Monday, September 17, 2012
Omaha Blues: A Memory Loop by Joseph Lelyveld 2005
Joseph Lelyveld is a retired reporter and editor at the New York Times and the son of a prominent Reform rabbi, Arthur Lelyveld. After his father’s death Joseph Lelyveld “inherited” a chest of old papers and letters which revealed to him much he didn’t know about his family history. As the oldest son of parents who eventually divorced, he found many letters from his parents to each other which gave him a great deal of insight into their troubled relationship. And as a journalist, he was very interested in how other aspects of their personal history intersected with important moments in American history. So what he has written is a memoir that focuses predominantly on the lives of his parents and their friends and cohorts. In this memoir the author provides us with a window into some of the most highly charged issues of the twentieth century and the roles Jewish leaders and their committed followers played in engaging in these issues.
In the 1930’s Ben Goldstein, a Reform rabbi and colleague of the author’s father and a family friend, was active in the movement to defend the Scottsboro boys. But his motives became suspect because their defense was promoted by, amongst others, the American Communist Party. The author delved deeply into the FBI file on Goldstein, whose pulpit in Montgomery, Alabama served as a place for him to preach about the injustice being served the Scottsboro boys. Despite warnings from the synagogue governing body that he should keep his opinions to himself, after pulling back, he ratcheted up his calls for justice and his contract was not renewed. Lelyveld details Goldstein’s interactions with Leyveld’s father and with Rabbi Stephen Wise and follows Goldstein through two further incarnations, as Ben Stern and Ben Lowell. He traces his subsequent careers and membership in various splinter groups and theorizes about whether he might have been a Communist spy.
Lelyveld’s father served as rabbi in several congregations. Early in his career he had a pulpit in Omaha, Nebraska; his last pulpit was in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. He was for many years the national director of Hillel as well as a prominent member of many national Jewish governing bodies. In discussing his father’s role as spiritual leader as well as a social activist, he writes about another turbulent moment in American Jewish history – the push by many different Jewish constituencies to establish the State of Israel. The messy reality of bringing the State of Israel into being struck many in the Reform movement as a violation of their commitment to pacifism, and Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld played a major role in the debate. Continuing to be engaged in the world, Rabbi Lelyveld marched in Mississippi on behalf of voter registration, but, like Rabbi Ben Goldstein, he too got in trouble with members of the governing body of his congregation as well as with some members of Jewish congregations in the South who did not want Northerners telling them what to do.
In narratiing these stories Lelyveld introduces readers to non-mainstream groups like the Jewish Peace Fellowship, the American Council for Judaism, The American Jewish League Against Communists and The Progressive Zionist League, groups active in politics on the left and the right who worked to influence the important issues of their time.
The author, because of his journalistic skills and because he is the son of a prominent activist rabbi, is able to paint an up-close picture of turbulent times. His focus on the American Reform movement of Judaism and its members' commitment to engage the world helps us the see these important 20th century landmark events through their eyes.
To read the New York Times obituary of Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld click here.
Ed Lelyveld – son of Joseph; married Dora
Arthur Lelyveld- son of Ed; married Toby Bookholtz; 2nd wife - Teela
Joseph Lelyveld – son of Arthur and Toby; married Carolyn; author
Amy and Nita Lelyveld – daughters of Joseph and Carolyn
David Lelyveld - son of Arthur and Toby
Michael Lelyveld – son of Maurice Valency and Toby
Victor Lelyveld – son of Michael
Adam and Svati are also grandchildren on Arthur and Toby – not clear who their parents are
Alice Rose – greatgranddaughter of Arthur and Toby – not clear who her parents are
Joseph Lelyveld – author’s grandfather Ed’s first cousin (lived in Massachusetts)
Author's mother’s family
Izzy Bookholtz – married to Gussie Sonberg
Toby Bookholtz – daughter of Izzy and Gussie; married Arthur Lelyveld (see above)
Friends and Acquaintances
The Goldstein/Wise family:
Benjamin Goldstein/ Benjamin Stern/Benjamin Lowell – married to Margaret Wise; 2nd marriage to Juliet Lowell (born Lowenstein)
Josephine Goldstein Stern Rogers - daughter of Benjamin and Margaret
Linda Stern Goldberg Benjamin – daughter of Benjamin and Margaret
Stephen S. Wise
James Waterman Wise – son of Stephen
Justine Wise – daughter of Stephen
Josephine May Wise - sister-in-law of Stephen Wise
Margaret Wise Goldstein – daughter of Margaret and step-daughter of Stephen Wise; first wife of Benjamin Goldstein (see above)
Elsa Wise – daughter of Margaret and step-daughter of Stephen Wise
Emanuel and Mayer Lehman – brothers
David K. Niles (originally Neyhus)
Howard Sachar – son of Abraham
Arthur Hays Sulzberger – married to Iphigene Ochs (daughter of Adolph Ochs)
Arthur Ochs Sulberger – son of Arthur and Iphigene
Susan Dryfoos – granddaughter of Arthur Hays and Iphigene
Arthur and Pearl Zipser
David Zipser – son of Harry Gannes and Pearl
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Warsaw, Radom, Lodz, Poland
Temple Beth Or, Montgomery Alabama
New York City, NY
Temple Rodeph Shalom, NYC
Temple Emanu-El, NYC
Temple Reformita, Havana, Cuba