Abie’s Irish Rose: One for My Copyright Students

After the very productive first two decades of the 20th century when Milton Goldsmith published at least ten books and had a play produced on Broadway, his output seemed to drop off after 1920. Although he published some puzzle books for children during the 1920s, he did not publish another novel or non-fiction book until 1930.

Milton Goldsmith, The Book of Anagrams, (Whitman Publishing Company, 1930).

The 1925 New York State census record is a bit of a mess so it’s hard to know how reliable it is. I think the enumerator was a bit confused. For example, for Milton he first wrote that he was born in Russia, as was the case for the person in the line above his entry. Then he crossed that out and correctly entered “US.” However, he left the entry that Milton was an alien, not a citizen. So can I trust the listing for Milton’s occupation as a store manager? I don’t think so.

Especially since the line below for Milton’s wife Sophie says she was in advertising and the line below that for Rosalind (spelled “Roseline” here) said “housewife” and was then crossed out and replaced with commercial artist (which she was). So I think that the enumerator had all the occupations off by a line and that Milton was still, as he had been since 1910, in advertising. And I’ve no idea why the enumerator completely crossed out Madeleine (“Madline”) and the servant living in the home.

Milton Goldsmith and family 1925 NYS census
New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1925; Election District: 51; Assembly District: 09; City: New York; County: New York; Page: 30
Ancestry.com. New York, State Census, 1925

Despite these confusing entries on the census, I think it’s safe to assume that Milton was still working in advertising and that his wife and daughters were still living with him at 353 West 85th Street in New York City. Both daughters were now in their twenties. I was not able to learn much else about their lives in the 1920s; there were no news articles of interest or directory listings or other records that shed any light on how they spent that decade.

There was, however, one mention of Milton in a news story that was of particular interest to me as a former teacher of copyright law. One of my favorite cases to teach was Nichols v. Universal Pictures,1 an opinion written in 1930 by the renowned jurist, Learned Hand, of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The case was brought by Anne Nichols, the author and copyright owner of the play, “Abie’s Irish Rose,” which was a hit on Broadway in the 1920s.  She claimed that Universal Pictures had infringed her copyright with its movie, “The Cohens and the Kellys.”

Both works involved a story of an interfaith marriage between a Jew and a Catholic and the conflict it creates for their parents, who don’t approve of the marriage. There were a number of differences between the stories (which my copyright students better remember in detail, but aren’t relevant here), and both the trial court2 and the appellate court3 ruled in favor of the defendant movie studio, concluding that the theme of star-crossed lovers, one Jewish, one Catholic, was something in the public domain and not protected by copyright law.

How did Milton Goldsmith become entangled in this dispute? He was a witness for Universal Pictures at the trial in 1929, giving testimony about his own work, Rabbi and Priest and the play based upon it, The Little Brother. Although his testimony was not described in detail in the New York Times article that covered the trial, I imagine it was used to support the defendant’s argument that conflict between Jews and Catholics is a common theme used in many works, including Rabbi and Priest, and not original to Anne Nichols play, Abie’s Irish Rose.

“Abie” Not Unique, Professor Finds,” The New York Times, January 5, 1929.

It would have been fun to mention this family connection to the case when I was teaching, but alas—I knew nothing about my cousin Milton at the time.

Although Milton released updated versions of some of his earlier books in the 1930s and 1940s, his last new book, first published in 1930, was Old Mother Earth and Her Family, a geography book for young people.4 His daughter Rosalind did the illustrations for this book.

Milton Goldsmith, Old Mother Earth and Her Family (G. Sully & Company, Inc., 1930).

I was unable to find Milton or any of his family on the 1930 census, but I was able to find  Milton, Sophie, Rosalind and Madeleine on several ship manifests in 1930 and 1931 that showed that their home address was still 353 West 85th Street in New York City.5 I used stevemorse.org to search by that address in the 1930 census, but no members of Milton’s family were listed at that address. I wonder whether the whole family was traveling or living abroad when the 1930 census was taken.

The next decade would bring some more changes for Milton and his family.

 


  1. Nichols v. Universal Pictures, 45 F.2d 119 (2d Cir. 1930). 
  2. Nichols v. Universal Pictures, 34 F.2d 145 (S.D.N.Y. 1929) 
  3. Nichols v. Universal Pictures, 45 F.2d 119 (2d Cir. 1930). 
  4. Milton Goldsmith, Old Mother Earth and Her Family (G. Sully & Company, 1930) 
  5.  Year: 1930; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 4663; Line: 1; Page Number: 11; Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957. Ancestry.com. UK, Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960 (Departure from Southampton, England, September 6, 1930, Lancastria).  Also, Year: 1931; Arrival: New York, New York;Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957;Microfilm Roll: Roll 4903; Line: 1; Page Number: 75; Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957. Year: 1930; Arrival: New York, New York; Microfilm Serial: T715, 1897-1957; Microfilm Roll: Roll 4822; Line: 1; Page Number: 13. Description
    Ship or Roll Number: Roll 4822. Source Information Ancestry.com. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957. 

Milton Goldsmith, Children’s Author and More

My father remembers Milton Goldsmith as an author of children’s books so I was not surprised to learn that Milton had in fact written a number of works for children after moving to New York City in about 1905.

In 1905, Milton, Sophie, and their two young daughters were living at 1125 Madison Avenue in New York City, but Milton was still working as a merchant, according to the 1905 New York State census.

Milton Goldsmith 1905 NYS census
New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1905; Election District: A.D. 29 E.D. 20; City: Manhattan; County: New York; Page: 30
Ancestry.com. New York, State Census, 1905

However, by 1906, Milton was listed in Who’s Who in America as an art publisher and author.1 The listing stated that he was the president of Goldsmith-Leving Company, a company engaged in the embossing of art, calendars, pictures, and the like.  It further described him as a contributor of many short stories to magazines and local and Jewish newspapers and of “several hundred poems” to magazines such as Puck, Judge, Life, and Cosmopolitan. In addition, Milton’s musical and dramatic works were mentioned in the listing and, of course, his books.

In 1908 Milton published his first children’s books. So far I have found three of them published in that year alone. The Adventure of Walter and The Rabbits,2 is a story about a boy named Walter who follows a rabbit into a hole in a tree and observes the rabbit family; he learns never to be cruel to animals based on his observations.  It is a sweet story and one with a lesson all children should learn.  Its innocence and simplicity seem quite refreshing in contrast with some of the cloying Berenstain Bear books I’ve lately had to read to my three year old grandson. I assume that Milton wrote this book with his two young daughters in mind.

I was unable to locate online versions of the other two children’s books published by Milton Goldsmith in 1908; I wish that I could spend the money to buy copies of all his works, but alas, that is not feasible. But I was able to find images of the covers of the books online.

One was entitled Dorothy’s Dolls:3

The third book published by Milton Goldsmith in 1908, also a children’s book, was The Magic Doll. 4

I imagine that Milton’s two young daughters Rosalind and Madeleine were the inspiration for all three books. From this point forward in his writing career, almost all his books were written for an audience of children.

By 1910, Milton seems to have left the art embossing business and gone into advertising, for that is the occupation listed for him on the 1910 census.  At that time he and Sophie were living at 783 Madison Avenue with Sophie’s mother and her two sisters as well as her sisters’ husbands. I was puzzled that neither of Milton and Sophie’s daughters was listed in the household; Rosalind would have been nine, Madeleine six. Where could they have been? Since I could not find them anywhere else on the 1910 census, I believe that this was just an enumeration mistake.

