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February 01, 1985 - Image 2

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-02-01

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2

Friday, February 1, 1985

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

PURELY COMMENTARY

PHILIP SLOMOVITZ

Israel Goldstein Autobiography Covers Dramatic Jewish Experiences

On Page 32 of Volume One of the two-
volume My World as a Jew: The Memoirs of
Israel Goldstein (Herzl Press), an all-
embracing definition of pioneering leader-
ship is provided by the eminent autobio-
grapher. This is the quotation:
One of my extra-curricular
preoccupations was Zionism,
which had first impinged upon my
juvenile consciousness some years
earlier. When I was eight, shortly
after we returned home from Rus-
sia, the sudden death of Theodor
Herzl at the early age of 44 struck
the Jewish world like a thunder-
bolt. The founder of modern politi-
cal Zionism was, as yet, a remote
figure in my life, nor was I old
enough to fathom the inner ten-
sions of the Zionist movement, but
I was distinctly impressed by the
impact of Herzl's death on my
father. To him, as to most Jews, it
came as a devastating blow. The
Jewish masses had been fired by
the advent of this towering figure
and by the new hope and vision of
Jewish redemption he inspired.
Herzl's sudden passing, under the
stress of arduous tasks and con-
troversies, gave rise to shock and
grief throughout the Jewish world.
The Zionist presence in our
home, as in most Jewish homes
where we lived, was betoken by the
blue and white pushke (collection
box) of the Jewish National Fund,
which had been established less
than three years before Herzl's
death. There it stood, beckoning
for those coins which might even-
tually redeem a dunam of land or
plant a forest on the soil of our an-
cient homeland.
When I was around 12, Zionism
became for me a personal experi-
ence and responsibility. Among
my classmates at Yeshivat Mish-
kan Yisrael were several who
gained distinction in various fields
— Gershon Agronsky (later Ag-
ron), the journalist and founder of
the Palestine Post, who was to be-
come Mayor of Jerusalem; Koppel
Pinson, the historian; Louis
Fischer, an expert on Soviet affairs
who was long sympathetic to
Communism; and Samuel Noah
Kramer, the world-renowned
authority on ancient Sumerian cul-
ture. We were all near contem-
poraries and we moved within
more or less the same adolescent
orbit.
Gershon was one of my closest
companions and our friendship,
which later involved our wives,
Ethel and Bert, remained lifelong.
Gershon had come with his family
from Russia. At 17, he was hand-
some, bright-faced, brash, quick-
witted, and articulate. Louis
Fischer, born in Philadelphia the
same year as I, was for nearly three
decades a leading apologist for the
Soviet Union, and his books and
lectures attracted wide attention.
Together with Gershon Ag-
ronsky, I became a Zionist politi-
cian at the age of 12. We named our
group the Hatikvah Club and at
the beginning were under the
tutelage of somewhat older young
Zionists such as Louis Feinberg,
David Gaiter, Louis Levinthal, and
C. David Matt. Soon, however, we
were on our own, facing the Zionist
realities staunchly and comba-
tively. Combatively, because our
ventures sometimes led us into
stormy conflicts. Gershon and I

harangued young audiences at
street corners. Some of us boys
were also engaged in militant sor-
ties against the Christian Mission
to the Jews, which had its head-
quarters at Fifth and Catherine
Streets, in the heart of South
Philadelphia's Jewish quarter.
This, we decided, was sheer
chutzpah, and we reacted accord-
ingly.
If the reviewer of this immensely in-
teresting set of memoirs were asked for
advice in advance of its publication, he
would have suggested it commence with
this excerpt, for a good reason: It suggests
at once coverage news- and history-wise of
more than half-a-century of Jewish occur-
rences, worldwide. It introduces the
author's associates in so many vast spheres
of activities that there is immediate em-
phasis on the wealth of material incorpo-
rated in a set of volumes that are certain to
serve a great purpose in assembling and
retaining important data involving Jewish
life generally, Zionism, and the major
events that affected mankind.
Both Goldstein volumes are packed
with biographical treasures. Literally
hundreds of personalities are listed, many
having been on an intimate basis with the
author. Jews and non-Jews, Zionists and
their antagonists, Christians and some
Moslems — the most important in the cen-
tury recorded here are accounted for.
Therefore, these volumes are much
more than an Israel Goldstein memoir.
They are biographically enriching, histori-
cally encyclopedic.
In the lengthy excerpt from the first
volume of Dr. Goldstein's memoirs there
are two important elements to be taken
into consideration. The first includes the
names of Goldstein's childhood-youth
associates. They are the nearly forgotten,
yet they emphasize the famed in their gen-
eration who symbolize the values of Jewish
identifications.
David Gaiter is mentioned. Even in
Philadelphia there may be very few left
who remember the name. He was the
editor for many years of the Jewish Expo-
nent. He struggled with it. It bankrupted
and he kept reviving it with the
encouragement of culturally-minded citi-
zens. He battled against serious odds to
keep the paper alive and it gained the
status of leadership in English-Jewish
journalism only after becoming a
community-owned paper, now under con-
trol of the Philadelphia Federated Jewish
Charities.
It is the Galter image that is impor-
tant. He belonged to a generation of schol-
ars. He was a linguist — mastering in addi-
tion to English the Yiddish and Hebrew
languages and the related German. He al-
ways had a story to tell and he laughed
with his admirers. He had a physical hand-
icap and he limped, yet he charmed all who
associated with him. Does he have signifi-
cance in a Goldstein memoir? Of course, for
the obvious reason that he had a strong
link with the man who became a world
Jewish and Zionist leader and must have
left the impression suggested upon Israel
Goldstein.
To give emphasis to the importance
attached to the Gaiter name, it is necessary
to refer to the others: Louis Levinthal, who
became a prominent judge; Louis Fischer;
prominent rabbis and others. The mention
of Fischer is important. He was enamored
of Communism and learned the lesson
taught by prejudice later in life. Especially
illustrative is the frequent Mention of flit,
name of Gershon Agronsky. Israel “01(
stein mentions him as an associate t
Zionist ranks at the age of 12, anu
Gershon Agron who edited the Palestine

