Abrom Kaplan's Cajun Dream

Obscure Jewish Immigrant Made Southern Louisiana Boom

University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin

By Johnna Kaplan

Published June 28, 2013, issue of July 05, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 4 of 5)

Some of this history was chronicled in the Musee de Kaplan, in the center of the town, which I visited on my trip to Vermilion Parish. There were exhibits on Catholicism; Attakapas Indians and Acadian settlers; farming and Mardi Gras, among other topics. A few scrapbooks contained newspaper clippings on Kaplan.

I asked the smartly dressed woman at the front desk how the town of Kaplan was faring these days. Shirley Schexnayder has lived here for 65 years, and she thinks the town has improved: She remembered when the streets were unpaved. But, she said, only one of her three children still lives here. There was no money in farming anymore, so many young people moved away. I wondered whether immigrants — maybe some of them ambitious strivers like Kaplan — had come to fill the void. There were some once, she said; the farmers brought them in. She didn’t know if they had stayed.

She was not aware of any Jews here, either. Maybe a long time ago, she said. She did not seem surprised that I asked (no one I met in Louisiana seemed easily surprised by anything), but I could tell it was an unusual question all the same.

I asked if Kaplan residents knew, or cared, about the town’s origins. If anyone does, it’s the younger generation, Schexnayder told me. But they’re too tired from commuting to make this town boom again.

There, in this typically declining American town, I suddenly understood why, as Broussard noted in his thesis: “Nothing has ever been written on Abrom Kaplan.” Neither of the two groups likely to appreciate his story, Louisianans and Jews, had reason to look into it. The locals took pride in their Cajun celebrations, like their famous Bastille Day festival, but not in their town’s origins. Jews seeking examples of successful immigrants could turn to the histories of major Jewish population centers. Learning about Abrom Kaplan required a trip to the archives. But even that opportunity was not available until the 1990s, when Kaplan’s papers were finally cataloged. It was that simple: He was obscure because no one knew about him, and no one knew about him because time had rendered him obscure.

I understood, too, that it would be easier to get a sense of Kaplan’s life beyond his namesake town. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the distinct municipalities of this region seem to have functioned, socially, like one vast community. When Kaplan died, for example, services were held at the Crowley Masonic Lodge, regularly used as a synagogue by the town’s Jews. He was buried 25 miles away, in Lafayette.

I went to Lafayette’s Jewish cemetery, where the gate was closed with a nail, allowing visitors to let themselves in and then shut themselves up among the graves and gloomy trees and sodden grass. I wandered around till I saw a large headstone that read simply, in capital letters, Kaplan. If this was his grave, it was fitting: prominent yet not showy; accommodating assimilation in the form of flower pots, yet standing in a Jewish burial ground.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.