were forced to attend church schools as part of President Ulysses S. Grant’s 1869 “Peace Policy.”

Children as young as 5 were shipped off to Christian boarding schools in order to learn English and get rid of their tribal heritage.

Later investigations reported numerous abuses of forced labor and widespread physical and sexual abuse throughout the entire boarding school program.

One only need to read the annual tribal statistics to see the depressing results of our nation’s mistreatment of its native peoples.

While poverty, crime and joblessness are the highest on many tribal reservations, enlightened native youth are struggling and some are succeeding in the modern world while retaining their native heritage.

Child separation is never the answer. It is an abomination.


Little-known Jews responsible for well-known things

Posted on 25 July 2018 by admin

Did you know that there are numerous people whose achievements are famous, but their names are generally not known? Here is a sampling of some Jewish achievers.
Jacob Youphes was a tailor from Riga, Russia, who changed his name to Davis after arriving in the United States.
His customers wanted tougher work clothes, so he invented a reinforcement process using copper rivets and reinforced stitching in cotton denim that he purchased from Levi Strauss.
Needing financial assistance for a patent and additional material as orders piled up, Davis turned to Strauss, and a lifelong partnership was begun.
People began calling the durable pants “Levi’s,” but it was Jacob Davis who made the jeans tough.
Julius Rosenwald was a poor peddler’s son who was also a tailor, eventually growing his business of producing a clothing line for the expanding Sears, Roebuck (mail-order catalog) and Company.
Rosenwald’s investment in Sears expanded as the company grew, and he eventually became president of the Sears Corporation.
After accumulating financial power, Rosenwald sought to put his fortune to worthwhile causes.
He partnered with the African-American community to improve African-American education, amounting to an investment of $70 million. Those funds resulted in the establishment of more than 5,000 schools for African-Americans, These were informally known as “Rosenwald Schools.”
Morris and Rose Michtom were a Brooklyn couple who owned a candy store. At night, they would make stuffed animals, which they displayed and sold in their store.
They saw a newspaper cartoon poking fun at a recent situation when President Theodore Roosevelt was on a bear hunting trip in Mississippi. A bear could not be found, except for a small cub that was tied to a tree.
The president refused to shoot the bear, and the newspaper cartoonist had his subject.
Rose saw the cartoon, built the teddy bear and, after writing the president, the Michtoms received permission to refer to the doll as the Teddy Bear. It was such a hit that their venture became the Ideal Toy Company. I don’t know about you, but I remember having a teddy bear when I was a little kid.
Isidor Rabi was a Polish-born American physicist and Nobel Prize winner in 1944, for his discovery of nuclear magnetic resonance, which led to microwave radar and microwave ovens.
Laszlo Biro, a Hungarian journalist originally from Argentina, worked with his chemist brother to develop the first working ballpoint pen in 1931.
Does the name Allie Wrubel ring a bell? Probably not. He was a musician who eventually moved to Hollywood, writing music for Disney.
What you will probably remember are some of his prize-winning songs of the 1940s, such as Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah, The Lady From 29 Palms, Music Maestro Please, The Lady in Red, Gone With The Wind and Mine Alone.
Robert Adler, working for Zenith Television in the 1950s, took up his boss’s challenge to invent a device that can be used to tune out commercials, resulting in the first TV remote control. Of course, we still have the commercials.
The famous Barbie doll was the brainchild of American businesswoman Ruth Handler in 1959.
Samuel Ruben, scientist, accumulated more than 300 patents, including Duracell batteries. At the request of the Army Signal Corps, in 1942 he developed the mercury button cell to replace zinc carbon batteries.
Amazingly, the list of inventive Jews is never-ending.


