Salute to the Romanian Jews in America and Canada, 1850-2010
History, Achievements, and Biographies
TRANSLATION FROM ROMANIAN INTO ENGLISH
NEW YORK MAGAZINE No. 706, Wednesday, February 2, 2011, Cultural Page 16 University Professor and Doctor Aurel Sasu, HOMAGE TO THE JEWS FROM THE UNITED STATES AND CANADA, Commentary regarding the volume SALUTE TO THE ROMANIAN JEWS IN AMERICA AND CANADA, 1850-2010: HISTORY, ACHIEVEMENTS, AND BIOGRAPHIES by Vladimir F. Wertsman
The publication of SALUTE TO THE ROMANIAN JEWS IN AMERICA AND CANADA,1850-2010: HISTORY, ACHIEVEMENTS, AND BIOGRAPHIES, XLibris , Bloomington, IN, 2010, 287 pp. by Vladimir F. Wertsman, one of the most valued, respected and dedicated researchers on multiculturalism over the Ocean, was no surprise to anybody in light of the author´s previous triptych: THE ROMANIANS IN AMERICA, 1748-1974: A CHNRONOLOGY AND FACT BOOK(1975), THE ROMANIANS IN AMERICA AND CANADA: A GUIDE TO INFORMTION SOURCES, (1980), and THE ROMANIANS IN THE UNITED STATES ANADA CANADA: A GUIDE TO ANCESTRY AND HERITAGE RESEARCH (2003). All of these titles reflect the author´s older concerns regarding immigration, integration, and identity preserved via the values of organic tradition.
Those who know this passionate book lover (he served many years as senior librarian at the New York Public Library) also know how much he is proud of his Romanian education (he is a graduate of the University "A.I. Cuza" Law School, 1953) and the prestige of Romanian people of culture abroad in whose spirit he was formed. Established in the USA in 1967, the future author did not forget the depth of his primary sources and his Romanian heritage. Regardless how often he appears in the Romanian community, he is admired for his work, advice, and wisdom. His main message is friendship, mutual understanding and respect.
The above mentioned volume on Romanian Jews in America and Canada starts with a "microchronology" of Romania´s two millennia Jewish community going back to the year 70 AD, when some Jews found asylum in Dacia after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. Under King Decebal, Jews are permitted to reside without any restriction. They were merchants, translators, and purveyors, Matei Basarab offers asylum to Hungarian Jews who refused to convert to Catholicism, under Alexander the Good and Stephen the Great, the Jews are free to live in any part of Moldavia. Also, Stephen the Great and his son Bogdan Voda kept Isaac Benjamin Shor as their logofat (chancellor). In the 16th century, first Sephardic communities are mentioned in Bucharest and Craiova, also Jewish stable communities are mentioned in Iasi (with a synagogue and cemetery), Suceava, Botosani, Sibiu, Cluj. Vasile Lupu (17th century) accepts several Jewish doctors and pharmacists at his court, Constantin Brancoveanu will do the same one century later. In 1665, a document mentions that along with Valachians and Serbs there were Jews in Michael the Brave´s Army. Constantin Mavrocordat accords fiscal immunity to Jews settled in Herta, Balti, Orhei, Ocna, and Harlau. From DESCRIPTIO MOLDAVIAE (1717) by Dimitrie Cantemir, we find that Jews could build wooden synagogues without any restrictions. Starting with the 18th century, mixed musical bands (lautari) are formed; they consisted of Romanians, Jews, and Gypsies. After the hardships endured by Jews during the Russian-Turkish War (1769-1774), Alexandru Mavrocordat and Nicolae Mavrogheni accord special protection to the Jewish population. In 1803, there were about 3,000 Jewish families in Moldova, fifty years later, the Jewish population increased to more than 130,000. In the Proclamation of Islaz (1848), the rights of the Jewish community are explicitly mentioned: "the emancipation of the Israelites and political rights for all compatriots of other creeds". In 1852, the first Jewish school is opened in Bucharest, and in 1847 appears ISRAELITUL ROMAN, the first newspaper of the Jewish communities from Moldavia and Walachia (in Romanian and French). An important event in 1867 was the consecration of the Bucharest Choral Temple in the presence of foreign powers and Romanian noted personalities. The first Yiddish Theater is opened in Iasi (1876) with a show attended and favorably commented by Mihail Eminescu in CURIERUL.
The Census of 1899/1900 recorded 209,632 Jews (73,274 in Bucharest alone). To note that between 1881 and 1914, 75,000 Jews immigrated to the United States (a few other thousand Jewish refugees from Ukraine benefited from a Romanian transit visa on their route to America and Canada). In 1922, the Uniunea Comunitatilor Evreesti is established with representatives from all Romanian former and reunited territories. The Constitution of 1923 (article 133) grants citizenship to all Jewish residents and equal treatment with other ethnic groups. According to the 1930 Census, Romania recorded 756,930 Jews (the third place in Europe after the former Soviet Union and Poland). In 1931, the Jewish Party of Romania is established, with representation in Parliament, after 1935, it continues parallel activities during the radicalization of anti-Semitism and manifestations of political intolerance. After World War II, many Jews joined the Communist Party, assisting in the implementation of totalitarian measures such as the abrogation of human rights and the suppression of free speech (later, the same Communist regime will arrest them, sentence them and denounce them as traitors). About 270,000 ransomed Jews will immigrate to Israel, United States and Canada. According to recent data, in Romania there are about 10,000 Jews. They are led by Federatia Comunitatilor Evreesti (with newspaper REALITATEA EVREIASCA, special publications STUDIA EBRAICA and STUDIA JUDAICA, Hasefer Publishing House, a Yiddish theater in Bucharest, three centers of Judaic studies in Bucharest, Cluj and Iasi, and an Institute for the Study of the Holocaust).