Milton Goldsmith 1910 US Census
Year: 1910; Census Place: Manhattan Ward 19, New York, New York; Roll: T624_1043; Page: 11B; Enumeration District: 1161; FHL microfilm: 1375056
Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census

According to one source, Milton spent 1910 and 1911 in Berlin and Paris, translating German and French plays into English for the American stage.

By 1915, they were all listed together (though Rosalind was here listed as Ralph and as a son), living at 353 West 85th Street in New York, and Milton continued to work in advertising, now at his own agency.

Milton Goldsmith 1915 NYS census
New York State Archives; Albany, New York; State Population Census Schedules, 1915; Election District: 25; Assembly District: 15; City: New York; County: New York; Page: 18
Ancestry.com. New York, State Census, 1915

Meanwhile, his writing career continued. As his daughters grew from young children to schoolgirls and teenagers, his works also targeted somewhat older audiences than the fairy tales he’d written in 1908. In 1916, he published Practical Things with Simple Tools: A Book for Young Mechanics.5

Interestingly, and a sign of its times, this book was specifically targeted for boys. Here is part of the introduction to the book:

The book consists of instructions and illustrations for how to make a long list of things intended for boys:

Milton Goldsmith also wrote two books under the pseudonym Astra Cielo during these years.  The first, published in 1917, Fortunes and Dreams, is a “practical manual of fortune telling, divination, and the interpretation of dreams, signs, and omens.”6 The second Astra Cielo book is similar. Published in 1918, Signs, Omens and Superstitions covers, as you’d expect, signs, omens and superstitions.7

It’s hard to imagine the same author who expressed quite modern views of religion and skepticism about superstition in A Victim of Conscience and Rabbi and Priest endorsing these practices, but perhaps that’s why he wrote under a pseudonym.  Although both books express doubts about believing in or relying on these practices, the books go into great detail about these subjects and thus create a sense that these are legitimate practices and beliefs.

After these works of “non-fiction,” Milton published a novel for older children, The Strange Adventures of Prince Charming: A Story for Young & Old. 8  This work is a full length novel and tells about the adventures of a young prince as he makes his journey in the “real world.” It has elements of satire and more advanced vocabulary than the earlier children’s books. (I confess I did not read the entire book; perhaps my older grandson would appreciate it, however.)

Milton ended the decade with another work of children’s non-fiction, I Wonder Why: The How, When and Wherefore of Many Things.9 I was very happy to see that he dedicated this book to his daughters, “Rosalind and Madeleine, whose many questions inspired the writing of this book.” At least this time he recognized that girls also have curiosity and a need to know about practical matters.

The book is written in narrative form based on a fictional family, the Palmers, with five children, three boys and (yay!) two girls. Their father is an engineer, and the book consists of chapters on different topics where the father (sigh) answers the children’s questions about a wide variety of scientific issues.  Here is just a portion of the table of contents:

In addition to publishing all these books, Milton, along with Bennett James, adapted his first novel Rabbi and Priest into a play, The Little Brother, which was performed in London and then on Broadway in 1918 with a cast that included Tyrone Power, Sr. Despite positive reviews for its treatment of interfaith conflict and prejudices, it closed after 120 performances in March, 1919.

Thus, by 1920, Milton had published a number of books and had had a play produced in London and on Broadway. However, his principal occupation, as listed on the 1920 census, was  still advertising.  10

What would the next decade and those to follow bring for my cousin Milton and his family?


  1. John William Leonard, ed., Who’s Who in America, Vols. 2-4 (A. N. Marquis & Co., 1906), pp. 694-695. 
  2. Milton Goldsmith, The Adventure of Walter and The Rabbits (The Ullman Mfg. Co., 1903). 
  3. Milton Goldsmith, Dorothy’s Dolls: A Nursery Tale (Cupples & Leon Company, 1908). 
  4. Milton Goldsmith, The Magic Doll: A Fairy Tale (The Goldsmith Publishing Company, 1908). I wonder if for some time Milton had his own publishing company or if this was a family member or just a coincidence. 
  5. Milton Goldsmith, Practical Things with Simple Tools: A Book for Young Mechanics (Sully and Kleinteich, 1916). 
  6. Astra Cielo (pseud. Milton Goldsmith), Fortunes and Dreams (George Sully & Company, 1917). 
  7. Astra Cielo (pseud. Milton Goldsmith), Signs, Omens and Superstitions (George Sully & Company, 1918). 
  8. Milton Goldsmith, The Strange Adventures of Prince Charming: A Story for Young & Old (McCloughlin Bros. Inc,, 1919). 
  9. Milton Goldsmith,  I Wonder Why: The How, When and Wherefore of Many Things (George Sully and Company, 1920). In 1938, Milton published an updated edition of this book entitled I Wonder How: The Why, When and Wherefore of Many Things (Platt & Munk Company, 1938). 
  10. Milton Goldsmith and family, 1920 US Census, Year: 1920; Census Place: Manhattan Assembly District 9, New York, New York; Roll: T625_1202; Page: 13B; Enumeration District: 704, Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census 

Milton Goldsmith: A Victim of Conscience

In my last post we saw what my cousin Milton Goldsmith predicted for the 21st century; in this post, we will start to look at his life in the 20th century.

In 1900, Milton was recently married to Sophie Hyman of New York City, and the newlywed couple were living in Philadelphia where Milton continued to make a living as a clothing merchant. Their first child, Rosalind, was born on February 1, 1901, in Philadelphia,1 and a second daughter, Madeleine, followed on May 20, 1904, also in Philadelphia.2

By this time Milton had published his first novel, Rabbi and Priest (1891), as discussed here, as well as a second novel, A Victim of Conscience (1903).3

A Victim of Conscience takes place in the 1850s in a city that is unnamed but (based on the street names) is most likely Philadelphia. The main character is a recent German Jewish immigrant named Isaac Schwartz.  He has been in America for four years at the beginning of the novel and is living in dire poverty, desperate for a way to earn enough money to support his family. He finally decides to go to California to join the gold rush. There he encounters anti-Semitism and abuse and ultimately commits the crime that makes him a “victim of conscience.”

The principal theme of the book is atonement. Isaac seeks advice from a rabbi about how to atone for his crime and is discouraged by some of the rigidity of Jewish law. He then considers converting to Catholicism and studies with a priest, but ultimately decides that he can’t accept the notion that mere faith in Christ as his savior will provide salvation. In the end he learns that Judaism can provide a path to forgiveness and expiation for his sins.

The book’s focus is thus on Isaac’s struggle with his conscience and how religion affects that struggle. But the book is of more interest to me in the way that it reflects the way my cousin Milton understood his own family’s story—their life in Germany, their reasons for leaving Germany, and the life they found when they first settled in the US fifty years before he wrote this book. A few excerpts will illustrate what I mean.

Although I have no reason to assume that Milton was being at all autobiographical in describing the lives of some of his characters, I did wonder whether this description of Isaac’s life in Germany was based on his father Abraham’s life in Oberlistingen before emigrating:4

Isaac’s father, old Meyer Schwartz, was a power in his native village of D. He was in fair circumstances, and educated as far as education went in those days; for the Jews, rich and poor alike, were denied the privileges of the village schools, and were limited in their instruction to the teachings of their “Cheders ” and the scraps of information which they could impart one to the other. Old Schwartz was a profound Talmud scholar, and was deemed as wise as he was devout, which was no equivocal compliment, for he was pious indeed. … It was [his] ambition to make a Rabbi of [Isaac], but in spite of his earnest and painstaking instruction, Isaac never got beyond the general outlines of the law and the Talmud. Buying and selling afforded him more pleasure than poring over parchments, and, after a vain effort to keep him to his studies, old Schwartz reluctantly allowed him to follow his own inclinations.

