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Then and now

By Robin Doroshow

Recently I came upon some historical family items, and after some research, I have some stories to share. You may recognize themes from your own family history in them, and I hope you find them interesting.

From Europe to St. Paul

It was one hundred years ago this coming June 29 that my grandmother, Golda Parasol Gottlieb, and her two daughters arrived by ship in New York harbor. They spoke no English. One of the daughters had medical issues, and the family was detained for weeks.

They were eventually admitted and made their way to St. Paul, Minnesota, to join Jacob Gottlieb, husband and father.

Jacob had arrived in St. Paul several years earlier. He was one of the approximately 10,000 Jews to enter the US through the port of Galveston, Texas — part of a short-lived immigration assistance program operated by several Jewish organizations between 1907–1913. From the port, he made his way north, stopping in Pueblo, Colorado, before finally arriving in St. Paul.

Like other immigrants, he went where he had landsmen — people from his hometown or region. In St. Paul, he settled and eventually saved enough money to bring his wife and daughters from Europe. They arrived not many years before the US shut its doors to certain immigrant groups. The Minnesota Commission of Public Safety passed the Alien Registration Act in 1918, foreshadowing the fearfulness of the next decade. And, in 1924 growing xenophobia culminated in the passage of the Johnson-Reed Act, sharply limiting Italian and Jewish immigration into the United States.

Keepsakes of a First-Generation American

My mom was the first child born in the United States, arriving in the world in St. Paul in June of 1921. She saved so many things from her family history that I continue to go through materials even nine years after her passing.

A recent discovery is a booklet in Yiddish. With the help of Dr. Ralph Levitt to translate the Yiddish, I learned it was from the Eighth Convention of the Jewish National Workers Farband held in Boston in June of 1922. I wondered why I had something from an event held in Boston. Further examination led me to discover that the St. Paul chapter of the Jewish National Workers Farband had an ad in the booklet. My grandparents were active in Zionist and other Jewish organizations, and my grandfather was the delegate to the convention from St. Paul.

The Ladies of Hadassah

Fast forward about 30 years: My mom was a young wife and mother living in St. Paul. The international Jewish women’s organization, Hadassah, was forming minyans — typically the traditional group of ten required for prayer. In this context, however, a minyan was a group of ten women gathered to play mahjongg and raise funds for Hadassah. These funds came from dues paid by minyan members.

Recently I had the pleasure of having brunch with Sally Donn Orren. One of my mom’s oldest friends, and the last living member of their minyan, Sally shared history of their minyan and her life. The minyan was named the Edith Smith Minyan for the mother of Rolee Smith Halper, one of the ten founding women of the minyan. Money raised by theirs and the many other Hadassah minyans in St. Paul benefitted Hadassah’s Youth Aliyah program. Sally remembered that each year a luncheon was held for all minyans in St. Paul at the St. Paul Yacht Club, the Temple of Aaron, and other venues throughout the years. She estimated that there were at least a dozen separate Hadassah minyans in St. Paul.

Sally, who lives at Sholom East, was born to immigrants from Poland. Like my grandfather, her father came to the United States through Galveston. Her mother, who was born in Palestine, was sent to live with relatives in Minneapolis, since young girls were in danger of being kidnapped during the Turkish occupation of Palestine, which lasted until 1918. Like my grandparents, her parents were involved in Zionist and other Jewish organizations.

With ten members, each member of a minyan usually hosted the gathering once per year. Minyan days at my home are among my earliest memories.

Minyan day was Wednesday and occurred monthly. On the Wednesdays that it was held in our home, I would come home from school to a sea of cars parked in the driveway and on the street in front of our house. By the time I got home, lunch had been served — usually some variation of tuna or salmon in the form of a casserole or salad, and the greatly admired gefilte fish baked with vegetables in tomato sauce. Two card tables would be set up, with four women each playing Mahjong (mahj). I think that they rotated so that at any one time eight were playing. The remainder of the afternoon would produce shouts of “crack” and “bam” which sounded very strange to my young ears.

The Most Memorable Mahj

Sally told me many stories during our visit, but my favorite story involved a monthly meeting of the minyan held at the home of Sally’s sister-in-law, Charlotte Orren, who lived at the corner of Bohland and Davern Avenues in St. Paul’s Highland Park. At around 8:30 in the morning on Mar. 6, 1963, Carol Swoboda Thompson was attacked in her home just across the alley and two houses down from the Orren home. She died at the hospital from her wounds later that morning. The ten minyan women, worried that a homicidal maniac was loose in the area, trotted downstairs and searched the Orren basement. Once satisfied that they were safe, they settled back upstairs for lunch and mahj. (Actually, I was there too, since I was born just seven months later.)

Sally met her future husband, Royal Orren, when she was just 16. They stayed in touch while he was in the service and married upon his return. They raised two sons and a daughter in St. Paul, and Sally worked at Control Data, later renamed Ceridian, until her retirement at age 70.

Photo captions:

My grandfather, Jacob Gottlieb, is top row 3rd from right. David Ben-Gurion is second row from top, center. Photo was taken at a Poalei Zion (Worker’s of Zion) (Zionist fraternal organization) event held in Hudson, WI in 1916.

Program pages from Eighth Convention of the Jewish National Workers Farband held in Boston in June of 1922. Bottom left “ad” translated from the Yiddish:

Sholom Aleichem Branch 16 of the National Workers Verband (Federation) St. Paul, Minnesota

Be hereby greeted friends and delegates to the 8th meeting of our beloved order, the Jewish National Workers Verband!

May your work become the masterful (or most memorable) activity on the Jewish street. May the 9th convention encounter a strong, capable (or powerful) federation, which will represent tens of thousands of Jewish national, socialist workers.

A. Widovsky, Chairman

Joseph Fleischer, Secretary

Translation courtesy of Dr. Ralph Levitt. Dr. Levitt was born in a Displaced Persons camp in

Germany in 1948 to refugee parents who grew up in Poland and survived the war in a Russian labor camp. He grew up in Chicago speaking Yiddish as his first language. He graduated from Northwestern University medical school and did his residency and fellowship in medical oncology at Mayo Clinic. Dr. Levitt practiced medicine in Fargo, North Dakota, and taught at the medical school of the University of North Dakota. Since his retirement in 2018, he moved to the Twin Cities with his wife, Helen. The Levitts have 3 adult children and 3 grandchildren.


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