Fall 2012 Feature
Sylvia Haber, z"l
Brandeis, Wilson, and the Reverend Who Changed History Jerry Klinger
Portrait of a Jewish Chicken-Farmer’s Wife in ConnecticutKenneth Libo
Sylvia Haber, z"l
The Midstream Editorial Board and Staff are grieved to report the sudden passing on December 28, 2012 of Sylvia Haber, the beloved wife of our editor Leo Haber and the sister of our editorial assistant Cecile Bittkower.
Mrs. Haber, a graduate of Brooklyn College with a B.A. degree in English also attended the historic Downtown Talmud Torah Hebrew School and Hebrew High School on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, followed by several semesters at the Herzliah Hebrew Teachers' Institute in New York. She worked as a valued college assistant in the Audit area of the Registrar's office of Brooklyn College for more than fifty-two years checking student academic records in order to guide them successfully through to graduation. She was at work on December 27, the day before her sudden passing, doing her job with no sign of a serious health problem. The funeral took place on Sunday, December 30, 2012 in Brooklyn.
The Service was conducted by Rabbi Harold (Chaim) Spivack, a family friend for many years who recalled Sylvia and Leo in their youthful days growing up on the Jewish Lower East Side. Other speakers included Virginia Wilson, a colleague at work who called Sylvia her Jewish mother who consistently helped her with her work at every opportunity, as she did for many other colleagues. She named Sylvia the Einstein of Audit because of her extraordinary knowledge of half a century of changing college and departmental degree requirements for graduation and her ability to solve complex student problems. Gilda Aronovic, a dear friend from teenage years and a contemporary painter in the abstract style spoke about the group of girlfriends including Sylvia that met every few weeks to visit art galleries in Manhattan. She praised Sylvia's devotion to and knowledge of literature and classical music, but emphasized the insights she displayed frequently about the art encountered on these trips.
Sylvia and Leo's two sons spoke next. Howard Haber, professor of particle physics at the University of California at Santa Cruz and an internationally known theorist on the Higgs boson, described his Mom as the inspiration for his career. Howie insisted that even though his mother majored in English and loved great literature, theater, and music, her highly praised ability to tackle a complex problem at work and persevere until they were solved was exactly what he as a theorist in physics learned from her to apply in his work. His mother taught him, in effect, by example, the basic method of scientific research. He also insisted that his Mom was the very opposite of the stereotypical negative picture of the Jewish mother in sitcoms. She was wholly supportive of his career with gentleness and kindness, a point equally expressed by his brother Edward Haber, senior recordings engineer and technical director of the team recording live concerts for broadcast on public radio at WNYC and WQXR in New York. Eddie also is a producer of recordings by the renowned klezmer clarinetist and mandolin virtuoso Andy Statman and vocal recordings by Linda Thompson, the well known British folk artist and singer-songwriter. He marveled at his Mom's passion for reading and music that always inspired him. Just a few weeks before her passing, she came across a rare multi-volumed novel by a female relative of Anthony Trollope. Sylvia had already read all of the great English writer's novels. She got Eddie to take her to Barnes and Noble where she bought an electronic nook so that she could read the female Trollope's work in bed. She finished reading almost two of the volumes immediately before her passing. Ed was awed and moved by his Mom's last intellectual achievement.
Sylvia's sister Cecile spoke feelingly at the funeral, calling Sylvia her best friend. She remembered Syl's expressions of naches when speaking of Howie's original research on the Higgs boson or of the Andy Statman klezmer CDs produced by Eddie. Sylvia and her younger sister Cecile, known to all the family as Zeasel (Zisl) spent almost every Sunday together, keeping in touch with Leo at home working on Midstream manuscripts or writing his own poetry or fiction. On the night before her passing, Sylvia told Leo joyfully about a great movie involving Beethoven's Quartet #14, her favorite, that she and Zeasel had seen the previous Sunday. Dr. Murray Abramsky, a beloved childhood friend of Sylvia and Leo also spoke at the Service, recalling Syl's rosy cheeks and winning smile that enchanted all the teenaged boys at the Downtown Talmud Torah. Leo was the last speaker at the service after which Rabbi Spivack chanted the 23rd psalm in Hebrew.
In addition to the family members mentioned above, Sylvia is survived by her sister, Renee Scherzer who was a teacher of Hebraic studies and the sacred Jewish texts for many years in Jewish schools. Dr. Frieda Spivack, the rabbi's wife and a sister of Gilda Aronovic sat alongside Leo to look after him, and Howard's wife, Marjorie Gorker Haber was also in the front row next to her husband, giving him and the family loving support.
Sylvia and Leo were married for over 61 years. Leo, who is partially blind and beset by other maladies, spoke of his lifelong love affair with Syl and the unstinting care she expended upon him in his recent years of ill health. He moved the large audience to tears by citing what turned out to be the last words Sylvia said to him when the ambulance medics were wheeling her out of the apartment to take her to the hospital. Leo was following her immediately behind the wheelchair. Sylvia, gasping for breath, turned her head to her husband and said, "Leo, please don't forget to put in your eye drops." Yehi zichrah baruch. May her memory be for a blessing. •
Brandeis, Wilson, and the Reverend Who Changed History
Maybe it was an accident that the gate to the Alliance Christian Missionary Cemetery in Jerusalem’s German colony was open that evening. It almost never was. Maybe it was bashert. I went in and discovered the grave of the Reverend John Stanley Grauel. He had been a secret Haganah operative deliberately placed on the Exodus because, as Golda Meir said, he could do what no Jew could do. He is almost forgotten now. Because of Grauel, I began to learn of Christians who changed the history of Israel. Coming from a Yeshivah world, that is something that is just not done.
Louis D. Brandeis was born November 13, 1856 in Louisville, KY. His family, refugee immigrant Bohemian Jews, fled the failed Liberal European revolutions of 1848. The Brandeis family were not traditional practicing Jews. They had a vague connection to the false Messiah movement of Jacob Frank. Brandeis grew up comfortably middle class. He traveled abroad and spent two years studying in Dresden Germany before attending Harvard Law. At Harvard he demonstrated extraordinary leadership becoming the head of his class, all the while obtaining the highest academic scores of any student to date. Brandeis was gifted with an incredibly brilliant, disciplined, organized, and perceptive mind. Brandeis married Alice Goldmark in 1889, a woman from a similar Bohemian Jewish background as his own. He was appointed by President Wilson, and confirmed by the United States Senate in 1917, as the first Jew to serve on the United States Supreme Court.