Milton also provided some background for the reasons so many German Jews emigrated:5

In those days the Jews in Germany had few rights and many grievances. Harsh measures were devised, stringent laws enacted to drive them out of the country, or at least to restrict their increase. The possession and cultivation of land, the study of a profession, the following of the fine arts, were all interdicted. Buying and selling, borrowing and lending, were the only channels in which the Israelites were allowed to exercise their ingenuity, and grievous was their condition in consequence. Worse still, a Jew was not allowed to marry until some co-religionist in the community had died or had moved away.

His main character Isaac decides to emigrate because he wants to marry the woman he loves, Lena, and cannot stay in his home community and do so.

Milton also described the hard lives of the Jews who made a living as peddlers after coming to the US, as his father Abraham probably did:6

A number of peddlers were among the visitors, stalwart young fellows but lately arrived from Germany, who, with a heavy pack on their shoulders, or, if their means allowed, with horse and wagon, wandered through the State, hawking a varied assortment of merchandise, and seeking to master the American tongue while they accumulated American dollars. It was a hard experience, but a salutary one. For the pious Jews, peddling meant untold privations, a total abstinence of all food except eggs and such “Kosher” dried meats as they could carry with them. It meant a weary trudging through unfamiliar villages, over stony roads, amid hostile surroundings, from Sunday morning until Friday evening, and a short rest on the Sabbath in some synagogue town.

It was a career which might well have daunted the most enterprising youth, and yet thousands of “greenhorns ” adopted it, thrived at it, became wealthy through it. It was not considered degrading in those pioneer days, but eminently proper for a new arrival.

19th century etching of a peddler by Granger found at http://fineartamerica.com/featured/1-peddler-19th-century-granger.html

The book also sheds light on the lives of German Jewish families in Philadelphia during that time period—the level of observance of Jewish law, the economic and social conditions, and the relationship between the Jewish and non-Jewish communities. The book is likely more valuable today for what it reveals about its times than for its literary merit, but for me, it was a worthwhile read.

Thus, by 1903, Milton had published two novels and written many essays, short stories, and even a musical. He and his family must have decided that it was time to leave Philadelphia and move to New York City where he might have more opportunities to pursue his literary career.

You can download a free copy of A Victim of Conscience here.


  1. Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Births, 1860-1906,” database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VBYW-R9L : 9 March 2018), Rosalind Goldsmith, 01 Feb 1901; citing bk 1901 p 107, Department of Records; FHL microfilm 1,289,340. 
  2. Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Births, 1860-1906,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VBBL-N5K : 8 December 2014), Madeline Goldsmith, 29 May 1904; citing cn 22583, Department of Records; FHL microfilm 2,110,933. 
  3. Milton Goldsmith, A Victim of Conscience (Henry T. Coates & Co., 1903). 
  4. Ibid., p.6. 
  5. Ibid., p. 7. 
  6. Ibid., pp. 84-85. 

Milton Goldsmith Predicts the Future

After the publication of his first book Rabbi and Priest in 1891, Milton Goldsmith contributed a number of essays and short stories to the Philadelphia newspapers. My favorite is “In the Next Century”1 dated August 28, 1892, when he predicted—with tongue in cheek—what life would be like in the year 2000:

Here are a few highlights from this clever and humorous look at the future—or in our case, the past:

It is safe to assume that the world is but in its infancy, and that coming generations will show a vast mental and physical improvement over the present inhabitants of the globe. Our varied knowledge, the wonderful progress on which we are so prone to pride ourselves, will probably appear as absurd to our progeny as the fragmentary information of our forefathers appears to us. Knowledge will be universal, and the inhabitants of our continent will, in the next century, be intellectual giants.

Imagine yourselves transported to the year 2000….What a change greets our wondering eyes. Ignorance appears to be unknown. The child of 5 knows more than the college graduate of the present era. Let us examine the system that has wrought this improvement.  The guide of that year first leads us into the School for Infants. It is here that the babies are taught under the supervision of the government. Competent teachers are appointed the very young idea to shoot. For example, as soon as a child is old enough to drink milk from a bottle, it is taught at the same time the fundamental laws of suction and the principle of the air-pump. Experiments with valves, Torricelli vacuums, etc., form part of the curriculum.

An illustration of Torricelli’s vacuum
By Kilom691 (The New Student’s Reference Work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

How disappointed my cousin Milton would be. I am far past infancy yet I still didn’t know what a Torricelli vacuum was!

He continued with further examples of how babies and children would be instructed in gravity, zoology, geometry, trigonometry, and other mathematical and scientific concepts. Then he looked at medicine and health in the year 2000:

With a people of such mental caliber it is but natural that arts, science and inventions should prosper. The pleasure and comfort of man is greatly enhanced by the numerous devices invented for his welfare. Principal among these are the appliances for fostering the health of the community. Sickness is absolutely unknown. The medical fraternity, having discovered the germ of each disease, have at the same time provided an antidote for such germs. At the age of 2 months the child is vaccinated against tuberculosis. At the age of 3 months against cholera; at the age of four months against smallpox, and so on at regular intervals against all the diseases in the modern doctor books.

Here, Milton has done a better job of prognostication; we do have vaccines against smallpox and tuberculosis and many other diseases. But alas, we certainly have not eliminated all diseases.

Smallpox vaccine
By Photo Credit: James Gathany Content Providers(s): CDC [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Milton went on to describe, with tongue in cheek, the extreme measures that would be taken to prevent the reintroduction of germs into society—“Before a mother kisses her child she cleans her teeth and lips with an antiseptic solution. All water is boiled, and all milk sterilized before it is taken.”

He then takes this notion and applies it to the way adults will behave in the year 2000.

When the boy or girl reaches the age when matrimony appears a consummation devoutly to be wished, there are no haphazard marriages as in former days.  The partner to be chosen is carefully examined by a psychologist, a pathologist and a phrenologist, and every peculiarity of mental or physical structure carefully noted.  Only such parties who are perfectly sound and whose peculiarities are fitted to one another, are allowed to mate. Such a thing as an unhappy marriage, or a divorce, are as a matter of course impossible. Sick or weakly offspring are unknown.

What would Milton think of couples meeting through online dating? Of our over 50% divorce rate? Of birth control and premarital sex?

He then discussed married life:

The intelligent groom knows that promiscuous kissing is injurious; that each kiss, acting upon the sensitive nerves of touch, are apt to create a depletion of nervo-vital force. He therefore limits his kisses to two a day. The lips are carefully disinfected before and after each osculations.  …. The groom retires promptly at 10 o’clock, as sufficient sleep is found to be more important than making love.

Imagine Milton watching some of the movies or television shows of our era. What would he think?

Finally, Milton reached his conclusions about life in the year 2000:

As a result of this wonderful system sickness is unknown in the community. People live to the normal age of 100 years and then die suddenly without a struggle. The remains are immediately cremated, the ashes disinfected and buried ten feet in the earth.

Taking it all in all one is almost glad that this happy time has not yet arrived, for though we may have more disease than the possible inhabitant of A.D. 2000, we have a great deal more fun.

Ah, Cousin Milton, how wrong you were! We are still having a lot of fun, probably more than your generation did, as we have fewer diseases, more leisure time, looser social mores, and all the amazing toys that modern science has given us.