The second chapter is devoted to the Romanian Jews in the United States. Early Romanian Jews appeared in 1850 (in 1888, their number was estimated at 2,000, today to about 250,000). Serban Drutzu (ROMANIANS IN AMERICA, 1922) estimated about 100,000 Romanian Jews, organized in tens of organizations, congregations, synagogues and schools, especially in New York and its vicinity. With special attention to details, the author reshapes history, establishes affiliations, comments cultural initiatives, professional successes, and consecrates respected, persistent tradition in song (Rumenye/Rumenye is one of the most famous Yiddish hits all the time), in theater (at the end of the 19th century, in New York existed the Romanian Opera House and the Romanian Yiddish Theater), in literature (also in New York there was a Romanian library), in culinary art, etc. Books, newspapers, and discs are imported from Romania (Philip Axelrad publishes in New York, between 1911 and 1924, the newspaper STEAUA NOASTRA: "We don´t know another ruler than ruler-the Romanian people"). Jews of Romanian origin gave several personalities to American culture: professors (Leon Feraru), economists (William Haber), linguists (Marianne Hirsch, Ruth R. Wise), cryptologists (William F. Friedman), sculptors (Maurice Glickman), painters (Bernard Rosenquit), doctors (Louis Klein Diamond), psychiatrists (Dori Laub), lawyers (Nathan Burkan), politicians (Sophie Masloff), businessmen, sportsmen, etc. A special chapter is devoted to Romanian Jews in Canada (about 25,000), followed by another chapter: Romanian Holocaust Survivors and Righteous Gentiles, including the author´s old article (Righteous Gentiles in Romania and Moldova), reprinted from MULTICULTURAL REVIEW (Summer 2009). In this article, one finds, in essence, the spirit of the entire book. But in discussing the Holocaust, one must keep in mind not only the crimes and their perpetrators and victims, not only the regimes that generated and abetted crimes against the Jews and other minorities, but also those special non-Jews, animated solely by their conscience and humanitarian feelings, who spontaneously risked their lives, social positions, jobs, and families to help Jews escape the machinery of death". A few of these "Righteous among Nations", from Queen Elena-Mother, to diplomats (Constantin Caradja, Florian Manoliu), military (Therodor Criveanu), politicians (Traian Popovici), high prelates (Patriarch Nicodim), office holders (Sabin Manuila), to people at large: peasants, businessmen, teachers, who proved , through deeds, the Talmudic credo: to save one life s equivalent to saving the whole world.
The second part of the book is a veritable encyclopedic compendium: Who´s Who among Romanian Jews in America and Canada (writers, musicians, lawyers, politicians, historians, social leaders, rabbis, engineers, artists, doctors, sportsmen, etc). Evidently, in the author’s list one finds established names of poets, novelists, publicists, and editors (Konrad Bercovici, Nina Cassian, Andrei Codrescu, Leon Feraru, Norman Manea, Valery Oisteanu, Vladimir Tismaneanu, etc.) who could be consulted in more extensive and updated writings (literary lexicography) that appeared in Romania. Vladimir F. Wertsman did not want-it was actually impossible- to exhaust such vast information. His unprofessed intention was to provoke admiration for the memorable effort of continuing spirituality and for an imaginary harmony, retrieved in Eugen Lovinescu´s (note literary critic) words: "Let us get closer to each other not to judge each other, but to understand each other, to enjoy the humanity that lies within each of us". In a world of hate, violence, suspicion, fanaticism, and physical supremacy, Vladimir F. Wertsman´s book is the most convincing argument, more generous and eloquent about the necessity of common conversion to the religion of love, indulgence, tolerance, and life.
Romanian born Vladimir F. Wertsman is a well known author of books on various American ethnic groups, including three volumes on Romanians in America and Canada, published in 1975, 1980, and 2005. The current book is a UNIQUE reference source of information on Romanian Jews in USA and Canada, a subject not covered in the previous titles. It focuses on their situation in Romania, immigration, settlement in the New World, group achievements (organizations, synagogues), individual contributions in numerous fields of endeavor (academic, writing, music, theater, film, art, religion, medicine, business, law, sports, and others) as reflected in over 600 bibliographic items and in over 300 biographical sketches. Dozens of archival materials offer, among others, Mihail Eminescu's (Romania's national poet) review of Abraham Goldfaden's Yiddish show in Iasi (1876), description of Romanian Jews in Oregon during 1880s, their "mamaliga" parties and hora dancing, "Rumania, Romania" and other Yiddish songs, plus relevant photographs.This writing celebrates 160 years of Romanian Jewish presence on North American soil, and 140 years of American Romanian diplomatic contacts, started in 1870 by American Consul Benjamin D. Peixotto (former President of B'nai B'rith) and continued by the current US Ambassador Mark Gitenstein, of Romanian Jewish ancestry. Written in a condensed information style, and covering the topics of Romanian Jewish heritage, Judaica, ethnic studies, Holocaust, and genealogy, this book is useful to students and teachers, scholars and laymen, academic, public and special libraries, Jewish religious and lay organizations in the United States and Canada, Romania and Israel, as well as other countries (e.g. France, Germany) with Romanian Jewish communities.
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