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August 09, 1991 - Image 42

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-08-09

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Centuries Tested;
Marcus Guided


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istory is for reading
and to attain knowl-
edge. In the Ameri-
can Jewish community it
also is a time for testing.
This is the basis for judg-
ing volume two of the
magnum opus of one of our
most distinguished inter-
preters of Jewish history,
Dr. Jacob Marcus. In the
latest volume of United
States Jewry, we are con-
fronted with multiple
challenges relating to occur-
rences of the years 1776 to
1985 in American Jewish
history. In this volume, the
emphasis is on the Germanic
period. Here we learn how
history repeats itself.
Many of the pressures that
are felt in our communal ac-
tivities find comparisons in
the past, taking as one ex-
ample the missionary ac-
tivities which now appear to
be gaining interest from
Michigan Jewry has its
place among the American
communities reviewed in the
Marcus historiography.
Detroit and the early set-
tlers dating back to the
1900s create an interest in
the leadership that estab-
lished our communal life.
In the process of learning
about our communities, we
keep learning about per-
sonalities. The Michigan
leadership introduced to us
includes Julius Housman of
Grand Rapids, who was the
first Michigan Jew to serve
in the United States House
of Representatives in 1883.
He gained prominence first
as a clothing manufacturer
and later in lumber, banking
and streetcar transporta-
Mention of the House of
Representatives draws at-
tention to Washington and
Jewish congressional con-
cerns. There have been nu-
merous occasions when
rabbis were invited to open a
session with prayers. Dr.
Marcus has an interesting
account about the reaction to
such a religious
breakthrough in Congress.
He also introduces us to
Jews in the Washington
Jews in the national
capital began to spread
their wings in the 1860s.
The census of that year
discloses that of the fifty-

Jacob Marcus:
Volume Two.

one gainfully employed
Jews in the District at
least forty-one were in
some form of retail mer-
chandising. On February
1, 1860, Rabbi Morris J.
Raphall of New York City
opened the House of
Representatives with
prayer, the first Jew to do
so. Fully caparisoned
with praying shawl and
velvet skull cap he prayed
before a crowded gallery.
He was " listened to with
marked attention." The
Jews swelled with pride
although some Christians
were nonplused: "going to
pray for ten percent a
month"; "a Jew praying
for the American House of
Representatives! The next
thing we shall have will be
a shaking Quaker danc-
ing a reel" or "Brigham
Young, surrounded by his
harem, threatening to
send the administration to
Many occurrences in the
Marcus historiography are
in a lighter vein and provide
entertaining reading.
Fund-raising and philan-
thropy continue as Jewish
commitments. The pro-
cedures recalled by Dr. Mar-
cus are applicable to our
time. Fund-raisers and
community leaders may find
entertainment and good
By the early 1840s it had
become evident that
money-raising was a big
business and required
joint efforts .. .If Jews
bragged — and they did —
that a Jewish beggar was
a phenomenon on the
streets of the city, they
still had to keep the
beggars happy. The Heb-
rew Charity Ball Associ-
ation reflecting a joint

effort of various elements
in Philadelphia collected
substantial sums through
balls and dinners ...
These formal balls were
gargantuan affairs ...
The organizations vied
with one another in the
sumptuousness of their
repasts and the amounts
they raised as they
assembled in the early
evening and remained un-
til the first rays of dawn
... The toasts were many:
to the society, to charity,
to religious liberty, the the
governor of the state, to
the Jewish martyrs of
Damascus, and of course
to women...
Guests were harangued
by distinguished orators
and eloquent rabbis on
the virtues of benevolence
and generous giving.
Gorged with food,
anesthetized by drink, the
Jewish merchants found
the extractive process
completely painless. If it
failed, the sponsors could
always resort to the
bludgeoning technique:
Rabbi Raphall called out
the names of the solid
citizens and asked them
point-blank for their
There is a great deal of
data that can be judged as a
commentary in the two vol-
umes thus far issued.
The limitations in this re-
view are a source of regret. It
is necessary, however, to ex-
press appreciation to WSU
Press for including this im-
portant history in its library.
Meanwhile, there is one
troubling concern that ac-
companies a history like Dr.
Marcus'. Many important
and unforgettable per-
sonalities are recorded in
early American Jewish his-
tory. What happened to their
progeny? Are there descen-
dants with strong Jewish af-
filiations? There is much to
be said and written about
these queries. Meanwhile,
the memories provided for us
by Dr. Jacob Marcus are to
be cherished.


The name of, the young
Detroit pioneer who was
murdered by Arabs, men-
tioned in my column last
week, was regrettably
misspelled. The correct
spelling of his name is
Ephraim Ticktin. ❑

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