Thomas Woodrow Wilson was born December 28, 1856, in Staunton, VA. His family was of Scot-Irish ancestry, Southern sympathizers and slave owners. His father, Reverend Dr. Joseph Ruggles Wilson, was a founder and a minister of the Southern Presbyterian Church when it broke away from the mainstream Presbyterian Church in 1861. They were deeply religious people. Woodrow Wilson read the Bible and prayed daily his entire life. Wilson, unable to read until he was ten, probably suffered from dyslexia. He devised his own system of shorthand to compensate. Diligent, determined, Wilson worked hard to achieve his academic accomplishments. His family’s moderate wealth provided the means for him to graduate Princeton in 1879 and afterwards attended law school for one year at the University of Virginia. Changing majors, he earned a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University (1883) in history and political science. Wilson married Ellen Axson, a minister’s daughter in 1885. She died in 1914. Woodrow Wilson had just been elected the 28th president of the United States. He remarried a year later to Edith Galt, a direct descendent of the American Indian princess Pocahontas.
William Eugene Blackstone was born in Adams County, New York, October 6, 1841. His family was of very modest means. The Blackstones were the first white settlers of Boston. A Methodist, he accepted Jesus publicly at age 11. Physically weak, he was rejected by the Union army during the American Civil War but volunteered through the U.S. Christian Commission—an institution akin to the Red Cross. W.E.B., as he modestly liked to be known, was never formally educated. He was never privileged to attend University or Divinity schools. W.E.B., possessing a brilliant intellect, was largely self- educated. In 1866 he married Sarah Lee Smith settling in Chicago four years later. Achieving respectable financial success as a real estate developer, he deliberately chose to abandon business and devote himself to God for the rest of his long life.
Superficially, Reverend William E. Blackstone was a premillennial dispensational Christian evangelist and missionary. He was the author of the hugely successful and influential, Jesus is Coming, in 1878. His book, the veritable reference source of American dispensationalist thought, sold millions of copies. It was translated into 48 languages. Blackstone clearly laid out the Biblical justifications for the return of the Jews and the re-establishment of the Jewish state as a pre-condition of the second coming of Jesus. His efforts influenced countless millions of Christians to identify as Christian Zionists.
Contemporary historians have almost entirely ignored, forgotten, or even deliberately marginalized Blackstone’s crucial role in Zionist and American history. Anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian sources actively remember him but with vitriol. Why?
Decisions between men and their God at times come after intense introspection and struggle. For W.E.B. it was no different. A highly successful businessman, he was confronted with two paths on his life’s road. The first path was to continue in the world of Mammon making generous donations of his funds to advance his faith in God through the work of others. The second was to dedicate his life, his being, to God. In a night of deep personal struggle, filled with prayers, soul-searching, and painful choices, he made his choice to follow God. He pledged he would spend the next two years spreading the Gospel. The pledge was fulfilled, but his two years extended to the rest of his long life.
Blackstone’s Gospel was deeply influenced by John Nelson Darby and Dwight L. Moody. Perhaps the single most influential element on Blackstone’s Gospel was his self-educated reading of the Bible. Since the first traumatic events of the Reformation and the translation of the Bible from Latin to the language of the layman, the Bible was open to be read by all without control and direction of clergy. It was the very freeing of access to the Bible and the fact that Blackstone never attended divinity school to shape his thoughts about his relationship to God that brought his own direct reading to Restorationism as a part of Dispensationalism.
Restorationism is the belief derived from direct Biblical interpretation that one of the preconditions for the Second Coming of Jesus was the return of the Jews to their God-pledged land of Palestine. Unlike 2,000 years of orthodox Catholic and Eastern Catholic thought that the Jews were replaced by the Church because of their sin of rejecting Jesus, Dispensationalist Christians believe that God had never abandoned his special relationship with the Jewish people. The Jews had endured a period of chastisement but not abandonment. Before the end of time, after periods of dispensations—the Jews would return to Palestine and rebuild the Temple. To Blackstone, God’s love for the Jewish people and their place in Biblical fulfillment of prophecy was not a revocable event of an uncertain God. Blackstone’s religious understandings linked the return of the Jews to the 1,000 year reign of Jesus in Jerusalem after the Rapture, when true believers would be called to God in safety ahead of the seven-year tribulation and time of destruction that marked the end of time. Evil would be cleansed but all was dependent upon the Jews being protected to return to Palestine. Without the Jewish Restoration, there could be no return of Jesus.
Blackstone attended the Prophetic (Niagara) Conference of 1878. A topic of discussion was the implications of the Berlin Treaty of 1878 and the restoration of Balkan countries to their original owners. The dismemberment of the sick man of Europe, Turkey and its empire, was clearly visible. The Ottomans ruled the Holy Land for over three hundred years. Christians had comprised the largest block of people inhabiting the areas, loosely defined as Palestine, since the Byzantine Era. The conquest of the area by the Muslims in the 7th century and the forced conversions of the inhabitants changed the character of the land over time. Jewish presence, though greatly reduced in numbers, never had been severed, ever since the Roman cleansing of the land of Jews.
Many Christians and Blackstone clearly could read the writing on the wall. It was a matter of time. Ottoman rule over the Holy Land was coming to an end.
The 19th century was an age of rediscovery of the Holy Land for many English-speaking peoples. W.E.B. and his daughter visited Palestine in 1888. Americans had been engaged in physical Restorationist activity for decades in Palestine for both Christian and Jew alike.
It was also the age of vicious Eastern European, and in particular, Russian scapegoating, institutionalized antisemitism, to cover the intentional reactionism and oppression of the Russian people. Jewish life went from tenuous in Russia to questionable marginal survival in the last quarter of the century.
W.E.B. was alarmed at the destruction of the Jewish people. Many in the Western media were horrified. They did little but protest in their papers.
Using his own funds and the incredible energy of faith and purpose, building upon his extraordinary effort to find a rapprochement of understanding of communities of faith between Christian and Jew in Chicago in 1890, Blackstone did something about Jewish suffering in Russia. November 24-25, 1890, Blackstone organized the first Ecumenical conference between Christians and Jews in America, the Conference on the Past, Present, and Future of Israel. A major result of the conference was a joint, Christian and Jewish declaration against Russian oppression of the Jews.
Blackstone understood the politics of the possible. He was a man of faith, but he was also a realist. America was a power rising but was not yet a world power. The Great White Fleet had not sailed. America’s destiny, as a shaper of the twentieth century, was intimated but not a reality.