I loved the satiric tone of his essay.  And I also loved the sense that while I am now looking backward to learn about the life that Milton led as a young man in the 19th century, in 1892 he was looking forward to the future to imagine what life would be like for his descendants in the 21st century.

By Tony Grist (Photographer’s own files) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Milton’s creative output in the 19th century was not limited to short stories and essays. In December 1893, Milton’s burlesque entitled “Jay Cesar, Esq.”—which he wrote and acted in—was performed by the Stag Opera Comique Company in Philadelphia. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “it was a distinct success from every standpoint and from a social standpoint it was decidedly the leading event in Hebrew society this season so far.”  The performance consisted of two hours of “catchy airs, humorous songs, fantastic dances and whimsical dialogue.” 2

Milton was obviously a very talented young man.  The 20th century would find him leaving behind his life as a merchant and making a new career in a new city.  I wonder what he would have predicted for his own future when he wrote “In the Next Century” in 1892.

 

 

 


  1. Milton Goldsmith, “In the Next Century,” The Philadelphia Times, August 28, 1892, p. 19. 
  2. “Stags on Stage,” The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 29, 1893, p. 3. A full copy of the text of Jay Cesar can be found here. It is quite clever, and Milton is credited not only with the whole text, but also with some of the music. For other stories, essays, and other works by Milton Goldsmith during the 1890s, see, “Milton Goldsmith’s Lecture Before the Young Men’s Hebrew Association,” The Philadelphia Times, March 28, 1897, p, 9; Milton Goldsmith, “That Grateful Ghost,” The Philadelphia Times, March 5, 1893, p. 23; Milton Goldsmith, “Raps Told of Murder,” The Philadelphia Times, December 11, 1892, p. 23; Milton Goldsmith, “The Pride of the Circus,” The Philadelphia Times, August 14, 1892, p. 10; Milton Goldsmith, “The Three Responses,” The Philadelphia Times, March 27, 1892, p. 14. 

Milton Goldsmith: Rabbi and Priest

When I prepared this post, it didn’t occur to me that I would be publishing it on the day  that is both Good Friday and Erev Passover—the night of the first seder. But it couldn’t be a more appropriate day to post about a book that deals with the need for religious tolerance—written by my cousin Milton Goldsmith in 1891.

Happy Passover and Happy Easter to all!


Abraham Goldsmith’s oldest child was his son Milton, born to Abraham’s first wife Cecelia on May 22, 1861, in Philadelphia.1 I have been looking forward to researching and writing about Milton for a long time, ever since my father told me that he had once met one of his Goldsmith cousins and remembered that he had written children’s books. It took me a while to figure out which Goldsmith that was, but I believe that it must have been Milton.

From what I’ve written about Milton so far, you would not know about his literary interests and career.  From the late 1880s until at least 1900, public records listed his occupation as clothing merchant, and he worked in his father’s clothing store, A.Goldsmith & Sons, for many years.

But even during those years, Milton was engaged in other, more creative pursuits. According to one online biography, Milton graduated from Central High School in Philadelphia in 1877 and then studied literature, languages, and music at the University of Zurich for three years from 1877 until 1880 when he returned to Philadelphia.

His first full length novel was published by the Jewish Publication Society in 1891. It was an interesting choice of subject matter for the son of a very successful German-Jewish immigrant. Entitled Rabbi and Priest, it is the story of two Russian Jewish brothers who are separated during a pogrom; one eventually finds his way to Kiev where his uncle lives; he is educated in a yeshiva and grows up to be a rabbi.  The other is rescued by a Russian Countess and sent to a monastery where he grows up to be a priest.2

The book provides insight into the lives of poor Jews living in Russia in the 19th century and their attitudes, practices, and beliefs as well as the lives and views of the Christian populations. It also includes information about Russian history and the treatment of Jews there between 1850 and 1880, including details about pogroms and the attitudes of the czars and the Russian people. There are also insights into Milton Goldsmith’s own beliefs and attitudes, revealed by the character of Phillip Harris, a Russian Jew who immigrates to America and comes back to visit his former home in Kiev.

Milton Goldsmith explained in the preface to his book his reasons for writing this story:3

Towards the end of 1882, there arrived at the old Pennsylvania Railroad Depot in Philadelphia, several hundred Russian refugees, driven from their native land by the inhuman treatment of the Muscovite Government. Among them were many intelligent people, who had been prosperous in their native land, but who were now reduced to dire want. One couple, in particular, attracted the attention of the visitors, by their intellectual appearance and air of gentility, in marked contrast to the abject condition of many of their associates. Joseph Kierson was the name of the man, and the story of his sufferings aroused the sympathy of his hearers. The man and his wife were assisted by the Relief Committee, and in a short time were in a condition to provide for themselves.

The writer had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Kierson a few years later and elicited from him a complete recital of his trials and an account of the causes of the terrible persecution which compelled such large numbers of his countrymen to flee from their once happy homes.

His story forms the nucleus of the novel I now present to my readers. While adhering as closely as possible to actual names, dates and events, it does not pretend to be historically accurate. In following the fortunes of Mendel Winenki, from boyhood to old age, it endeavors to present a series of pictures portraying the character, life, and sufferings of the misunderstood and much-maligned Russian Jew.

In the description of Russia’s customs and characteristics, the barbarous cruelty of her criminal code and the nihilistic tendency of the times, the author has followed such eminent writers as Wallace, Foulke, Stepniak, Tolstoi and Herzberg-Fraenkel. The accounts of the riots of 1882 will be found to agree in historic details with the reports which were published at the time.

With this introduction, I respectfully submit the work to the consideration of an indulgent public.

MILTON GOLDSMITH

Philadelphia, April, 1891

Russian Jews in Philadelphia 1890

The themes that run through the book focus primarily on anti-Semitism and its roots, Jewish faith and identity, and the value of a more worldly and secular education. As to the first, Goldsmith wrote:4

The serf persecutes the Jew because he is himself persecuted by the nobility. There is no real animosity between the peasant and his Jewish neighbors. Our wretched state is the outgrowth of a petty tyranny, in which the serf desires to imitate his superiors. Let the people once enjoy freedom and they will cease to persecute the Hebrews, without whom they cannot exist.

I thought this was an insightful perspective for someone living in 1893—to understand that a group’s prejudice often has its roots in its own oppression and poverty and that freedom and prosperity for all is the best way to eliminate hate and discrimination.

But it is Goldsmith’s attitudes towards education and assimilation that I found most interesting, keeping in mind that he was a man who had spent three years in Switzerland, learning about literature, language, and music. First, he notes how Talmudic study sharpens the intellect of Jewish students:5

It was to this incessant study of the Scriptures that Israel owed its patience, its courage, its fortitude during centuries of persecution. It was this constant delving for truth which produced that bright, acute Jewish mind, which in days of fanaticism and intolerance, protected the despised people from stupefying mental decay.

But then he expresses concern for how Talmudic study fosters closed-mindedness and superstition, stating,”That this study often degenerated into a mere useless cramming of unintelligible ideas is easily understood, and its effects were in many cases the reverse of ennobling.”6

It is, however, when the character of Phillip Harris returns to Russia and speaks of life in America that Goldsmith’s personal views and experience are most clearly revealed.  In speaking with the people of his former community in Kiev, Philip asserts that Jews are on equal footing with Christians in America, and when questioned about the fact that he has shaved his beard and abandoned many traditional Jewish practices, he says:7

[I]t seems to me that a Jew can remain a Jew even if he neglect some of those ceremonials which have very little to do with Judaism pure and simple. Some are remnants of an oriental symbolism, others comparatively recent additions to the creed, which ought to give way before civilization. What possible harm can it do you or your religion if you shave your beard or abandon your jargon for the language of the people among whom you live? … Every effort to develop the Jewish mind is checked, not by the gentiles, but by the Jews themselves. … A knowledge of the history of the world, an insight into modern science, will teach us why and wherefore all our laws were given and how we can best obey, not the letter but the spirit of God’s commands.

