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February 12, 1982 - Image 10

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1982-02-12

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

-

10

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Friday, February 12, 1982

Novel Looks at Western Jewish Frontier-Busters

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By ESTHER EISEN

(Copyright 1982, JTA, Inc.)

American Jews seeking
their roots have researched
and written about the im-
migrant experience of fac-
tory workers on the Lower
East Side, "Our Crowd" in
the Northeast and peddlers
in the South. But the
colorful saga of the pioneers
of the Wild West is still
largely untold.
Author Harriet Rochlin
has now stepped into this
near-vacuum to capture the
excitement of the lives and
times of the Western Jewish
frontier-busters in her new



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novel "So Far Away" (Jove).
Set in San Francisco and the
Arizona Territory of the
1870s, "So Far Away" re-
counts the adventures of
Frieda Levie, a wildly
idealistic young Jewish
woman pioneer in those
tumultous times and places.
"So Far Away" draws on
Rochlin's extensive re-
search of Western Jews.
"Hundreds of Jews rushed
out West when gold and
other minerals were dis-
covered in California and
elsewhere in the West," she
said. They staked claims,
raised cattle, farmed,
hauled . freight, opened
stores and hotels, served as
sheriffs, soldiers and post-
masters — and founded
towns, many still bearing
their names. By 1876, she
said, there were 21,000
Jews in the West.

"The Western ter-
ritories were raw and
often dangerous, but the
region was the most open
and pluralistic America
had ever known,"
Rochlin continued.
Anti-Semitism was min-
imal, and opportunities
were many and varied.
The adventureS of Frieda
and her ambitious and
optimistic bride-groom
Bennie Goldson in "So
Far Away" are rooted ;11
the fact that "Jews were
free to succeed or fail on
their own merits — and
they did both," she said.

Mexicans, Japanese, blacks
and Russians.
Rochlin was "drawn to
the Hispanic culture." She
picked up Spanish in the
streets and schools of Boyle
Heights and as a clerk in
her father's shoe stores. She
later majored in Hispanic
Studies at the University of
California at Berkeley,
graduating in 1947.

It was at Berkeley that
the author met and mar-
ried architect Fred
Rochlin, a native of

HARRIET ROCHLIN

In her early 40s,
Rochlin suffered two critical
illnesses. These, plus the so-
cial changes of the 1960s
"shocked me out of my role,"
she said. She committed
herself to writing full-time
"about my deepest concerns
— the immigrant experi-
ence, social change, genera-
tional conflict and emerging
women." Stories, poems,
and articles "bubbled out of
my rebellious childhood"
and appeared in many pub-

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While reading the
memoirs of pioneer Jews,
said Rochlin, "I began to
hear the authentic voices
of the women — not pub-
lic figures, but Jewish
wives, mothers and occa-
sionally businesswomen
who had chosen to ac
company their husbands
out West or had even
come on their own to the
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findings, Rochlin became
involved in researching
Western Jewish history.

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Nogales on the Arizona-
Sonora border. They
moved to the San Fer-
nando Valley where
Rochlin raised four chil-
dren — now all grown
and out of the house —
did community work and
wrote part-time. A
member of Temple Beth
Hillel in North Hol-
Rochlin's own cultural lywood, Rochlin taught
background was a major in the religious school,
factor in her writing about served on various corn-
the Jews of the Far West. mittees and the Board of
She was born in Boyle Trustees, lectured to the
Heights, the first suburb of Sisterhood and taught
Los Angeles, to immigrant and wrote about Jewish
parents. Her father was a home observances.

native of Brest-Litovsk. The
section of Boyle Heights
where Rochlin grew up in
the 1920s was a Jewish
neighborhood, lined with
small Jewish stores,
synagogues and meeting
rooms — "like the main
drag of a small Jewish vil-
Jage."
The neighborhood was ad-
jacent to other ethnic com-
munities, and Rochlin's
high school had a wide
ethnic mix which included

lications, among them
Hadassah Magazine, Pre-
sent Tense and American
Judaism.
At this time, her hus-
band, too, was involved in a
"quest for retroactive be-
longing." He began to re-
search the pioneer Jews of
his own birthplace. One was
Jacob Isaacson, a "bon viv-
ant" who opened a store in
1880 in Los Nogales Can-
yon, then an Apache
thoroughfare, thus found-
ing the town which briefly
bore his name. Another was
Leopold Ephraim, who
started a general store,
mine and water company.
Fascinated with these

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