ELM S TREET

1825 - 1850
..... .... _ .... ....

WEST EIGHTY-EIGHT STREET

SYNAGOGUE
1918--

SYNAGOG
i-'1114 TY -FOURTH STREITSY14
l'.22T
8651884

RABBI ISRAEL GOLDSTEIN

..........

Dr. Israel Goldstein is shown in this photographic grouping at the age of 56, when his
synagogue, Cong. B'nai Jeshuran in New York, was celebrating its 125th anniversary.

Post, transformed it upon the rebirth of
Israel into the Jerusalem Post, served as
first mayor of Jerusalem in the commenced
era of Israel's statehood. It was as Ag-
ronsky that this associate of Goldstein
commenced his career as a Jewish jour-
nalist with the now defunct Philadelphia
Jewish World. He started his career as a
Yiddish writer. This, too, is important in
the consideration of the Goldstein saga be-
cause it calls attention to the reality that
Yiddish was a dominant factor in Jewish
life, that leaders like Goldstein,
Agronsky-Agron, Galter, Levinthal and
Fischer had to be steeped in it. This is evi-
dent in the Goldstein memoirs.
Now we come to a very interesting
point, the second alluded to in the excerpt
quoted at length. Goldstein speaks of him-
self as a "Zionist politician" at the age of
12.
The term "politician" is often referred
to derogatively and even politicians hesi-
tate to give it credulity. Many in higher
ranks would like to be called "statesmen"
or "diplomats." Yet, in England, the word
"politican" had a respectful acceptance, as
this reviewer learned many years ago. It
was in the early 1920s when Nahum
Sokolow, the scholar and statesman, the
historian and linguist, who was later to be
elected to the presidency of the World
Zionist Organization, came to Detroit for a
week's visit, for a series of speeches before
Zionist groups. He was accompanied by his
daughter, Dr. Celina Sokolow, who
guarded him from the effects of his dia-
betes..This writer was then the editor of the
Detroit Jewish Chronicle. The publicity
listed Dr. Nahum Sokolow as a "prominent
politician." The biographical sketch came
from London and "politician" had a mark of
respect. The Detroit Chronicle story con-
taine:t that description and then came an
ava a ache of protests.
Israel Goldstein as a "Zionist politi-
ci. n" at the age of 12 may have become an
unconscious application when the au-
tobiographer Goldstein made the reference

to himself. Yet, it had and retains signifi-
cance. The recollection of Nahum Sokolow
gives it that credence.
As already indicated, the biographical
data in the Goldstein memoirs results in an
encyclopedic anthology of the most impor-
tant personalities who interested the
author and the many who were associated
with him. Dr. Goldstein himself has a very
rich biographical background, and the
summation in Who's Who in Israel, pub-
lished in Tel Aviv by Bronfman and Cohen,
is valuable for an appreciation of the nota-
ble record of Goldstein's activities. The
biographical data listed in Who's Who in
Israel gives this account:
GOLDSTEIN, Israel; Rabbi;
B.A.; M.A.; Dr. of Hebrew Lit.; D.D.
(L.c.); LL.D. (L.c.); Chairman,
KerenHayesod—U.I.A.; mbr, Jew.
Agcy. Exec.; Co-Chairm., Wld.
Confederation of General Zionists;
Pres. Brit Ivrit Olamii; Chairman,
"Friends of Jerusalem Artists
House"; p. Pres., Jew. Conciliation
Board of Am.; Hon. Pres. J.N.F. of
America and of Am. Jewish Con-
gress; Hon. Vice-Pres., WJC.;
Chmn, Jerus. Council, Israel Am.
Friendship League; Mbr, Brd.
Gvrnrs, Hebrew U., & Weizmann I.;
b. Phila., 18.6.1896; educ.: Pennsyl-
vania and Columbia U.; Jew.
Theological Seminary; Rabbi,
B'nai Jeshurun Congregation,
N.Y., 1918-1960; retired as Rabbi
emeritus and settled in Israel, 60;
founded Brandeis U., 46; held lead-
ing positions in American Zionist,
communal and national institu-
tions; Author of "Century of
Judaism in New York"; "Toward a
Solution"; American Jewry Comes
of Age"; "Brandeis University
Chapter of its Founding"; "Transi-
tion Years"; colab. to Universal
Jewish Encyclopedia; establ. "Is-
rael Goldstein Chair": in Zionism

Continued on Page 30

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