Romanian Jewish journalist Sache Petreanu, an advocate of assimilation, cutting off the payot of an observant Jew (1899 caricature by Constantin Jiquidi)
Constantin_Jiquidi_-_Sache_Petreanu,_Foaia_Populară,_14_feb_1899

Phillip continued:8

You will all admit that you place more weight upon your ceremonials than upon your faith. You deem it more important to preserve a certain position of the feet, a proper intonation of the voice during prayers than to fully understand the prayer itself, and in spite of your pretended belief in the greatness and goodness of God, you belittle Him by the thought that an omission of a single ceremony, the eating of meat and milk together, the tearing of a tzitzith (fringe) will offend Him, or that a certain number of mitzvoth (good acts) will propitiate Him. Do you understand now what I mean when I say that superstition is not religion?

The character concludes by saying:.9

Worship God as your conscience dictates, continue in your ancient fashion if it makes you happy, but be tolerant towards him who, feeling himself mentally and spiritually above superstition, seeks to emancipate himself from its bonds and to follow the dictates of his own good common-sense

Goldsmith recognized that for those living in Russia where oppression and poverty made Jewish lives difficult, an adherence to these traditional practices was more understandable, for the rabbi responds to Phillip by saying, “Whether these observances are needed or are superfluous in a free country like America I shall not presume to say, but in Russia they are a moral and a physical necessity.”10

When poor Jews from Eastern Europe and Russia began to immigrate to the US in the 1880s and 1890s, they faced prejudice not only from the Christian majority here, but also from many Jews with German origins whose families had immigrated decades earlier and had assimilated into American life.11 I am proud of my cousin Milton Goldsmith for writing a book that tried to convey to Americans and perhaps in particular to American Jews the travails and obstacles faced by these new Russian Jewish immigrants. He does an excellent job of describing what their lives were like, why they were forced to emigrate, and why they were clinging to traditions and practices that American Jews might no longer feel necessary. And he also endorsed the need for and value of a liberal education and an open mind.

The book is not just a novel, but a lesson in tolerance, in the need for education, and in the power of faith when life seems too grim and hopeless to bear.

If you are interested in buying the book, it is available on Amazon as an e-book here.


  1. Pennsylvania, Philadelphia City Births, 1860-1906,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VB16-KTZ : 8 December 2014), Milton Growsmith, 22 May 1861; citing bk 2 p 168, Department of Records; FHL microfilm 1,289,306. 
  2. Milton Goldsmith, The Rabbi and The Priest: A Story (Jewish Publication Society, 1891) 
  3. Goldsmith, Milton, Rabbi and Priest: A Story (pp. 6-8, Kindle edition). 
  4.  Goldsmith, Milton. Rabbi and Priest A Story (p. 30). Kindle Edition. 
  5.  Goldsmith, Milton. Rabbi and Priest A Story (p. 84). Kindle Edition. 
  6. Goldsmith, Milton. Rabbi and Priest A Story (p. 84). Kindle Edition. 
  7.  Goldsmith, Milton. Rabbi and Priest A Story (pp. 99-100). Kindle Edition. 
  8.  Goldsmith, Milton. Rabbi and Priest A Story (p. 102). Kindle Edition. 
  9.  Goldsmith, Milton. Rabbi and Priest A Story (p. 103). Kindle Edition. 
  10.  Goldsmith, Milton. Rabbi and Priest A Story (p. 104). Kindle Edition. 
  11. Irving Aaron Mandel, “Attitude of the American Jewish Community toward East-European Immigration As Reflected in the Anglo-Jewish Press 1880-1890,” American Jewish Archives, 1950. 

Schutzjuden

Back on January 12, 2018, I wrote about my four-times great-grandfather Jacob Falcke Goldschmidt who in 1724 was the first Jew to receive a Schutzbrief in the town of Oberlistingen. I received a couple of comments and questions about the practice of obtaining a Schutzbrief, so I decided to do some additional research to get a better understanding.

Unfortunately, there is not much written online about this practice.  I asked in the Jewish genealogy groups on Facebook and received a recommendation for a book by Mordechai Breuer and Michael Graetz entitled German-Jewish History in Modern Times, Volume I: Tradition and Enlightenment 1600-1780 (Michael A. Meyer, ed., William Templer, translator) (Columbia University Press 1996)(hereinafter “Breuer-Graetz”). Another person recommended a different book, Mathilda Wertheim Stein’s The Way It Was: The Jewish World of Rural Hesse (FrederickMax Publications 2000)(hereinafter “Stein”). What follows is based on just these two sources and is not meant to be a comprehensive summary of German Jewish history by any means, but merely a brief overview of the practice of issuing letters of protection or Schutzbriefe.

In 1236, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II declared that Jews were servi camerae nostril—that is, permanent servants of the emperor.1   Jews were subject to many restrictions; for example, they were not allowed to bear arms; they were required to pay onerous taxes to the empire; and they were prohibited from many areas of trade and from guilds.2 Because of these restrictions, many Jews made their living as moneylenders and pawnbrokers, fields that were were considered un-Christian. As a result, many Jews developed experience in finance and in facilitating trade.3

It was during this era that a class of “protected Jews” or Schutzjuden developed. Frederick II instituted a policy whereby territorial rulers could take over the oversight and taxation of Jewish.4  As explained by Stein, “When the emperor needed funds, he granted his right over the Jews to territorial feudal lords and free cities.  They in turn charged a regular fee for letters of protection to the Jews living within their domain. As a result, Jews became the subjects of the feudal lords, who furnished a letter of protection (Schutzbrief). Letters of protection had to be renewed periodically for a fee set by the sovereign and they generated a good income.”5  According to Stein, “Many a palace in [Hesse] was built with money exacted from Jews who paid excessively for the privilege of living under wretched conditions at the pleasure of the sovereign.” 6 But the payment for protection at least ensured the Schutzjuden some rights as well as some protection against anti-Semitic violence and abuse.7

By the 16th century, there was some liberalization in the treatment of Jewish residents. According to Breuer-Graetz, those in power at this time “gradually came to view the Jews in a different light: not as individuals bereft of all rights, but as human beings with a basic right to toleration, though no more than that.”8

But Jewish security was still very much dependent on the local nobles, and at the same time the nobles often found themselves depending on the Jews for their expertise in commercial and economic matters.9  During the Thirty Years War in the 17th century, many Jews played a critical role in financing and procuring supplies for the nobles’ armies.10  This led to the development of a class of Jews known as Court Jews who were very wealthy and protected by the nobles though still treated as outsiders.  The Court Jews also played an important role within their own Jewish communities, acting as tax collectors for the nobles and as advocates and benefactors for Jewish residents who needed financial help or who were having legal problems.  Court Jews also hired other Jews to work as their servants in their homes.11 Other Jewish residents worked as peddlers and traders, often as cattle and horse traders.12