America was the bastion of faith in a better tomorrow, but America also was not willing to become the New Zion for the world’s millions of Jews. Not even the old established, dominant, assimilated American German Jews wanted the hordes of Russian Jews, whom many of them disdained, flooding onto American shores. They feared it could kindle American antisemitism and threaten their own hard-won acceptance and toleration.
Blackstone recognized the potential Russian death wish for its Jews. He linked action to save the Jews of Russia with his personal faith as “God’s Little Errand Boy,” a self-described role. He sought a solution to the terrible suffering of Russian Jewry. The written resolution alone that came from the conference would not solve the problem. It was only words without actions. To save the Jews of Russia, Blackstone knew there was only one solution. Restore the Jews to Palestine. The Ottoman Empire was rotting from within under debt and decay. The return of the Jews to some sort of semi-autonomous self-rule in Palestine would benefit the Ottomans with cash compensation and provide a solution to the “Jewish Problem” of the world.
Working with feverish energy, Reverend Blackstone assembled a Memorial. The statement was signed by 413 prominent Americans, business leaders such as J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, prominent Congressional leaders including William McKinley (later the American president), Thomas Reed, Speaker of the House of Representatives, religious leaders, Christian and Jewish, editors and publishers of major American print media, and even the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Melville Fuller. The Memorial called for American support in concert with the world community for the creation of a humanitarian solution to the Jewish suffering in Russia. His solution—permit the Jews to return to Palestine. The Memorial was formally presented to President Harrison on March 5, 1891. The Memorial was major American news for weeks. The complete text was printed in the Chicago Tribune.
President Harrison received the Memorial that Reverend Blackstone presented formally and with solemnity. The Blackstone Memorial was recognized as politically important. President Harrison could not simply shrug it off. The Memorial urged President Harrison to “consider the condition of the Israelites and their claims to Palestine as their ancient home, and to promote, in all other just and proper ways, the alleviation of their suffering condition.”
President Harrison was a pragmatist. He was not a particularly religious man and recognized the limitations of American power. He pigeonholed the focus of the Memorial. Later he did support mild diplomatic efforts to the Czar to mitigate Jewish oppression. He even mentioned the sufferings of Russian Jewry in his 3rd State of the Union Address.
Blackstone’s efforts continued, presenting the Memorial to President Theodore Roosevelt with even less receptivity and action. His extraordinary effort at stirring American political support through presidential politics faded but never left his thoughts. The ability of acting and influencing an American president had seemingly faded.
It was be a full twenty-five years later that the Blackstone Memorial would again resurface as a factor in American presidential consideration and American foreign relations.
Louis Dembitz Brandeis, a nationally prominent Jewish Boston lawyer accepted, for reasons still clouded in controversy and mystery, the chairmanship of the moribund Provisional Executive Committee for Zionist Affairs in 1914. American Zionism, disorganized, fractious, and impoverished could muster about 15,000 members in 1914. Brandeis embarked on a speaking tour between 1914 and 1915, using his personal prestige and reputation as an American Jew to reform, organize, and develop popular support for the Zionist goals of self-determination and freedom for Jews in a Jewish homeland. Brandeis legitimized for millions of American Jewish immigrants, as well as first and second generation American Jews searching for an American Jewish identity, Zionist congruence with Americanism and democracy. American Jews enjoyed an incredible new experience—freedom and toleration. They could strive for a Jewish solution to an age-old problem, the Jewish Problem, and maintain their legitimate rights as loyal American citizens. Under Brandeis’s influence, the American Zionist ranks grew from nothing to over 250,000.
Today, few speak of or even know of the mini-Holocaust of Jews in Eastern Europe during World War I. Savaged by both sides, but especially by the Russians by 1916, Jews were being murdered by the hundreds of thousands. It was well known in the media. Jews organized special relief efforts for food, medicine, money and political support. Not much was accomplished. Brandeis was intimately involved in the effort as a Zionist to try to save Jewish lives. America was neutral, and not much could be done from the American end. It was a question of time if America would be drawn into the European conflict and then, on which side?
Until the early stage of World War I, the center of the Zionist world was Berlin, Germany. It soon became apparent that the Zionist movement would have to relocate to a more neutral center. Disagreements existed as to where that center should be; eventually the choices became limited to Britain or the U.S. Territoriality and tension between London and New York quickly grew up. Though part of the same movement, British Zionism saw itself as the center of the world. Legitimately, Britain was at its apogee politically. The sun never set on the British Empire around the globe. American Jewry could boast of a much larger population than British Jewry, but Britain was on the ground in Europe and the Middle East fighting the Turk and the German.
British Zionism was under the able leadership of Chaim Weizmann. He had been cultivating British political leadership for years; Weizmann struggled forward with his goal, a British declaration in favor of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Weizmann believed in British hegemony in the Middle East. He saw Britain as the future protector of a Jewish homeland. Weizmann and Brandeis, though working at common purposes, were already beginning to exhibit contentious differences. They did not openly share information.
Negotiations with the British were well along and quite delicate. Brandeis learned about Weizmann’s efforts indirectly. “Brandeis had received information about Weizmann’s work as early as December 1915, when he met Alfred Zimmern, then a visiting professor at the University of Wisconsin who also participated in conversations between the British Zionist and His Majesty’s Government.” 1
Brandeis understood that the British Zionists were attempting something enormous on their own. He also understood that the British needed American support even if Weizmann had not seen fit to ask Brandeis for help. Discussions within the highest ranks of Brandeis’s inner Zionist community commenced.
Brandeis was the lawyer’s lawyer. He knew the answer to every question before it was even asked. He gathered all the information he could before he proceeded to his objective. He needed to be in personal direct control of every situation. He knew what he wanted and how to get there. He did not like it any other way.
A close advisor and confidant to the Brandeis’s inner Zionist circle was Nathan Straus. The Straus family were influential old-line assimilated German American Jews. Oscar Straus, Nathan’s brother, had been the American ambassador to the Ottoman Court under Theodore Roosevelt. More significantly, Oscar had been a signatory of the 1891 Blackstone Memorial presented to President Harrison. Nathan Straus brought the Blackstone Memorial effort to Brandeis.
Brandeis wrote to Richard Teller Crane, private secretary to the American Secretary of State, Robert Lansing, April 21, 1916.
My Dear Mr. Crane:
There has just come to my attention a copy of a memorial presented to President [Benjamin] Harrison under the date of March 5, 1891, entitled, “Palestine for the Jews,” in which the petitioners request the President and Secretary [James G.] Blaine to use their good offices with all the leading Governments of Europe “to secure the holding at an early date of an international conference to consider the conditions of the Israelites and their claims to Palestine as their ancient home, and to promote in all other just and proper ways the alleviation of their suffering conditions.
