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!
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • 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.