The practice of Schutzjuden also was somewhat liberalized during this period in some places. In earlier times, a letter of protection (Schutzbrief) was issued to just one individual and for a limited time, usually just a few years.  Now in some localities letters of protection lasted for the lifetime of an individual and were granted to larger numbers of people. To acquire a letter of protection, Jews were required to pay a substantial annual fee.13

“One important feature of these letters of protection was the specification of a precise territorial area in which they were valid. The patron could cancel the privilege at any time, and there was generally a fixed number of authorized protected Jews.“14  The entire household of a protected Jew was also covered by the letter of protection, including servants. Jews who were not covered by a Schutzbrief were part of an underclass known as “unvergleitet” Jews; they had no right to reside in a community and were dependent on manual labor or begging to survive.15

Even those with protection had quite circumscribed rights. They were still prohibited from most areas of trade, and they could own no real estate other than their home. They were subjected to many taxes and fees in addition to their annual fee for protection, and those taxes were substantially higher than the taxes paid by their Christian neighbors. If an individual Jew did not fulfill his or her personal obligations, the entire Jewish community was responsible for the debts of that individual. Breuer-Graetz observed that the non-Jewish peasant community was in some ways worse off financially than the Schutzjuden, but in many ways had more legal rights than their Jewish neighbors.16

There were many regional variations in Schutzbrief practice. According to Stein, “Renewal of a Schutzbrief was customary in the region of Hesse, but each case was handled individually at the discretion of the local feudal lord with whom terms had to be continually renegotiated.”17 Stein cites as one example a Schutzbrief that was valid for only four years and subject to carrying on an approved business and paying the yearly fee in advance.18 In some towns in Hesse the granting of a Schutzbrief was subject to two other requirements: the ability to read and write and the possession of sufficient wealth.19  A couple wishing to marry often had to wait until a place in a town or village was available before they could marry.20

An example of a Schutzbrief from the Hesse region in 1678 Source: HStAM II A 2 Judenachen 1646-1814

The 18th century saw the dawn of the so-called Age of Enlightenment, but for the Jewish residents it was hardly that.  It was during this time that my ancestor Jacob Falcke Goldschmidt became the first protected Jew in the town of Oberlistingen. Jews were still forced to endure both heavier taxation and greater legal restrictions. “Increased difficulties were likewise encountered in connection with the granting of protection. In many places there was a rigorous expulsion of poor, ‘unprotected’ Jews; the children of protected Jews were not accepted for permanent residence unless the parents were wealthy or had proven their worth by the establishment of manufactories.” 21

During the reign of Frederick the Great (1740-1786), treatment of Jews worsened. He considered Jews “the most dangerous of all sects”22, and despite his view that the state’s most important function was to ensure the welfare of all its subjects, he did not extend that view to his Jewish subjects. “Rather, they remained nothing but an instrument for furthering the welfare of the state and its development into a great European power.”23

Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, painting by
Anton Graff [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Revised General Code of 1750 placed Jews in a number classes from most privileged to least privileged. As described by Breuer-Graetz,24 these categories were:

  1. Generalpriviligierte: the smallest and most elite level. They could purchase land and homes without a permit, work as merchants, and pass on their rights to their children.
  2. Ordentliche Schutzjuden: privileged protected Jews; they could not choose their residence without a permit and could only pass on their rights to one of their children.
  3. Ausserodentliche Schuzjuden: unprivileged protected Jews; only permitted to reside in the town if they had a useful profession or trade and could provide one of their children with the right of residence if the child had sufficient assets.
  4. Community employees, including rabbis.
  5. Unprotected Jews: they required the patronage of a protected Jew and could only marry if their spouse was someone from the top two classes. Children of the privileged protected Jews who did not share in the right to inherit were also placed in this class as were children of community employees.
  6. Servants employed by those in the first class.

According to Breuer-Graez, the purpose of this system of classification was “to curb the growth of the legitimate Jewish population and to put a halt on the illegal influx of unprotected Jews.” 25 It was also a means of raising revenue since each of those who obtained protection paid hefty amounts for that privilege.

This oppressive government-imposed treatment of Jews as outsiders with limited rights lasted for another century. It was not until the 19th century that various Germanic states began to emancipate their Jewish residents and grant them full legal rights as citizens; unfortunately, that did not end anti-Semitism and the violence and discrimination it engendered, as we saw most tragically in the 20th century.

 

 

 

 

 

 


  1. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 28-29. 
  2. Breuer-Graetz. pp. 29-30. 
  3. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 30-31. 
  4. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 29-30. 
  5. Stein, p 6. 
  6. Stein, p.6. 
  7. Stein, p. 20. 
  8. Breuer-Graetz, p. 65. 
  9. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 75-77. 
  10. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 104-117. 
  11. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 117-122. 
  12. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 123-134. 
  13. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 135-136. 
  14. Breuer-Graetz, p. 136. 
  15. Breuer-Graetz, pp.136-137. 
  16. Breuer-Graetz, pp. 137-143. 
  17. Stein, p. 22. 
  18. Stein, p. 22. 
  19. Stein, p. 20. 
  20. Stein, p. 18. 
  21. Breuer-Graetz, p. 145. 
  22. Breuer-Graetz, p. 147. 
  23. Breuer-Graetz, p. 147. 
  24. Breuer-Graetz, 148-149. 
  25. Breuer-Graetz, p. 149. 

Kin Types by Luanne Castle: A Review

Most of us who engage in family history research probably try in some way to put ourselves in the shoes of our ancestors. We try to imagine—what were they really like? How did they cope with the failures and successes, the heartbreak and the joys that colored their lives? We want to get beyond the surface details of birth, marriage, and death, and understand who these people were.

Luanne Castle, the author of the wonderful genealogy blog The Family Kalamazoo, has done just that in her new remarkable collection of prose-poems, Kin Types (Finishing Line Press, 2017). In these clear and beautifully written poems, she has brought to life the people she has researched and studied for many years.  Collectively, her poems evoke the hard and often bitter lives of her ancestors while also piercing beneath the surfaces of those hard lives to uncover the love and the beauty that each one of these people experienced.

For example, in “An Account of a Poor Oil Stove Bought Off Dutch Pete,” a poem that describes in horrifying detail how a fire envelops a home and the woman living in it, Castle creates this image:

Under the smoke, she can make out the sliced strawberries centered on the oilcloth nailed to the tabletop

In these few simple words, Castle uses the image of strawberries sliced by a caring wife and mother to remind the reader that this is a loving family woman who is threatened by a deadly fire. It evokes birth and life amidst the threat of death and destruction.

And when Castle wonders about the history of an old house that is in serious disrepair in “The Fat Little House,” she creates a story about the man who built the house and his family. Her words convey the love between the husband and wife through the man’s response to his wife’s description of the house as “short and fat:”

He laughed, I like my houses like apples.

And swaddled inside the crisp

sugary walls she nurtured and nestled

babies, slippery as fruit flesh…

From these few words and the images created, you can imagine the sweetness between these two people. Once again, fruit becomes a metaphor for love, for life, for birth.

In other poems Castle describes the fears of a dying mother that her children will be separated and sent to orphanages where “Teachers like scavengers pick at the remains of my family,” the anxiety of a mother as her teenage daughter gives birth on the kitchen table, the joy and sadness of a mother seeing in the face of her young son the face of her now deceased brother, and the guilt and love shared by another family whose lives are torn apart because of a fire in the family home. These are just a few of the stories Castle tells in this book of poetry. Each poem made my heart ache for the lives of these people—people I never knew, people Castle herself never knew, but whom she has given new life through her words.