The memorial originated in Chicago, and presumably with William E. Blackstone of Oak Park, Illinois. It is signed by the leading newspapers, clergymen other public men of Chicago, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington.
If there is no objection, will you kindly let me know what action was taken on this petition, and let me have copies, so far as proper, of all communications in relation thereto? The document appears to me to be one of great importance at the present time.
And would there be any objection to my having Photostats of the memorial and other papers?
Very cordially yours,2
Crane and the State Department could not or would not be able to share any information with Brandeis. The Blackstone Memorial of 1891 had been “lost.”
Brandeis, by April of 1916, was intimately involved with Woodrow Wilson and his administration. Wilson intended to nominate Brandeis as the first Jewish American to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Brandeis was deeply involved with the politics of nomination. His nomination was very controversial and opposed energetically, even bitterly. Eventually, by the summer of 1916, Brandeis was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in a vote along party lines. Yet in spite of the horrific strains on Brandeis’s time, energy, and focus, Brandeis continued to devote himself to the Zionist cause.
Unable to secure any supportive information from the State Department, Brandeis on his own, independently spent hours researching secondary and news media sources for information on the Blackstone Memorial. Amongst the Brandeis papers are 47 pages of personal hand-written and researched documents confirming Brandeis’s perception of the importance of the Blackstone Memorial. That Brandeis would devote so much time and personal effort to researching and understanding the Blackstone Memorial cannot be understated.
May 8, 1916, Brandeis had Nathan Straus contact Reverend Blackstone.
Mr. Brandeis is perfectly infatuated with the work that you have done along the lines of Zionism. It would have done your heart good to have heard him assert what a valuable contribution to the cause your document is. In fact he agrees with me that you are the Father of Zionism, as your work antedates Herzl.
Brandeis was not a sycophant. He recognized what was truthful and accurate and had that information conveyed to Blackstone in the initial contact by Nathan Straus. What was incredible was that Brandeis, the head of the American Zionist Movement, acknowledged that Reverend William E. Blackstone, a dispensationalist Christian, was the father of Zionism. He said this inasmuch as [Blackstone’s] work and ideas predated Theodor Herzl by nearly six years.
Blackstone responded enthusiastically, immediately. It was the opportunity he was waiting for. He had deliberately returned from China where for years (1909-1914) he had been engaged in missionary work. Blackstone sensed that with the outbreak of World War I, Ottoman rule over the Holy Land was nearing an end and prophecy was unfolding. He wanted to be back in America, to be present to support in any way possible the Biblical future he envisioned—the Restoration of the Jews.
Brandeis wrote to Blackstone in Los Angeles, under official letterhead of the Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs, office of the Chairman, May 22, 1916. Blackstone had been asked to update and represent the Blackstone Memorial to President Wilson.
My dear Mr. Blackstone:
I am very glad to know from your letter of the 15th of the Memorial which you are preparing to present to President Wilson, reviving the Memorial which you presented to President Harrison twenty-five years ago. That document, ante-dating as it did Theodore Herzl’s own participation in the Zionist movement, is destined to become of historical significance: and I trust that you may be as successful in securing support for this new Memorial as you were a quarter of a century ago.
In view of the work being directly undertaken by the Jewish Zionist organization, your Memorial would presumably be most effective if it derives its support from non-Jews.
I hope you will keep me fully informed of the progress that you are making, and will advise me in advance when you are purposing to present the Memorial, so that we may give such aid as may be possible in rendering it effective.
With best wishes,
Very cordially yours,
Louis D. Brandeis3
With characteristic zeal and fortitude, Blackstone revived the Blackstone Memorial within less than two months. Because of the immediacy of the moment, Blackstone elected not to obtain hundreds of individual signatories but instead focused on organizations and church support. Most importantly, he secured the endorsement of the Presbyterian Church. It was not an accident or convenience. President Wilson was a Presbyterian.
Blackstone knew from his interactions with Brandeis of the political importance of the revived Blackstone Memorial. He, like Brandeis, understood the intended focus of the Memorial—the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson.
Wilson was a religious man who was raised on the Bible. He read Scriptures daily and prayed for guidance and personal need daily. His first wife had been the daughter of a minister. God, the Bible, and the place of Israel in Restoration were part of his conscious background.
Brandeis knew and understood Wilson. He understood what influences Wilson would respond to. He understood the soul of President Wilson. Brandeis was a master politician and courtroom molder of opinion and direction. Wilson needed to be appealed to on the basis of faith, but not by faith alone would the president act. Wilson needed to be sure of his political base of popular support for his actions. He needed to be sure it was the right thing for America. He weighed his actions carefully and not impulsively.
The Memorial was ready for presentation, but it could not be done formally, publically. America was still neutral. The president and his advisors were very concerned that the Memorial could lead to retribution against Christian missionaries and Jews in the areas of Ottoman control.
Between 1915 and 1918, Brandeis met repeatedly, even frequently, in private with President Wilson. They discussed governmental issues, Zionism, Palestine, the Blackstone Memorial, and the Balfour Declaration.
Brandeis asked Blackstone to be patient. They had to await the best opportunity to formally present the Blackstone to President Wilson. Reverend Blackstone acquiesced to let Brandeis determine when and where the Memorial would be most effectively used.
Brandeis was still hesitant a year later to present the document to Wilson. Writing to Jacob deHaas:
May 8, 1917, Washington, D.C.
My inclination is against presenting Blackstone petition now because of its suggestion of international guarantees. Internationalism [in] its direct application is what we have to fear most at the moment, for it would mean France and Italy in its joint control. 4
Again on June 7, 1917, Brandeis still felt it was an inopportune time to present the Blackstone Memorial. Writing to Jacob deHass: “It is unwise to have any publicity re: the Blackstone Memorial at this time.”5
Reverend Blackstone was a very patient man but with his own limitation at Brandeis’s delay in presenting the Blackstone Memorial to President Wilson, he took action.
June 14, 1917.
Honorable Woodrow Wilson
President of the United States,
In God’s providence, it has been my privilege to secure a remarkable endorsement of the memorial in behalf of the Jews, which is presented herewith. It, as you will note, incorporates a former Memorial of the same character, which it was my privilege to present to President Harrison, twenty-six years ago.
