By Hollace Ava Weiner
Barry and Lynn Taurog and their three youngsters arrived in Fort Worth in January 1980 carrying visitors’ visas that were close to expiration.
Yet they intended to stay. The couple had scoped out the city several months before and were optimistic that a position in a west-side travel agency would turn into the family’s ticket to American citizenship.
Under no circumstance were they going back to South Africa. Despite their luxurious lifestyle in a Johannesburg suburb, the couple were determined to provide their children — Lisa, 7; Caryn, 6; and Marc, 2 — with a life free of apartheid and civil unrest.
The Taurogs’ immigrant story of hard knocks and tenacity is featured in the Gone 2 Texas booklet that will be distributed at this weekend’s conference of the Texas Jewish Historical Society in Fort Worth. The family’s difficult, but successful path to U.S. citizenship took nearly a decade, much longer than the norm.
Periodically, they crossed the border into Canada to renew their visitors’ visas. Their story is particularly topical at a time when the Trump administration is reshaping U.S. immigration policy.
To receive green cards and citizenship, Barry had to fill a job that an American wouldn’t. When his first position as a partner in a Texas travel agency didn’t work out, he made a living managing a Quik Zip convenience store near Carswell Air Force Base. The premises rattled whenever military jets flew overhead.
Barry had operated a pharmacy in South Africa. His credentials did not transfer to the United States. Starting over would entail enrolling in pharmacy school at the University of Texas in Austin and again uprooting the family.
The Taurogs opted to stay in Fort Worth, where Barry spent the rest of his life juggling an array of jobs.
He marketed South African jerky — bilbong — that he cured in a special dryer. At various intervals, he was in jewelry, insurance and real estate. He was a screener with the Transportation Security Administration at DFW Airport for seven years, where he befriended travelers from around the globe. He joined the Masons, his neighborhood Citizens on Patrol and was a docent at the Van Cliburn Piano Competition. He was the catalyst for a dialogue between the Jewish community and First Presbyterian Church, when the latter advocated economic boycotts against Israel.
When he died of cancer in February 2007 at age 67, his funeral was standing room only.
Although the Taurogs were members at Reform Congregation Beth-El, Barry and Lynn were part of the Chevra Kadisha — the burial society — at Ahavath Sholom, the city’s Conservative synagogue.
“It’s the last act of kindness that you can do for someone,” Lynn told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Lynn Lawrence Taurog, a hostess, upbeat secretary and organizer, also proved her work ethic. She teamed up with a girlfriend to sell handbags at house parties. She worked at Weber’s pawn shop (owned by a local Jewish family), then at Radio Shack and, finally, at Senior Citizens Services organizing a food bank. Among her hobbies were gin rummy, mah-jongg, jigsaw puzzles and trips to Graceland. (Yes, she was an Elvis fanatic.) She survived her first bout of cancer in 1992, describing it as “a bump in the road.” A decade later, cancer struck again.
She died in April 2007, two months after her husband.
In his emotional eulogies, then-Beth-El Rabbi Ralph Mecklenburger observed that “becoming rich” was never Lynn or Barry’s goal. During lives filled with idealism and challenges, “more important things motivated them.”
Their oldest child, Lisa, had high expectations when the family came to the U.S. “We thought we were moving to Disney World, because anyone who had visited America came back with gifts from Disneyland. It was a culture shock. We were slightly disappointed.” At school, “people made fun of my accent. They teased me. I learned very quickly to lose my accent. . . . When we traveled back to South Africa in the summer, I was the first to pack my bags. I remember South Africa vividly.”
The Taurogs lived in the Candleridge neighborhood, in a corner house with a school-bus stop outside the door. On cold mornings, Lisa’s mom made hot chocolate for all the kids. Her dad fed stray dogs and cats, earning the nickname “Dr. Doolittle.” Their Christmas tradition was to go to a movie and a Chinese restaurant with the Muslim family that lived across the street. (All the parents had “funny accents.”)
Married since 2008, Lisa and her husband, Texas native Jeffery Kuperman, are raising twin boys born in 2009. She went into restaurant management and commercial print sales and is part owner of Grease Monkey Rubs, a spice company.
Her sister, Caryn, says that, “although I moved from South Africa when I was 6, I remember a lot — even the smells.” What she likes best about South Africa is that it reminds her of her parents. “It’s their roots. I can feel them when I visit. Going back is like getting a piece of them. It’s like a homecoming. But I am glad I do not live there. I am glad my parents made the choice. There’s not a future there. It’s not safe. The country is corrupt. Although people there have a high standard of living, it’s a trade-off. There’s anxiety about crime. At my relatives’ houses, there are electric fences and guards. You don’t wear your jewelry in public.”
Caryn appreciates how difficult it was for her parents to start over. “The government made it a hard process, because so many people were leaving. There was a brain drain. You couldn’t take all your money or assets.” Whenever her uncles traveled to the States, they brought some of her father’s savings. As violence and economic boycotts afflicted South Africa, the value of the currency plummeted. “It was a bad exchange rate. It’s hard to start over.”
Caryn, who graduated from Texas Tech and has an MBA from SMU, lives in Dallas with her husband, Jeff Borden and two children.
Marc Taurog, a software engineer with a home in Euless, was a toddler when his family left South Africa. He had built his first computer by age 8. Marc has clear memories of visits to South Africa. Once he fell in his grandmother’s pool, and the gardener fished him out. His grandmother brushed crumbs from the kitchen table into a pie pan that she set outdoors for the birds.
When his cousins used to visit Texas, they stocked up on blue jeans and electronics, items hard to find in South Africa. “The country had very few American imports.” Best of all were summertime visits from his grandparents, who stayed through the High Holidays. “It was really special. Visits are so few and far between when you live so far away.”
Which relatives still remain in South Africa? On the maternal side, an aunt, uncle and their married son. On the paternal side, one uncle with four children. “They are very nationalistic,” Marc said. “They would never leave. I’m glad my parents did. Dad was 40 when he picked up and came to the States. It took a lot of guts.”