December 19, 2008

Looking Back

Published December 11, 2008, issue of December 19, 2008.
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100 Years Ago in the forward

An unusual case is currently being heard in the courtroom of Judge Hendrick in the New York State Supreme Court, where a blind Jewish sweatshop worker is suing his boss for $100,000 in damages for stealing his wife and getting her pregnant. Fabric company owner Simon Schultz stands accused of having an affair with the wife of blind fabric cutter Barnett Bernstein. Bernstein, who has worked for Schultz for a number of years, testified that his boss frequently talked about how religious he was and how important it was to be moral. The blind cutter took pride in his boss. Mrs. Bernstein used to stop by the shop every day to bring dinner to her husband, and eventually she became quite friendly with Schultz, who often brought her into his private office for “conversations.” Not long ago, Mrs. Bernstein gave birth. The baby was not Mr. Bernstein’s, but his boss’s. As a result, Bernstein sued Schultz. Oddly enough, Mrs. Bernstein is a witness for her husband.


75 Years Ago in the forward

Constitutional Synagogue, located in Manhattan on 116th Street, marks a special occasion this week as it graduates its first African-American female Talmud-Torah student. The girl, Vertala Valentine, will give a sermon in honor of the entire graduating class. Her family is incredibly proud, and the house is decorated in holiday fashion. According to Valentine family lore, the Jewish family members lived in Africa for generations, but then slavery tore them apart, and the thread of Yiddishkeit was lost. Not until Valentine’s grandfather, who had been converted to Christianity, was in Jamaica, where he met other black Jewish families, did he understand what the traditions of his ancestors meant. He converted back to Judaism, changed his name to Khayem, married one of the Jewish Jamaican families’ girls and made his way to New York. It’s his granddaughter who is the first girl to graduate the Harlem Talmud Torah.


50 Years Ago in the forward

America’s brand-new state, Alaska, has a brand-new senator, and he just happens to be Jewish. Ernest Gruening, 71, is one of only a few hundred Jews among Alaska’s 200,000 residents. Gruening had been governor in the region’s pre-state days. New York-born Gruening claims not only that the new state has incredibly intelligent residents (after all, they elected him), but also that Alaska’s natural resources, among which are minerals and oil, will one day become enormously important to the United States as a whole.


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