Being unable to come to Washington at the present time, I have requested Bishop J.W. Bashford of the Methodist Church in America, and Dr. Arthur J. Browns, Secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, to act as a committee for presentation of the Memorial to you.
As the promoter of the memorial and representing the sentiments expressed in personal conferences with those who have endorsed it, I wish to emphasize that, because of unforeseen and changing circumstances, we all desire you, when taking action, to be guided by your best judgment as to the method or plan of accomplishing the main object asked, named to obtain relief and safety for the Jews of the world, and promote the realization of their God-given desire to be restored to their divinely appointed home Palestine.
Believing that the progress of events augur the imminence of the psychological moment for benign action in behalf of the Jews, similar to that exhibited by Cyrus of Persia, and assured of your sympathy and willingness to aid the Jewish people in their present tragic sufferings, and praying that you may seize the opportunity of securing to yourself and our nation the blessing, promised by God to Abraham and his seed, by showing kindness to Israel I am most respectfully,
Your obedient servant,
William E. Blackstone 6
Reverend Blackstone was assured of access to the president because of a signatory of the 1891 Blackstone Memorial, William E. Dodge. William Dodge was the father of Cleveland Dodge, Wilson’s Princeton classmate and a very close personal friend and advisor. Cleveland Dodge was one of the few personal advisors with whom Wilson maintained a lifelong, unencumbered, relationship. Reverend Blackstone, William Dodge, and then Cleveland Dodge, moved in the same social and religious circles. President Wilson and Cleveland Dodge shared much in their common views of philanthropy, faith, and the world.
Two weeks later, Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, “informally” met with President Wilson and presented the Blackstone Memorial. Rabbi Wise wrote to Reverend Blackstone on June 30, 1917:
Rev. W.E. Blackstone, D.D.,
Los Angeles, Cal.
Dear and Reverend Sir:
I had the honor of presenting in informal fashion to the President at the White House yesterday a copy of your petition. The President accepted it, but he felt in agreement with Justice Brandeis that this was not the best time for the public or private presentation thereof. I think I have the right to say that the President is prepared to leave to Justice Brandeis the decision with respect to the most opportune time in which formally to present the petition to him. We must therefore wait upon events and you will agree with me in permitting our friend and leader Justice Brandeis, to decide what is the most favoring hour in which to offer to the President the notable petition which you have made possible.
With cordial greetings, believe me, faithfully yours,
Wilson knew and agreed with the Blackstone Memorial personally. Wilson was moderated by his prime concern, the pragmatic interests of America first and political exigencies second. His thinking was no doubt affirmed by his faith. To quote Merkely and Press:
Historians of our present theme—how Woodrow Wilson was won to the Zionist cause—occupy themselves almost entirely with the story of the comings and goings of the diplomats and the courtiers….. Yet there is another element in this story which, though almost totally ignored by most of the historians, was taken with the greatest of seriousness by the Zionist principals at the time—and that is Wilson’s religious motivation. Indeed, both Louis Brandeis and Stephen Wise later said, for the record, that what guaranteed the victory for the Zionists was not their greater skill in playing the political and diplomatic game, but their success in appealing to Woodrow Wilson’s Biblically based Christian faith.8
Wilson soliloquized to Rabbi Wise during their meeting of June 30: “I am a son of the manse, son of a Presbyterian clergyman, and therefore am with you completely and am proud to think that I may in some degree help you rebuild Palestine.” 9
During his presentation of the Blackstone Memorial to President Wilson, Wise went on to garb Wilson in the imagery of Cyrus the Great. Wise suggested that Cyrus’s greatness, his place in history, was recorded in the Bible because he restored Israel.10
A bit over a week later, Wise wrote Blackstone.
Wise’s letter to Blackstone can be read as a rebuke for Reverend Blackstone’s approaching the President with his Memorial. Yet it also confirms that President Wilson had been aware of the Blackstone petition through Justice Brandeis. Wilson was in general agreement with the principles of the Blackstone Memorial. Wilson further understood through Brandeis that there were delicate negotiations going on in Britain for a declaration of intentions regarding Jewish interests once Britain had wrested control of Palestine from the Turks.
The timing of the public release of the Blackstone Memorial was crucial. Most important for Brandeis was the fact that Wilson understood he had significant grassroots American political and faith-based support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The Blackstone Memorial was an American document and not a British document. It was important for Wilson and Brandeis to show that they were not the followers of the British. American foreign policy was not shaped and directed by the British, but by American interests.
Reverend Blackstone wrote back to Rabbi Wise, July 9, 1917:
Dr. Stephen S. Wise
23 W. 90th Street, New York City, N.Y.
Dear Dr. Wise:
I have received several letters from Bishop Bashford, Mr. De Haas and Justice Brandeis in regard to the opportune time for public presentation of the Memorial to President Wilson. Also I have received your letter of June 30th in which you state, “I had the honor of presenting in informal fashion to the President at the White House yesterday a copy of your petition.” I note that the President accepted it, but wished to delay for public or even private formal presentation.
As I have already written to Bishop Bashford, I am quite willing to leave the question of the most propitious time for such presentation to Justice Brandeis, as suggested in your letter. I have no personal ambition nor desires in reference to the Memorial, only that in God’s good providence, it may accomplish the best results for the Jewish people in all the world.
However, I have a very firm conviction that most solemn and unprecedented events in human history are impending, and I shall not be surprised if from such delay and these events occur before the memorial is presented. 11
The Blackstone Memorial was never formally, publicly presented to the President of the United States. Because the petition called upon the nations of the world to set up an international conference to resolve the “Jewish problem,” it ran counter to understandings the United States government had formed with the British to put them in control of Palestine after the war.
By early September 1917, the nascent Balfour Declaration hung in the balance, not on the British will but American. The British War Cabinet of Lloyd George demanded a statement of support from the Americans before proceeding, without which the Balfour Declaration could very well have failed. That statement of support came October 16, 1917 but with a condition.
On October 16, the British intelligence chief in New York wired London: ''Colonel House put the formula before the president who approves of it but asks that no mention of his approval shall be made when His Majesty's Government makes the formula public, [inasmuch] as he had arranged [that]… American Jews shall then ask him for approval, which he will publicly give here.12
Wilson had reservations about the text of the Balfour Declaration probably reflecting concerns by American Zionists that he wished to address later. Wilson did not have reservations about the intent or the purpose of the Balfour Declaration.
The Balfour Declaration was issued on November 2, 1917.