If you also have ever imagined what life was like for your ancestors, you will enjoy this wonderful collection. In fact, anyone—whether interested in family history or not—should read this book for the beauty of its language and for the light it sheds on our shared humanity.

You can find Kin Types here or here.

Jacob Katzenstein: Before, During, and After the Flood

My great-great-uncle Jacob Katzenstein was, like his sister Brendena, a man who faced a great deal of tragedy but managed to survive and, in his case, start all over with a new family.  In 1889, he lost first born child, Milton, at age two and a half, and then both his wife, Ella Bohm, and his other young son Edwin in the devastating Johnstown flood.  I’ve written about Jacob and these events in prior posts.

In one of those posts, I also described my search for more information about Ella Bohm and my hypothesis that she was the daughter of Marcus Bohm and Eva Goldsmith; I assumed Eva was her mother as Ella is listed on the 1880 census as the niece of Jacob Goldsmith, Eva’s brother.  Eva Goldsmith was also my distant cousin—her mother was Fradchen Schoenthal, my great-grandfather Isidore’s sister; her father was Simon Goldschmidt, my great-grandmother Eva Goldschmidt’s uncle.  And if I am right that Ella Bohm was Eva Goldsmith’s daughter, then Ella married her cousin when she married Jacob Katzenstein, as he was Eva Goldschmidt’s son.

jacob-katzenstein-to-jacob-goldsmith

But I had no definitive proof that Eva Goldsmith was Ella’s mother.  I also had not been able to find out when Jacob Katzenstein married Ella or why their first-born son Milton died.  On my cousin Roger’s old genealogy website, he had included a quote about Jacob from a book called The Horse Died at Windber: A History of Johnstown’s Jews of Pennsylvania by Leonard Winograd (Wyndham Hall Press, 1988).  I decided to track down this book to see if it revealed any more information about Jacob Katzenstein and Ella Bohm and their lives.

I was able to borrow a copy of the book through the Interlibrary Loan system from my former employer, Western New England University, and have now read the book.  Unfortunately it did not answer my two principal questions.  I still don’t know for sure who was Ella Bohm’s mother, and I still don’t know what caused the death of little Milton. I did, however, learn more about Ella’s father Marcus Bohm, about Jacob Katzenstein and his second wife Bertha and their children, and about the Johnstown Jewish community at that time and its history.

According to Winograd, in the second half of the 19th century when many Jewish immigrants started arriving from Europe, many made a living as peddlers, as I’ve written about previously. Pittsburgh was a popular hub where these peddlers would obtain their wares and then travel by foot or horse and wagon or train to the various small towns in western Pennsylvania. Winograd states that by 1882 there were 250 to 300 peddlers operating this way out of Pittsburgh. (Winograd, p. 12)

Eventually these peddlers would find a particular town to settle in and would set up store as a merchant in the town. But Pittsburgh remained the center for Jewish life.  These merchants and peddlers would attend synagogue there, participate in Jewish communal life there, and be buried there. Often they would move on from one town to another or return to Pittsburgh itself. (Winograd, p. 12-13)

Johnstown was a bit too far to be part of this greater Pittsburgh community (65 miles away), and although peddlers and merchants did come through there and even settle temporarily there, it was a more isolated location than the towns that became satellites of Pittsburgh.  Thus, its social, economic, and religious life was independent of the Pittsburgh influence.

 

Winograd reported that Johnstown had a population growth spurt between 1850 and 1860, jumping from 1,260 to 4,185.  In 1856, there were nine churches in Johnstown, but no synagogue (although there was apparently an attempt to start one in 1854).  The Jewish families in the town had services in their homes; there was not a large enough population to support the establishment of a synagogue at that time. (Winograd, p. 26) In 1864, the Jewish merchants in town formed a merchants’ association regulating store hours. Most of these merchants came from the Hesse region of Germany, as did Jacob Katzenstein. (Winograd, p. 48)

Two of those early merchants in the 1860s were Sol and Emanuel Leopold. (Winograd, p.56)  It was their sister Minnie Leopold and her husband Solomon Reineman with whom Marcus Bohm was living in 1910; Solomon Reineman came to Johnstown in 1875. (Winograd, pp. 77-78) Sol and Emanuel Leopold’s other sister Eliza Leopold Miller was Bertha Miller’s mother—that is, Jacob Katzenstein’s mother-in-law when he married Bertha Miller. As Winograd points out in Appendix C to his book (pp. 281-283), many of the Jewish merchants in town were related either directly or through marriage.

According to Winograd, both Marcus Bohm and Jacob Katzenstein came to Johnstown in the 1880s. Here’s what he wrote about Marcus Bohm:

marcus-bohm-in-winograd-book

(Winograd, p. 78)

Winograd wrote that Jacob Katzenstein first came to Johnstown in 1882 as a clerk for another merchant. He married Ella Bohm on March 26, 1883, (Johnstown Daily Tribune, May 16, 1883, p. 4, col. 7).  Winograd even mentioned their wedding.  In discussing what he described as “the first public Jewish wedding” in Johnstown, which took place in 1886, Winograd says, “There had been an earlier Jewish wedding, that of Jacob Katzenstein to Ella Bohm on March 26, 1883, a private ceremony conducted by J.S. Strayer, Esquire.” (Winograd, pp. 93-94)  The implication appears to be that Jacob and Ella might have been the first Jewish couple married in Johnstown. Based on the date, I was able to locate a marriage notice from the May 16, 1883, edition of the Johnstown Daily Tribune (p. 4, col. 7).

According to Winograd, Jacob and Ella lived in rooms over the store of another Johnstown merchant, Sol Hess. Sol Hess was the brother-in-law of Emanuel Leopold, who had married Sol’s sister Hannah. In March 1884, Marcus Bohm moved in with Jacob and Ella and soon thereafter, Marcus lost his own store when an Eastern dealer executed a judgment of $2,625 dollars against him. (Winograd, pp.78-79)

According to Winograd, Jacob moved back to Philadelphia for a few years.  This must have been when Jacob and Ella’s first son Milton was born in 1886, but by June 1887 when Edwin was born, they must have returned to Johnstown. Here is a photograph of Johnstown in 1880s, showing what it must have looked like when Jacob Katzenstein first settled there:

As noted, 1889 was a tragic year for Jacob.  First, there was the tragedy of Milton’s death on April 18, 1889 (Johnstown Daily Tribune (April 18, 1889, p. 4, col. 2), and then the deaths of Ella and Edwin on May 31, 1889, during the flood.  According to Winograd, Ella and little Edwin were in their house on Clinton Street when the flood waters rushed into the city, causing the house to collapse.  After the flood, Jacob lived in one of the temporary structures erected in Johnstown’s Central Park. (Winograd, p. 79)

In March 1891, almost two years after losing his two sons and his first wife, Jacob married Bertha Miller, the daughter of Eliza Leopold and Samuel Miller of Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Jacob and Bertha had six children: Helen (1892), Gerald (1893, presumably named for Jacob’s father Gerson Katzenstein), Eva (1894, presumably named for Jacob’s mother Eva Goldschmidt), Leopold (1898), Maurice (1900), and Perry (1904)(named for Jacob’s brother Perry). Jacob was still a clothing merchant.

