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Thursday, February 21, 2019

Schenectady’s Jews, Zionism and the Persecuted European Jews

by Harvey Strum of The Sage Colleges
© 2019 All rights reserved by the author.  

The situation in Palestine attracted the attention of Schenectady's Jews. A Zionist movement started in Schenectady with the formation of the Schenectady Zionist District in 1898. A report in the local press in 1903 noted a "mass meeting of Schenectady Zionists"[1] that raised funds for Palestine settlements. The membership indicated the participation of the congregants of Agudas Achim. Schenectady's Jews joined the Sons and Daughters of Zion, fraternal organizations affiliated with the Federation of American Zionists. The groups used dances to attract members and explain the Zionist cause.[2] For those interested in Socialism and creating a Jewish homeland in a location other than Palestine they could follow the leadership of Israel Zangwill and the Jewish Territorial Organization that promoted a Jewish homeland in Uganda. A socialist offshoot of his movement the Socialist Territorialist Labor Party had a Schenectady chapter operating in 1909 combining elements of Socialist Labor Zionism and Zangwill's acceptance of a territorial solution other than Palestine. Another Zionist group, the Mount Moriah Zionist Association formed in 1913. By November 1915 another women's Zionist organization formed a local chapter of Hadassah that developed from the local chapter of Daughters of Zion, as occurred in other parts of the United States. Then, in 1917 a socialist Zionist group Paolei Zion (Workers of Zion) established a local chapter.[3] As early as 1914, representatives of the Moriah Zionists, including Nathan Sahr and P.S Naumoff, attended the June meeting of the Federation of American Zionists, as the Moriah Zionists, like the Sons of Zion affiliated with the FAZ. In December 1917, the chapter of Paolei Zion sent William Siegel to their annual convention.[4] The war stimulated the growth of the Zionist movement in Schenectady. World War I was the catalyst for fundraising to help Jews in Palestine. The war increased support for the restoration of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Immigrants from Eastern Europe embraced the Zionist cause as an escape from Czarist oppression for their co-religionists still in the Russian Empire. The variety of Zionist groups in Schenectady before 1920 suggested the conflicts within the Zionist movement and differences within the local Jewish community. However, it indicated the richness and diversity of Jewish communal organizations from 1900 to 1925. It suggested that the debate over Zionism did not exist solely at the national level or within Zionist groups in Palestine. Even in small upstate New York Jewish communities the debate appeared and divided the immigrant community into factions over which was the best path to creating a Jewish national home.

Monday, February 4, 2019

The “Unnatural Daughter”

by Lawrence S. Freund

All rights reserved by the author ©2019

The markers of people’s lives create patterns whose broad strokes also help define the times in which they lived. The examined life of Rosina Martha Caroline Johnson, a nineteenth-century child of Virginia plantation life with later ties to Upstate New York, shines new light on her times, from her heritage of familial stress to her capture in a web of legal incapacitation woven by a male-dominated society. Her story unspools even when, as a child, she could little anticipate its consequences.

By the fall of 1826, ugly rumors had been infiltrating the genteel, rural society of colonial Chesterfield County, Virginia, south of Richmond. Then they broke into the public realm. One neighbor, among others, certified that he had “frequently heard, within the last two or three years, of a rumor in the neighborhood, moved to the prejudice of Mrs. Johnson’s honor touching a too great intimacy with Mr. Thomas O. Taylor.”[i] The unveiling of the rumors began with the publication of a handbill by Dr. Philip Turpin, a Chesterfield physician, deprecating the character of his own son-in-law, physician Edward Johnson.

Philip Turpin, born in Virginia in 1749, was well connected. His father, Thomas, was a planter, landowner, magistrate, sheriff, lieutenant colonel of the local militia and was married to Mary Jefferson. She was the sister of Peter Jefferson, President Thomas Jefferson’s father. In other words, Philip Turpin and Thomas Jefferson were first cousins. In 1769, Thomas Turpin decided to take advantage of that familial relationship on behalf of his 20-year-old son, Philip, by asking Thomas Jefferson, then a somewhat older 26 and a practicing lawyer, to take on Philip as a legal apprentice. Jefferson gracefully declined his uncle’s request, recommending that Philip prepare for the legal profession by reading a list of recommended books on his own.[ii] That ended Philip’s hopes of following in the steps of his cousin Thomas, and instead, he focused on another esteemed profession, medicine.