Weizmann wrote to congratulate Brandeis Nov. 1917:
... I need hardly say how we all rejoice in this great event and how grateful we all feel to you for the valuable and efficient help which you have lent to the cause in the critical hour ... Once more, dear Mr. Brandeis, I beg to tender to you our heartiest congratulations, not only on my own behalf but also on behalf of our friends here—and may this epoch-making be a beginning of great work for our sorely tried people and also of mankind.13
Brandeis continued to turn to Blackstone for support.
December 6, 1917, Brandeis wrote to de Haas: “Talk with Wise as to whether this would be a good time to get the Blackstone crowd to cheer?”14
August 31, 1918, President Wilson wrote to Rabbi Wise "to express the satisfaction I have felt in the progress of the Zionist movement . . since ... Great Britain’s approval of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”15
June 30, 1922, the following resolution was adopted by the United States Congress:
“Favoring the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people;
Resolved by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled. That the United States of America favors the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which should prejudice the civil and religious rights of Christians and all other non-Jewish communities in Palestine, and that the holy places and religious buildings and sites in Palestine shall be adequately protected.16
At the American Zionist Conventions in Philadelphia and Los Angeles in 1919 and 1920, Reverend Blackstone was singled out for special honor and recognition for his outstanding contribution to the Zionist Movement.
Reverend Blackstone remained close but formal with the American Zionist Movement, Justice Brandeis, and Nathan Straus for the balance of his life. He continued evangelizing and spreading the Gospel of Jewish Restoration as a strong Christian American supporter of Zionism. Reverend Blackstone spent 57 years of his life writing, speaking, preaching, and encouraging Zionism. He spoke out actively and aggressively against antisemitism focusing in particular on the hatred spread by Henry Ford in his advocacy for the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Reverend Blackstone never lived to see the fulfillment of his dream, the establishment of the State of Israel. He died Nov. 6, 1935. He was buried, as modestly as he had lived, at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Glendale, California. His marker stone reads simply, William E. Blackstone, 1841-1935, “Jesus is Coming,” In Loving Memory.
The Chicago Jewish community, in conjunction with the Jewish National Fund, raised funds to plant the William E. Blackstone forest in the Judean Hill in 1956. The Forest was dedicated by Blackstone’s son in 1961. The location of the forest is unknown today.
There is little doubt that Reverend Blackstone was crucial to the Balfour Declaration. Louis D. Brandeis understood the importance of the Blackstone Memorial of 1891. In the middle of his confirmation fight to sit on the United States Supreme Court, Brandeis chose to spend very important personal time and energy, rediscovering and implementing the Blackstone Memorial. Brandeis understood clearly the decisive impact it would have on President Wilson. Brandeis felt that the Memorial was the key to Wilson’s support of Restoration and Zionism. Brandeis embraced Reverend Blackstone and the Blackstone Memorial to advance Zionist goals.
Reverend Blackstone used Brandeis and the Memorial to advance his religious goals.
Reverend Blackstone and the Blackstone Memorial of 1891 and 1916 are almost forgotten today. Historians of American Zionism and the career of Justice Brandeis almost never mention Blackstone.
Recently, a major history of the life of Louis D. Brandeis has been published. The work has received repeated accolades by media critics and academics. There is not one word about Brandeis and Blackstone in the book. Attending a lecture about the book and Justice Brandeis in Washington, D.C. by the author, I asked about Reverend Blackstone during the question and answer session. The moment the name Blackstone came up, I was cut off by the lecturer. He responded curtly, that was 1891 and had nothing to do with Brandeis. I followed up immediately about Brandeis using Blackstone to inspire Wilson for Zionism. The Professor disparaged Wilson’s faith as a cynical public response and insisted again that Blackstone was of no import to the audience’s snickers.
What conclusions can be drawn about modern historiography and the impact of Christianity on the creation of the State of Israel seems apparent. Modern historiography is uncomfortable with Fundamentalist Christianity and its support for Israel. Modern historiography is uncomfortable with Christian faith-based decisions in an age of political correctness facing Islamism and Radical Islamic Fundamentalist challenges. The role and relationship of Zionism, Christianity and Faith, as factors in history, needs to be fairly and honestly considered.
The Blackstone Memorial, 1891
Presented to President Harrison March 5, 1891 to favor the restoration of the Jews to Palestine.
What shall be done for the Russian Jews? It is both unwise and useless to undertake to dictate to Russia concerning her internal affairs. The Jews have lived as foreigners in her dominions for centuries and she fully believes that they are a burden upon her resources and prejudicial to the welfare of her peasant population, and will not allow them to remain. She is determined that they must go. Hence, like the Sephardim of Spain, these Ashkenazim must emigrate. But where shall 2,000,000 of such poor people go? Europe is crowded and has no room for more peasant population. Shall they come to America? This will be a tremendous expense, and require years.
Why not give Palestine back to them again? According to God’s distribution of nations it is their home, an inalienable possession from which they were expelled by force. Under their cultivation it was a remarkably fruitful land sustaining millions of Israelites who industrially tilled its hillsides and valleys. They were agriculturists and producers as well as a nation of great commercial importance—the center of civilization and religion.
Why shall not the powers which under the treaty of Berlin, in 1878, gave Bulgaria to the Bulgarians and Servia to the Servians now give Palestine back to the Jews? These provinces, as well as Roumania, Montenegro and Greece, were wrested from the Turks and given to their natural owners. Does not Palestine as rightfully belong to the Jews? It is said that rains are increasing and there are evidences that the land is recovering its ancient fertility. If they could have autonomy in government the Jews of the world would rally to transport and establish their suffering brethren in their time-honored- habitation. For over seventeen centuries they have patiently waited for such an opportunity. They have not become agriculturists elsewhere because they believed they were mere sojourners in the various nations, and were yet to return to Palestine and till their own land. Whatever vested rights, by possession may have accrued to Turkey can be easily compensated, possibly by the Jews assuming an equitable portion of the national debt.
We believe this is an appropriate time for all nations and especially the Christian nations of Europe to show kindness to Israel. A million of exiles, by their terrible suffering, are piteously appealing to our sympathy, justice, and humanity Let us now restore to them the land of which they were so cruelly despoiled by our Roman ancestors.
To this end we respectfully petition His Excellency Benjamin Harrison, President of the United States, and the Honorable James G. Blaine, Secretary of State, to use their good offices and influence with the Governments of their Imperial Majesties-
Alexander III, Czar of Russia;
Victoria, Queen of Great Britain and Empress of India;
William II, Emperor of Germany;
Francis Joseph, Emperor of Austr-Hungary;
Abdul Hamid II, Sultan of Turkey;
His Royal Majesty, Humbert, King of Italy;
Her Royal Majesty Marie Christiana, Queen Regent of Spain;
and the Government of the Republic of France
and with the Governments of Belgium, Holland, Denmark,
Sweden, Portugal, Roumainia, Servia, Bulgaria and Greece.
