By Ben Tinsley
DALLAS — Nearly 200 South African Jews have submitted information about their re-migration to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex that — properly analyzed — might help determine the scope of the South African Jewish presence in Dallas.
This “Roots To Boots” project facilitated by the Dallas Jewish Historical Society offers each South African Jew a 5-minute online survey to take and an oral history to perform. Both are voluntary.
This information can be archived and accessed by families, the Dallas Jewish community’s historical record, future written or multimedia publications and future exhibitions of the Dallas South African Jewish immigration experience.
As of this week, 115 surveys had been submitted and 75 oral histories taken, explained Debra Polsky, executive director of the Dallas Jewish Historical Society.
After much input, members of the Roots to Boots Committee came to the conclusion it was time to move forward with this information.
“We are two-and-a-half to three years into this committee and felt it was time to look at this data and see what it told us,” Polsky said.
Following this line of thought, Joan Gremont reached out from the committee to Dr. Jill E. Kelly at Southern Methodist University and located a student — Hannah Williams, 22, from Portland, Oregon — who was looking to do a thesis project on South Africa.
Williams ended up connecting with this project as an internship that lasted two semesters.
The resulting course description — touted as an opportunity for students to apply historical skills in a public setting — involves studying and analyzing the survey and oral history interviews organized by Joan Gremont and the rest of the Roots to Boots Committee: Chair May Sebel, Esme Jacobson, Lynette Rakusin, Jo Reingold, Marilyn Pailet, and Jim Schwartz.
By May, Williams is expected to complete a presentation and paper on the migration of Jewish South Africans to the Dallas/Fort Worth area that she will present at a special showcase on Monday, May 2. The place of the showcase has yet to be announced.
Williams said Sunday she is very happy to be working on the project.
“It’s really interesting,” she said Sunday. “I wrote a background paper for it last fall and right now I am watching all the oral histories and everything and getting ready to present the paper in May.”
Williams said her junior research paper was about women in South Africa during apartheid.
“When Roots to Boots contacted my professor, she thought I might be interested because of that background,” she said. “And I am. I’m very interested. It’s not yet my area of expertise but it is fast becoming it.”
This project started in 2013 when members of the local community who had come to the DFW area from South Africa in the 1970s approached the Dallas Jewish Historical Society and asked them to document their histories.
“They said, ‘We want our kids to know our stories,’” Polsky said. “We worked with them and they came up with the idea to send a survey to 350 people they knew; they listed everyone they could, and got a ton of responses. We worked on the survey and came up with questions that would not only help the story but would lead people into the oral history interview, 20 of which are up right now. Two-and-a-half years later, we are still interviewing.”
The brief survey designed specifically for the Roots to Boots project can be accessed on www.surveymonkey.com/s/rootstoboots.
And the demand for interviews continues, Polsky said.
“We keep running into people who tell us ‘You never interviewed me’ or ‘I would love to have that for posterity’ or ‘I would love to have that for my children,’” she said.
Treasures from the DJHS archives
By Stuart Rosenfield, DJHS board member
Among the many collections to explore, the archives of the Dallas Jewish Historical Society, located in the Aaron Family JCC, houses a collection from one of Dallas’ premier department stores of the 20th century.
Titche’s, or Titche-Goettinger’s as it was known, was opened in downtown Dallas in 1902 by Edward Titche and Max Goettinger. Originally located at the corner of Elm and Murphy streets in downtown Dallas, the store moved in 1904 to the Wilson Building and then again when it built its flagship location at St. Paul Street, between Elm and Main streets, which was then considered “Uptown.”
At this new, much larger location the store successfully competed for Dallas’ growing fashion-conscious consumer and expanded the number of stores. Over the years, Titche-Goettinger was sold to larger retail conglomerates, who later shortened the name to Titche’s when the store expanded into the suburbs in the 1960s and 1970s. The name was changed again from Titche’s to Joske’s (its sister department store chain) until the then-owners (Allied) sold the stores to Dillard’s in 1987. The flagship location in downtown Dallas was closed after the Dillard’s acquisition.
This collection, generously given to the DJHS by Ellis M. Titche, a founding family descendant, includes a 1908-1910 Titche-Goettinger general ledger cash book, a 1904-1905 fall/winter catalog, store gift boxes, an employee nametag from the 1960s, a wedding registry book published in 1964, and numerous photographs of early store locations, as well as panoramic photographs from company picnics taken during the 1920s. Additionally, the collection includes a promotional brochure and a newspaper article announcing Titche’s as one of NorthPark Mall’s first anchor stores.
Visit the exhibit at the Aaron Family JCC, or check out the extensive collection of oral histories from Dallas Jewish personalities at www.djhs.org.
The Dallas Jewish Historical Society works to collect, preserve, and protect the papers, photographs, artifacts and recorded personal stories that illustrate the history of the Jewish community in Dallas.