Jacob Katzenstein and family 1900 census Year: 1900; Census Place: Johnstown Ward 1, Cambria, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1388; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 0124; FHL microfilm: 1241388

Jacob Katzenstein and family 1900 census
Year: 1900; Census Place: Johnstown Ward 1, Cambria, Pennsylvania; Roll: 1388; Page: 12A; Enumeration District: 0124; FHL microfilm: 1241388

It was during the 1880 and 1890s that formal, organized Jewish life really developed in Johnstown. Before that time, the primarily German Jewish residents of the town, who came from a Reform background and, as Winograd observed, identified more as German than Jewish in many ways, had services in their private homes and holiday celebrations with their families, but there were no official synagogues or rabbis in the town. (Winograd, pp. 77, 87-88, 103-107)

Then, with an influx of Russian Jewish immigrants in the 1880s who came from a more traditional, Orthodox background, there was a demand for more of the organized elements of Jewish communal life, including a synagogue, Hebrew school, and kosher butcher.  (Winograd, pp. 76-77) In the 1890s, two synagogues were organized: Rodeph Shalom for the more Orthodox Jews in town and Beth Zion for the Reform Jews.

Beth Zion grew out of a Jewish social club, the Progress Club, of which Jacob Katzenstein was an organizer and founding member in 1885. (Winograd, pp. 80, 148). The group used their building (known as the Cohen building) for services, but it was not until 1894 that they had their first Reform High Holiday Service; there was still no full time rabbi, and lay people often led services. (Winograd, pp. 148-151)

Beth Zion synagogue in Johnstown Courtesy of Julian H. Preisler. The Synagogues of Central and Western Pennsylvania: A Visual Journey (Fonthill Media 2014), p. 74 Courtesy of Beth Shalom Synagogue and the Johnstown Area Heritage Association

Beth Zion synagogue in Johnstown
Courtesy of Julian H. Preisler. The Synagogues of Central and Western Pennsylvania: A Visual Journey (Fonthill Media 2014), p. 74
Courtesy of Beth Shalom Synagogue and the Johnstown Area Heritage Association

Jacob was an officer in Beth Zion Temple. (Winograd, pp. 79-80)  In 1905 he donated five dollars to a fund to provide assistance to Jews in Russia who were being persecuted. (Winograd, pp. 114-116) In 1907, his son Gerald celebrated becoming a bar mitzvah the evening before Rosh Hashana; in 1912 when Gerald’s brother Leo became a bar mitzvah, it also was celebrated during the high holidays. Winograd described the Beth Zion congregation at that time as small, but tightly knit.  (Winograd, pp. 150-151) Obviously, Jacob Katzenstein and his family were active members in this community.

By 1910, Jacob and Bertha’s children ranged in age from five to eighteen and were all still living at home. Jacob listed his occupation as a retail merchant, the owner of a clothing store:

Jacob Katzenstein and family 1910 US census Year: 1910; Census Place: Johnstown Ward 1, Cambria, Pennsylvania; Roll: T624_1323; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 0118; FHL microfilm: 1375336

Jacob Katzenstein and family 1910 US census
Year: 1910; Census Place: Johnstown Ward 1, Cambria, Pennsylvania; Roll: T624_1323; Page: 11A; Enumeration District: 0118; FHL microfilm: 1375336

Six years later on October 4, 1916, Jacob Schlesinger died at age 65 from chronic myocarditis and acute cholecystitis, an inflammation of the gall bladder. Rabbi Max Moll, a rabbi from Rochester, New York who was in Johnstown for the high holidays, presided at Jacob’s funeral. (Winograd, p. 80) Jacob left behind his wife Bertha and his six children ranging in age from 12 (Perry) up to Helen, who was 24.  In his will, executed on September 6, 1916, a month before he died, he appointed his wife Bertha to be his executrix and left his entire estate to her. Jacob was buried at the Grandview Cemetery in Johnstown.

Jacob Katzenstein death certificate Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Pennsylvania, USA; Certificate Number Range: 102541-105790

Jacob Katzenstein death certificate
Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission; Pennsylvania, USA; Certificate Number Range: 102541-105790

My next post will address what happened to his six children.

Jacob Katzenstein headstone courtesy of Find-A-Grave Member Brian J. Ensley (#47190867).

Jacob Katzenstein headstone
courtesy of Find-A-Grave Member Brian J. Ensley (#47190867).

(Does anyone know why that World War I sign would be posted near Jacob’s headstone? He died before the US entered the war so was not a veteran.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Review of My Novel, Pacific Street

I am very honored and flattered that Luanne Castle, who writes the wonderful genealogy blog The Family Kalamazoo and is a published poet as well, has chosen to blog about my novel Pacific Street.  I hope you will read her review and consider purchasing a copy of the book.  Thank you, Luanne!

pacific_street_cover_for_kindle

 

Here is a small excerpt from the review:

The story of Cohen’s grandparents, Isadore and Gussie, is an inspiring coming-to-America tale with all the resonance of actual experience. Cohen has painstakingly documented the early part of her relatives’ lives through historical research using official documents and has incorporated information shared through family stories.

She has researched the settings and cultures described and added her own imagination to infuse the book with appropriate details and descriptions. This is no dry historical telling, but a well-structured adventure full of tragedies and triumphs like a novel, although more accurately, it is creative nonfiction in the historical subgenre. 

As Cohen alternates the narratives of Isadore and Gussie (until their stories merge together near the end), the reader becomes one with the characters. The loneliness of both characters is excruciating, especially since family is so important to both of them.

 

You can read the rest of Luanne’s review here.  Check out the rest of her blog while you are there; she is a wonderful storyteller and an expert genealogist.

Thank you, Luanne! Your words mean a lot!

Pacific Street: Inspired by Facts and Love

Some of you know that since I retired two and a half years ago, I’ve been working on a novel inspired by my grandparents’ lives and the discoveries I’ve made about them and their extended families through my genealogy research.  Well, I finally put my “pen” down and decided to call it done.

Amy Gussie and Isadore

My grandparents, Gussie Brotman and Isadore Goldschlager, and me

It’s been an exciting process for me because ever since I learned to read, I’ve wanted to write a novel.  All through my career when I was writing long, boring articles for law journals, I wished that instead I was writing a novel. Novels have been my refuge all my life. I love being transported to different times and places and seeing into the hearts and minds of all kinds of characters.  I just wanted a chance to try to create some characters of my own.  When I retired, I promised myself that I would give it a try.

One friend reprimanded me when I said I was trying to write a novel.  She said, “Don’t say that.  Say you are writing a novel.”  I was and am insecure about the whole thing.  I never took a fiction writing course, participated in a writing workshop, or wrote any fiction at all, not since I wrote stories as a young child. What did I know?

My only sources of information about writing a novel were all the novels I’d read starting when I read Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White when I was eight years old.  That book transported me in ways that changed the way I felt about reading.  I cried so hard (spoiler alert) when Charlotte died.  And she was just a spider! A fictional spider! How had the author made her so real and moved me to care so much?

Charlotte's Web

Charlotte’s Web (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now that I’ve written my own novel, I am even more in awe of the many great authors whose books have moved me so deeply. I am humbled by what those authors were able to do with words, and thus I feel presumptuous trying to promote my own book, despite my friend’s reprimand.

But it was a labor of love—love for family and love for the magic of the written word.  I wrote this book for my children and grandchildren so that they would have a taste of what their ancestors’ lives were like. I had lots of help and inspiration from my family and friends, as I acknowledge at the end of the book.  And so despite this aching feeling of insecurity, I do want to share and promote my book so that others will also know the story I’ve created about my grandparents—grounded in fact, but expanded upon by my imagination.

I hope that you will be tempted to read it.  You can find it on Amazon both as a paperback ($6.99) and as a Kindle ebook ($2.99) at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1541170369

If you do read it, I’d love your feedback.  Thank you!