To secure the holding at an early date, of an international conference to consider the condition of the Israelites and their claims to Palestine as their ancient home, and to promote, in all other just and proper ways, the alleviation of their suffering condition. Followed by approx. 400 additional signatures) •
1. Louis D. Brandeis, a Life, Melvin Urofsky, Random House, N.Y., 2009 p. 516.
2. Brandeis Mss, Z 20-3)
3. Brandeis Mss
4. Brandeis Mss dehass May 8, 1917
5. Brandeis Mss. dehass June 7. 1917
6. Zionist Archives, Jerusalem
7. Zionist Archives, Jerusalem
8. The Politics of Christian Zionism, 1891-1948, Paul C. Merkely, Frank Cass Press, London, 1998 pgs. 89-90
9. Harry S. Truman and the Founding of the State of Israel, Michael T. Benson, Praeger Publishers, 1997, pg. 19
10. Harry Truman commented years later about his recognition of Israel, “What do you mean ‘helped create’? I am Cyrus. I am Cyrus” Response to being described by his friend Eddie Jacobsen as "the man who helped create the state of Israel." (November 1953); as quoted in "With Eyes Toward Zion" (1977) by Moshe Davis
11. Zionist Archives, Jerusalem
12. The High Walls of Jerusalem, A History of the Balfour Declaration and the Birth of the British Mandate in Palestine, Ronald Sanders, Holt, Rinehart, Winson, 1983 New York pg. 598.
13. Mason, Alphoos T.M., Brandeis, A Free Man's Life, (New York: Viking Press, 1956), p.454.
14. deHaas Mss.
15. Mason, Brandeis, A Free Man's Life, p.454.
16. Congressional Record, House of Representatives, June 30, 1922, pgs. 9809-9820
Portrait of a Jewish Chicken-Farmer’s Wife in Connecticut
Editor’s Note: We publish this evocative essay as a memorial to a great man of letters who passed away early in 2012. Dr. Libo was a supporter of Midstream and its mission in fostering Jewish cultural life. Yehi zichro baruch.
Whatever yikhus my father brought to the family name had nothing to do with his being a chicken farmer. Who needs sweating your life away in some fervorfene vinkl when owning a store, running a business, being a somebody was what mattered. As a chicken farmer my father was looked upon by other immigrant Jews as little better than a balegola. A farm was somewhere you went to relax in the summer, maybe as a boarder with kochalayn privileges. But to make a living raising chickens and on top of that to be surrounded by goyim? Meshuga! But for my father being a farmer was preferable to working as a baker’s helper in the basement of Macy’s which he did for four years after coming to America in flight from the tsar’s army. My father took to farming like a duck to water. In no time he had gained the trust of his gentile peers who admired him for “raising a good bird.”
Jews and Gentiles alike respected my father for laying tefillin every morning before feeding the chickens. To be observant was expected of my father not only by his fellow Jews, but also just as much by the minister of the local Congregational church, the Reverend Israel Daniels, who looked upon my father not merely as a Jew but as someone who had literally walked out of the Old Testament into his life. He liked nothing more than talking “scriptures” with his Jewish friend. If a neighbor happened to come by in the evening, more than likely he would find my father poring over one of a number of texts in Hebrew that his mother had brought for him from the Old Country. They filled half a shelf in the linen closet. My father loved nothing more than sitting at the kitchen table and immersing himself in his studies before turning in for the night. This made a deep impression on the neighbors.
My father had a more scholarly bent than my mother who, every afternoon after washing the dishes, would lie down and immerse herself in the tough guy world of pulp fiction. High on her list was “Justice Triumphs,” a two-page weekly spread in the Sunday News filled with bloodshed, mayhem and violence. Her favorite movie star was Edward G. Robinson whom she emulated in her dealings with the people she encountered in the course of a day’s work on the farm. As a chicken farmer’s wife, my mother had to be tough, so it’s hardly surprising that movie tough guys numbered among her role models.
During the Great Depression, my parents provided a place to stay for a steady stream of men on parole from the state prison. For little more than room and board, they helped out with the chores, ate with my parents and, before you knew it, became a part of the family.
Sometimes my mother was able to give them a helping hand as a surrogate mother, talking sense to them around the kitchen table. After they left some would write to her and she would write back. It gave her a sense of achievement.
My mother also took in two of her nephews, her brother Harry’s son Nathan and her sister Lena’s son Little Abie. The family feared, both were “going to the dogs.” They were sent to my mother in the hope that on the farm they could be straightened out. Little Abie (to distinguish him from Uncle Abe, my mother’s older brother who ran the bakery) was from Greenpoint and Nathan from St. Louis. Nathan went on to become a World War II hero and subsequently the owner of a big supermarket chain in St. Louis. Little Abie, known professionally as “Pretty” Levine, was one the few members of Murder, Inc. to squeal on Lepke Buchalter and get away with it. Notorious as he was—his picture was in Life Magazine—Little Abie was also flesh and blood. Therefore, he was always welcome at the kitchen table in good times and bad as long as he behaved himself as a member of the family. One of my favorite pastimes was having him read Walter Winchell to me from The New York Mirror with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth like Sam Levene in the movies.
The wear and tear of farm life—a cow to milk, children to raise, chickens to feed, crooked chicken dealers to deal with—took its toll on my mother. Yet there was always time for Hadassah. I never knew her to leave for a Hadassah meeting without looking in the mirror and protesting: “Now I look as good as the next one.” She wouldn’t have gotten an argument from my father for whom my mother was the epitome of a modern woman who spoke English like a regular Yankee and kept up with whatever he meant by “the latest.” Even so, it didn’t make my mother feel any less intimidated at Hadassah meetings where she felt out of place as a farmer’s wife compared to her sisters-in-law—Tessie, a schoolteacher; Rose, president of the local Hadassah chapter; and Bessie owner and operator with Uncle Louie of Libo’s Package Store. My mother’s greatest dream was to sell the farm and buy a confectionary store, thus rising a few rungs in the world. It was a dream that never came to be.
