Y'all Come, Ya heah?
June 26, 2020
Well, hello there! I suppose you’re wondering why I’m writing after all this time. Let’s do a Cliff Notes: Got sick in February of 2019. Three weeks in the hospital after a misdiagnosis. Lost 16 pounds. Recuperated at home. Rachel and I could not maintain the apartment while I healed. So, we moved.
We spent two months with son Tom and daughter Pam in N.J. (Tip: Avoid living with relatives, even those you love with whom you really get along). So Rachel and I moved to New Orleans, home of son Adam and granddaughter Bar.
NOLA is, well, different. Example: In Orlando when you meet somebody for the first time, the normal question is: “Where ya from?” In NOLA it’s: “Where’d y’all go to ha school?”
New Orleans Jewish Community? There is a local Jewish newspaper, which I hope to add to the papers for which I already write. The Shul where we went to Yom Kippur services was founded 180 years ago. And, it’s “Y’all Come.” No reservations, no charge. If you’re a Jew you’re welcome.
Touro Synagogue was originally an Orthodox Sephardic Synagogue founded by a Dutch Sephardic Jew — his family probably part of the exodus of Jewish refugees from Spain and Portugal during and after the Inquisition. Touro is now a Reform Temple one of many, and there are a couple of Orthodox Congregations in NOLA and of course, Chabad.
The Jewish Community here, while small by some standards, is well entrenched and with a rich history. The Jewish pattern in the South throughout most of the 1700s to 1800s was mainly one of Jews from Europe arriving at first in small numbers from Europe, followed by the flood of refugees from Eastern Europe in the late 1800s through the early 1900s.
The Jews were directed to the port of Houston by the Immigration Department of the U.S. Government. The government’s attitude specifically under the anti-Semitic (and racist) President Woodrow Wilson was that New York and Philadelphia, the two main ports that handled immigration, had enough Jews already. Let’s find someplace to send them — Houston.
From there, Jews spread out throughout the South. Many of them became small merchants — okay, peddlers — with small horse drawn wagons selling pots, pans, clothing, etc. Think of them as “horse drawn push carts.” While the streets of New York and Philadelphia were loaded with what were really the famous push-carts that you see in pictures of the time, the cities and towns of the South were not as thickly populated.
So, here come the Jews with their goods to be sold literally door-to-door. As time went on and the post-reconstruction South began to have larger populations, many of these “peddlers” settled down and opened real stores. That is why up until recent history almost every large- and medium-sized city in the South — from Atlanta to Dothan, Alabama — had a department store with a Jewish name.
Anti-Semitism? Well, yeah, I guess; but well hidden behind southern gentry. Segregation? Well yeah, I guess; but well hidden behind southern gentry. Matter of fact, New Orleans population is about 48 percent African-American.
The JCC is worthy of a much larger city. It is magnificent. Its major benefactor is a personal injury lawyer by the name of Morris Bart (bless his litigation soul). Our mayor is African-American and has done an excellent job of guiding us through this pandemic. While 50 percent of the city’s budget comes from tourist taxes, she has kept the lid on despite pressure from the usual suspects.
Biggest change? As many of you know, my partner and wife of 64 years died this month just before her 95th birthday. Rachel was a force of nature. She is already missed — by more than just our family.
As far as Israel is concerned, the city seems to follow the pattern of most American Jewish populations: Love the concept, love the flag and the history — hate the present government and its leadership (such as it is).
I have lived through a number of these intra-governmental crises in Israel, but never one like this. Three national campaigns in one year? That’s a record anywhere. The two lead parties are really combines of a number of smaller groups. Hard to recognize Likud or the Socialist Liberals anymore.
I met Benjamin Netanyahu at his dad’s house in 1980 when he was a furniture salesman for a kibbutz (really!). At the time his ambition was to found and run a nonprofit in honor of his late brother who had been killed in the famous Antebee raid just a few months before. You’ve come a long way, Bibi.
So, I settle into a new, more solitary life with new surroundings, a son and granddaughter here, and a 44-year history in Orlando, now just that — history. I’ll continue to write my musing on Jews — in Israel, here and elsewhere as long as you express some interest in them. Meanwhile, Bourbon Street and the French Quarter are slowly re-opening; so, y’all come!