Jews made large contributions to U.S. independence

Posted on 05 July 2018 by admin

Hopefully, TJP readers both enjoyed and survived the Fourth of July fireworks and festivities without any negative results.
If you consider the more serious aspect of the holiday, remembering to give thanks to those who over 242 years ago fought to bring us independence, you must include the Jewish community as well.
While a small number of Jews chose to remain loyal to the King of England, the great majority joined the cause of freedom, contributing what they could in the fight for independence.
Haym Salomon is given credit for raising the necessary funds to help supply George Washington’s Army, but he also helped American prisoners escape even after he was arrested.
Salomon lost most of his savings in the process of helping fund Washington’s army.
Another who lost most of his fortune helping the Revolutionary cause was Aaron Lopez, supposedly the wealthiest Jew in America.
After he donated most of his savings to the patriots’ cause, his fleet of merchant ships and other property was confiscated by the British.
Francis Salvador, a South Carolina plantation owner, became known as the “Paul Revere of the South” for rousing and forming an army of over 300 men.
Salvador, the first Jew elected to a state colonial assembly, was sadly the first Jew killed in the Revolution.
Other notable Jewish patriots included Isaac Moses of Philadelphia, who donated 3,000 pounds to the war effort.
Mordecai Sheftal, a merchant, as colonel, was the highest-ranking Jewish soldier in Washington’s army. He was placed in charge of acquiring supplies for the revolutionary troops of Georgia and South Carolina, but was captured by the British.
Eventually released in a prisoner exchange, Sheftal sold shares in a privateer that joined other privateers in attacking, ransacking and destroying British merchant ships.
British ship owners and merchants in turn, began pressuring the British government to end the war in order to end further losses.
The Jewish population in 1775 numbered no more than 2,500 total, less than one-tenth of the total colonial population, but their influence in the successful outcome in America’s War for Independence was unquestionable.


The French origins of the delicatessen

Posted on 06 June 2018 by admin

It was just this past Mother’s Day when I joined the rest of my family, grabbing a plate, and slowly selecting from a variety of wonderful-looking deli food, which had been selected from a local delicatessen and served at our daughter’s home.
The tasty, aromatic food made such an impression on me, bringing back New York memories, that I decided “delis” was a worthy topic to investigate and write about with relish (no pun intended).
My earliest memory of a deli was the time in The Bronx when, as a kid, I walked into a wonderful-smelling store having a large wooden barrel in front with a sign reading, “A Nickel A Pickle.” Tongs on top of the barrel cover invited us to select our pickle of choice.
In reality, only the smallest pickles were a nickel, but it was fun, fishing for a smaller pickle, which tended to slip between the bigger ones.
Only recently have I become interested in the origin of delis. My prior research was in the area of the tasty offerings of delicatessen food.
However, the origins of the delicatessen make an interesting story.
Historians believe that as a result of the French Revolution, wealthy families were forced to decrease their extravagances and minimize their household staff.
In the process, many chefs of wealthy families lost their jobs.
Seeking new sources of income, the former chefs began working independently, processing and producing prepared meats, cheeses and foods that they would sell to those who could still afford gourmet food.
Gourmet stores began opening all over Europe after the French Revolution wherever there was demand. Formerly well-off people were able to afford these higher-quality prepared foods.
The word “delicatessen” started as the French word, delicat (fine), then into delicatesse (fine food), Italian delicatezza and Delikatesse in German, and finally arriving in the United States as delicatessen.
As the numbers of East European Jews streamed into New York and other ports during the late 1880s, the number of butcher shops increased, as well.
Before the delis became popular, most Jewish immigrants preferred to cook and prepare their own meat.
An 1899 survey of 75,000 people living on the Lower East Side, found 10 delis, 10 sausage stores and more than 1,000 kosher butcher shops, all selling 600,000 pounds of kosher beef each week.
Since butchers competed for customers, they began to offer prepared foods such as pickled meats, frankfurters and canned goods, in addition to the usual cuts of kosher meat.
As the demand for prepared foods grew, many former butcher shops added a grill and some tables and chairs. Voilà! The delicatessen was born.
New York City, having the largest number of Jews, has always had a great selection of delis, but the wartime meat shortage and rationing had a distressing effect on butchers and delis, as did the movement of young people to the suburbs after World War II. ended.
I still remember as a teen whose family never ate out, the thrill of seeing the pickles, breads and other noshes stacked in the middle of the table at Katz’s New York Delicatessen.
The number of delicatessens may be down, but wherever there are Jews, there will be a deli or at least an attempt at having one.
Delis vary as to quality, but the New York City delis are considered to be the standard for American Jews.


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