When socializing among Jews outside her family, my mother lived in constant fear of being relegated to the lowest rungs of the social pecking order. She never forgot the time she was visiting me at Dartmouth with another Jewish mother she knew from eastern Connecticut whose son was my classmate. One night as the four of us were sitting down to dinner at a fancy restaurant across the river in Vermont, my classmate’s mother turned to my mother and said to her, only on the strength of her being a farmer’s wife as far as I could discern, “You put the napkin on your lap, Mrs. Libo.” It was an insult that made my mother hold a grudge not only against my classmate’s mother but against her son as well for not apologizing for his mother.
Napkins in fact were unknown in the one-room shack with a dirt floor my mother called home for the first few years of her life in Lithuania; however, by the time she came to America with her family as a small child, napkins were just around the corner. Starting out as a $4 a week rags picker, my grandfather Isaac held on to what he had brought with him from the Old Country. He was able as a result to buy a bakery which proved profitable enough for him to move with his family, in less that five years, from humble quarters on Forest Street to a commodious home high up a hill on Fairmount Street where napkins were as available as telephones, victrolas and toilet paper..
Despite the many perks that came with being a successful bakery storeowner’s daughter, my mother found life unbearable under the same roof with her father. He treated her as someone whose needs were totally subservient to his own. “You are my daughter,” he would say to her, “and I have the right to swallow and then spit you out whenever I want to.” After finishing the ninth grade my mother wanted to go to business college and make a career for herself in the world, but her father would have none of it, insisting instead that her place was behind the cash register of Meyer’s Bakery where he could keep an eye on her. In desperation she attempted suicide by sticking her head in the oven, just as girls did in countless “zie hawt di gez genumen” accounts in the Forward my mother must have come across which gave her the idea.
My mother made two more attempts on her life – one during a post partem depression brought on by my birth, the other while walking home with her from the circus that came to Nippy’s Field for a week every year in May or June. The real treat for me was not what went on under the big top, as exciting as that was, but to get to see the freaks in the freak show in an adjoining tent. At a time when news of the Holocaust was unfolding as a daily event in the Yiddish press, it was not so far fetched for me to commiserate as a Jew with others in “the company of the dispossessed … the insulted and the injured,” as Irving Howe and Eliezer Greenberg describe the Jews of eastern Europe in the introduction to their monumental Treasury of Yiddish Stories.
For me going to the freak show was a cathartic experience. For my mother depression frequently set in. Once on our way home, as we were crossing the Shetucket River bridge, my mother stopped and said to me in a matter-of-fact voice that she was thinking of jumping off the bridge. Rising to the occasion, I begged her to wait until September when there would be more water down below to cushion her fall. After considering my point for a moment or two she relented.
When still in her early teens, my mother left home to live with her older sister Mary and her family in Brooklyn. With four nephews to contend with, my poor mother ended up sleeping on the living room lounge for five years while making ends meet as a manager in her brother-in-law Philip’s Lower East Side hatband factory. Her only pleasures on a regular basis were Hearst’s Journal (a preview for her of “Justice Triumphs”) which could always be counted on for grisly murders described in great detail, and the Yiddish theatre which gave expression to her hopes, her anxieties, her angers and frustrations. Much more than stars of the Silver Screen like Gloria Swanson who had nothing to tell my mother about her life, Yiddish theatre stars like Bertha Kalish, Celia Adler, and Jennie Goldstein gave shape to my mother’s darkest thoughts and feelings.
So my mother lived out her teenage years, shlepping to and from a shabby Brooklyn neighborhood and a Lower East Side sweatshop, living as a family appendage, hardly ever dating, never really having a boyfriend or a girlfriend for that matter. So life would have continued had my grandmother’s deteriorating health not forced my mother to return home as the youngest daughter and resume her place behind the cash register in the bakery when not assuming her nursely duties at home. Marrying my father was my mother’s only escape. Her brother Abe who delivered bread to the farm served as matchmaker. My father was thirty, my mother thirty-one. Clearly, it was her last chance. The wedding took place at the deathbed of my grandmother who died four days later.
Having lived much of her life among observant Jews, I don’t think it ever occurred to my mother to live any other way on the farm. It was too much a part of her life even though it was much harder to keep kosher outside of a Jewish community. For our French Canadian neighbors killing a chicken meant walking to the back yard with an axe in one hand and a chicken by the legs in the other. For my mother it meant traveling to the shochet a half hour by bus with two live chickens in a satchel. Keeping kosher on a farm meant extra hard work but so it had to be if you wanted your family—brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, cousins and nieces and nephews— to come and fill the air with Jewish voices.
Family values meant a great deal to my mother. Every year without fail an elderly Yiddish-speaking man with shabby clothes on his back and nicotine stains on his fingers would show up at the back door of the farmhouse. Known as the Hot Uncle because he had settled in the South at some point in his life where, rumor had it, he cohabited with a shvartse, he was my grandfather Isaac’s half-brother. This meant to my mother’s way of thinking that he was entitled to stay with us on the farm as long as he wanted to, free of charge. Where he came from, where he went after he left the farm, we never asked. We didn’t have to. The vantsn he brought with him were a sure sign of no permanent address. My mother gave him his own room. It was her way of quarantining the vantsn without hurting the Hot Uncle’s feelings.
When I was growing up there was a steady stream of relatives coming in the summer for as little as a few days or as long as a month or two. They came in flight from overcrowded conditions in New York to the joys of fresh food, fresh air, a bed of your own, fields to roam in, country lanes to walk down. My father’s sister’s family from the East Bronx were among the first to come as paying guests. The money they paid helped my mother make ends meet. What they paid for was four bedrooms on the second floor of the farmhouse and kochalayn privileges in a two-room summer kitchen equipped with gas burners, picnic tables and benches. Milk, cheese, eggs, butter, and cream they purchased from my mother; bread came from Meyer’s Bakery.
My mother’s older sister Ida often visited for lengthy periods of time. She taught me Yiddish. I don’t think my mother minded a bit having Ida or any of our other relatives on the farm, as either paying or non-paying guests. What she got out of it was a sense of being the Hostess with the Mostess in a Jewish world that extended beyond the borders of her husband and children. The relatives kept the specter of loneliness at bay by bringing with them their Jewishness as embodied in their interests, their points of view, their stresses, their styles, all expressed in the tserbrokhene language of Yinglish. They reminded my brother and me of characters in a never-ending soap opera we called Shrei Gevalt. At the height of the summer season, the farm turned into an eighteen acre outpost of yiddishkeit, a Jewish homeland in miniature engineered by my mother, the Golda Meir of eastern Connecticut, with enough going on to make the farm as much a part of Klal Yisroel as any block in the east Bronx, Williamsburg or Tel Aviv for that matter. •