A Year of Highlights by Jim Schwartz, President of DJHS

DJHS Flame BlueBack small thumbnailWelcome to my first BLOG entry as President of the Dallas Jewish Historical Society!  As we approach the end of our fiscal year, I thought highlighting some of the events and individuals that made this a special year was in order.

We welcomed seven talented and enthusiastic Board Members this year, whose contributions to the board have already been noteworthy.  We completed the initial phase of our strategic plan over the summer and moved into the implementation of our key initiatives.

During the same, busy summer, a committee led by May Sebel and Joan Gremont  began planning our  inspiring fall event, One Story at a Time, honoring 250 individuals, natives and newcomers alike, who shared their oral histories with the DJHS over the last five years. The cocktail reception was first-class, followed by a great program. The event was well attended, received rave reviews and exceeded our fundraising goals.

Also in September, DJHS and the Dallas Mexican American Historical League collaborated with the Latino Cultural Center on a 6 week, multimedia exhibit on life around Dallas’ Pike Park. The exhibit traced the roots of Jewish and Mexican immigrants, honoring community life in the area most recently known as Little Mexico.

In December, our Andres Family Lecture Series presented genealogist Karen Franklin, author of “Tracking David Stone, the Jewish Bank Robber of Frost, Texas”.  Karen shared the story of Mr. Stone from his birth in England to the night of the gun battle which claimed his life, still considered one of the biggest events in the town’s history.

Don’t miss the next lecture “Jewish Major Leaguers in their Own Words” by author Peter Ephross on May 20th at the JCC.

This is also the year that we embarked on the ambitious project to digitize the contents of our archives, in keeping with our Vision:  to help present and future generations connect with Jewish Dallas. We have received several generous grants to begin funding this project, but the need will be ongoing.  The initial phase involves uploading over 500 oral histories to the recently launched new website, a website that was paid for by a generous board member.

Perhaps the crowning achievement was the recent Ann Loeb Sikora Humanitarian Award luncheon, “Elected to Make History,” held at the Westin Galleria April 16th to a full house. Our award recipients were six women who transformed our cities and state with their impressive achievements in public office: Lois Finkelman, Adelene Harrison, Ann Margolin, Laura Miller, Florence Shapiro, and Annette Strauss z”l.  The talented Brad Sham elevated the event as emcee as he introduced moving, short videos of our honorees, and, of course, the comments of each of our honorees were inspirational.  Board member Scott Cytron garnered media coverage, including an amazing segment on Good Morning Texas!  This event broke records financially, thanks to all of our sponsors, especially Presenting Sponsor, Sparkman-Hillcrest.  Kudos to co-chairs Andrea Weinstein and Barbara Lee and their entire team for an outstanding job well done!


Remembering Passover, excerpt from a 1973 oral history interview with Mrs. Ben Blatt

Passover was really something . . . I don’t wonder now that woman do not live to a ripe old age.  I think that one day could have shortened a woman’s life by 20 years . . . really what they went through, chickens by hand, you know, and 5 or 6 chickens and you couldn’t do it beforehand because there was no freezing, there was just an ice chest and you tried to preserve that 50 lbs or 75 lbs of ice if you had a very large refrigerator by wrapping it in newspaper..  Everything had to be done that day or the day before, you know, and no one had several sets of silver so you kashered that silver by taking it out in the yard and digging a hole and you heated a flat iron (such as I have sitting here in the hall as a doorstop) and then you put it down in the hole and covered up the silver.

Of course there were no electric mixers, you beat that cake by hand.  There was nothing prepared, I mean nothing.  You can get anything you want now, cake mixes or just anything you want, and d they were not packed in individual boxes, you know in pound boxes or 12 ounce or whatever.  It came in a great big large box and also matzo meal, you got it in a sack and if it was a 10 pound sack and you just wanted 5 pounds, well you got 5 pounds in that sack and 5 in another sack for someone else who wanted it.  Of course, your fish, you did not even have it scaled.  You had to scale it yourself because if you went to one of the two fish markets here . . . they were both across the street from the old Sanger’s down on Lamar.  You didn’t let them touch it with their scaler so you scaled the fish you know and you had to cut it off and so forth and so on.

I recall that when you wanted to re-line your shelves we used to go down to the Dispatch which was one newspaper which is now defunct and get newspapers, printed newspapers in great big bundles and carried them from Patterson to where we lived down at that time at Beaumont.  We didn’t know any better and because you didn’t use print because that was chametz.  That is when you really knew it was also Passover, and it smelled like Passover, and you knew it was Passover.

Now I said the only place you could get matzo was from Mr. Byers.  Well, Mr. Walls (?) . . . was at the temple, had the franchise and they were little round matzos, you know.  They were not the square ones such as we know.  They were the little round ones. . . then you had to [make] your horseradish.  There was no [commercial brands] and believe you me, my mother used to take it outside [and] grate it.  It popped your nostrils open because I remember when I was a child I put my head down in the crock and took a whiff and it almost destroyed me.  I couldn’t get my breath back and there was no vinegar or anything like that.  You let your wine sour and you had to make your wine.  You didn’t go to the liquor store and buy a bottle of Passover wine, you made your wine.  In the fall when the concord grapes were available, you made your Passover [wine].  Everybody had their Passover wine.  It is hard to be a Jew.  It was hard to be a Jew.  Believe you me, it was.  You know when we had the seder, well we used to have very large pillows, those European pillows, I remember that time, and my mother had them on the chair and my father really, you know, but there is nothing like that anymore.  It smelled Passover.  It smelled Passover.  Somehow or another it just, you know, I think we remember more, as much by odors, by having an odor come back to us, that brings memories . . . We used fleishig (meat) all together.  There was no coffee.  We drank tea, you know, and you could not buy any shortening or oil.  You had to make your Pesach and mother started to, as she said, to gather up her Passover.  That was all that was available and you had to make your chickens Passover that that you used the schmaltz  from.  You cleared out your kitchen so you made Passover many times in a certain corner where the schmaltz was prepared.