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December 12, 2003 - Image 114

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-12-12

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Arts & Life

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The book is the first literary collab-
oration between Wolfman and his
wife, Ronda Small. A journalist,
genealogist and author who runs a
media business, Wolfman did the
writing, and Small, who is trained as
an architect, did the photo research.
The book's tone and point of view is
largely driven by the illustrations,
showing the Jewish community as
diverse and vital, its history complex.
Many readers may recognize cer-
tain images, but they also will find
much that is less familiar, like a
poster for the Palestine pavilion at
the 1939 World's Fair, with exhibi-
tions designed by the Jewish com-
munity of Palestine.
An expressive photo from the col-
lection of the Library of Congress
shows a woman doing tashlich (cast-
ing crumbs of bread into the water
on the first afternoon of Rosh
Hashanah) from the Williamsburg
Bridge in 1909. Also included are
photographs of an adult education
class at the Educational Alliance and
a Yiddish actress at a costume ball
wearing a dress made of copies of the
pages from a Yiddish newspaper.
In a 1925 photo, a group of male
and female activists involved with
the Daughters of the American
Revolution (D.A.R.), members of
the Phillips and Nathan families,
gather at the Shearith Israel cemetery
in lower Manhattan in 1932; some
of the men wear war medals.
Many of the photographs reflect life

on the Lower East Side when the
waves of Jewish immigrants settled.
Wolfman and Small assert that not
everyone on the Lower East Side was
from Eastern Europe, pointing out a
community of Greek and Turkish
In an interview, Wolfrnan remarks
about how strange New York must have
been forthem, coming from villages
bathed in Mediterranean light to the con-
gested city. Included is a formal portrait
of the Abraham family of Salonika,
Greece, who came to the Lower East Side
in the early 1900s. And, in another pho-
tograph, a costumed group of Levantine
Jews poses after putting on a Purim play
on the Lower East Side in 1936.
Wolfman quotes scholar Arthur
Hertzberg: "Something about New
York ... has given rise to a pluralism
within Jewish life that never before
existed. A certain spirit of American
life-and-let-live ... pragmatism ... has
made it possible for all kinds of Jews
to live together in not only one. city

"Young Russian Jewess, Ellis Island"
photograph by Lewis Hine. By 1905,
New York had become the city with the
largest Jewish population in the world.

but in one community"
Wolfman, 53, explains that living
in Europe in the 1970s "opened up
the Jewish world" for him. While
traveling around, he felt very much
like an American abroad, but, repeat.-
edly, he'd encounter people who
asked if he was Jewish or whether he
spoke Yiddish.-
"I had no idea what was going on,"
he said. "Slowly, I realized that these
were Jews, looking for connections."
While living in Italy for a year, he
grew close with a Jewish family whose
roots were in Libya, and this son of
Brooklyn, whose grandparents enjoyed
listening to Connie Francis singing in
Yiddish, began learning about the
world of the Sephardim. "I found it
fascinating to discover these permuta-
tions of Jewish life," he says.
The book is published as the
350th anniversary of Jews in
America approaches.
Wolfman notes that the first group
of Jews to arrive was a group of
Sephardim from Brazil, with roots in
Holland, who came to New
Amsterdam in 1654. "The idea that
Jews came to New York before the
British is amazing to me, and to others
I mention this to," Small comments.
Wolfman's passions for this city
come across on the page. The author,
whose father owned kosher deli-
catessens, says that for years he has
enjoyed giving walking tours of New
York neighborhoods for friends. In his
work as a genealogist, he has traced his
own family — whose roots are in
Poland — back 250 years. ❑

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