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26 LEGACIES, CIRCUMSTANCES, PROSPECTS At the beginning of the 21st century, the record of Jews in Nashville is impressive. They have been in Nashville more than a century and a half. They have solidly established a past, they vitally maintain a present, and they are confidently generating a future. There are a number of families that have more than a six-generation presence in Nashville, and a look at one such family illustrates how the generations have adapted and persevered. In the aggregate, their stories have the same plot. First came the settlers from Europe seeking a better life. Then followed family members and friends. A community formed. Businesses were grounded. Marriages were made. Children became educated then either continued in the business or became professionals and began timely new careers. Initially Nashville Jews lived in the downtown area, then they moved along the West End corridor. Through successive generations they continued moving west to the West Meade area and now to Bellevue and Brentwood. With each move their neighborhoods have become less Jewish specific. This observation suggests a high degree of assimilation. Rallying points have remained the institutions – namely the synagogues and the Jewish Community Center. Through six and, in some cases, as many as seven generations there is little evidence of overt anti-Semitism. With the exception of some fringe actions perpetrated by extremists, Jews have experienced a high degree of acceptance in Nashville. In turn, they have given back to the community far beyond what their small numbers would suggest. A LEGACY FAMILY A word of advice to newcomers to the Nashville Jewish community generally goes like this: Don’t say anything bad about anybody Jewish. You might be talking to a relative. After so many generations of Jewish presence in Nashville and numerous marriages networked over these generations, this advice should be heeded. Mention someone and you might hear, “Oh, he’s my double first cousin,” or “We share the same great-grandmother” or “I am a half grand nephew.” As an example, it was nearly impossible to

talk with Harry Blum about any Jew in Nashville and sometimes even about Jews in other Southern cities without hearing his inevitable comeback comment, “Well, that’s my cousin.” Some families have the genealogy down pat and even archived; others just know they are related. In some cases, divorce or name changes may have tangled the links. Genealogy sleuth Dr. Griffith Haber meticulously tracked down the Haber family on his father’s side. His findings reveal an archetypal Jewish family that has been in Nashville six generations. Coursing through those six generations the Haber family typifies a pattern of the early Nashville Jewish settlers. They emigrated from Germany in the 1850s. The first generations were merchants who lived downtown. Subsequent generations moved out the West End corridor in the first decades of the twentieth century. Later generations were university-educated and became professionals. They have proudly served in their country’s conflicts. Consistent in their marriages to Jews, they have brought their children up in the faith. No doubt their ancestors would be proud. Tradition, that tough sinew that ultimately connects one Jew to the other and holds Jewish life together, is alive and well in Nashville. William Clay Isaacs, a seventh generation Nashville Jew, was presented for a ritual circumcision in a ceremony performed on May 14, 2008, by mohel Dr. Trent Rosenbloom. To celebrate his birth and his bris (circumcision) family and friends gathered together as is the T..R..A..D..I..T..I..O..N!

Clay, Katie, and Scott Isaacs, Dr. Trent Rosenbloom


THE HABER FAMILY1 FIRST GENERATION It all began when Ma(r)x Bissinger emigrated from Bavaria in 1855. He was resident in Nashville just in time to participate in the Civil War as a soldier for the Confederacy. Captured and imprisoned, he expediently took the Oath of Allegiance to be released from prison and to return to Nashville. Max Bissinger married Pauline Luchs shortly after his return to Nashville. She too came from Germany. Brother Ben married Pauline’s sister Mina. The two brothers even owned property on South Cherry Street together. Like most of the early German Jewish settlers in Nashville, Max was a merchant. He earned a living purveying first clothes, then groceries, and finally hides, wools and furs. In 1868 he was naturalized in Nashville, Tennessee.

Julius Haber

Frances Haber

Max Bissinger

Pauline Bissinger

SECOND GENERATION Max and Pauline had four daughters and one son. (The fifth child and only son Robert Lee Bissinger, born in 1876 already eleven years after the close of the Civil War, had the namesake of General Robert E. Lee suggesting father Max Bissinger’s inalterable loyalty to the Confederacy.) The fourth daughter Frances, born in 1875, married Julius Haber(er). Haber came from Germany, sojourned a while in Chicago, where he was naturalized, then came to Nashville. He lived and worked with Max Bissinger. Ultimately he was a merchant in metals, hides, fur and wool..

THIRD GENERATION Daughter Frances and her husband Julius Haber had four children: Fernand, Arnold, Horace, and Polly. Fernand lived his early life downtown in the home of his grandfather Max Bissinger on Summer Street (now Fifth Avenue). Eventually his family joined the westward movement along the West End artery and established residence on Chesterfield. Again typifying the Jewish pattern of the time, Fernand later chose a residence on Richland Avenue. In 1918 Fernand was inducted into World War I where he served for a year. Madelyn LuskyFernand Haber Fernand started out working in the Bissinger family busiHaber ness then established a used car business of his own. He was also a partner in an auto parts business with Sol Ginsberg. Family blood literally thickened when Fernand married Madeline Lusky, a country-come-to-city young lady from Huntingdon, Tennessee. Her father, so typical of small town Jews scattered throughout the Southeast at that time, had begun as a peddler in West Tennessee then established a dry goods store. The Huntingdon newspaper advertised quite literally his store as the “Jew Store.” Marrying into the Haber family, Madelyn brought to the Haber heritage the names Lusky, Kornman and Starr.


FOURTH GENERATION Fernand and Madelyn Haber had one child, son Murray. Murray had a classic Jewish Reform Nashville upbringing. He lived in the West End area and attended public schools. When it came time, he like other Jewish young people who wanted to go to college, went to nearby Vanderbilt as the most convenient and acceptMurray Haber Shirley Burke Haber ing option. Given the silent quotas on Jewish enrollment in so many major universities at the time, his choices were few. Like so many of his young Nashville Jewish contemporaries, Murray went into the military at age 21 to fight in World War II and was sent to the European theater. After the war, he also went into the auto parts business. His marriage to Shirley Ann Burke produced three children. FIFTH GENERATION Murray and Shirley had two sons, Griffith and Jay. Griffith attended Purdue University and became a veterinarian. He married Sherry Kolker from St. Louis.

Sherry Kolker Haber Grif Haber SIXTH GENERATION Griffith and Sherry have two children, Erica and Matthew. Erica lives in New York and is an attorney. An educator at University School, Matthew continues an unbroken link in the family presence in Nashville.

Erica Haber

Matthew Haber

Of interest is a front page ad which appeared in the Huntingdon Democrat on October 30, 1891, where Lusky & Kornman ran the “Jew Store.� Courtesy of Grif Haber


Nashville’s Jewish past may not always be so obvious. Much has fallen to the wrecking ball or simply been obscured by the passage of time. Edith Schulman discovered that when she began researching her family history. She traced all four families of her grandparents. Her research was greatly aided by a chance discovery in 2003. Her family had lived at 218 Carden, a street off West End. Although she married Nashvillian Charles Schulman in 1954 and no longer lived in Nashville, she had established an acquaintance with the current owners of the house on Carden. When that owner added on to the house, a box of photos and letters was found. In that box was an unopened letter from 60 years before.2 Edith’s husband, Charles Schulman, the son of Samuel and Flora Schulman grew up in the Murphy Road area. Samuel, his father, was a merchant who had a general store in the Eighth Avenue area. Charles went to Cohn High School, where there were only a handful of Jewish students. To be involved with other Jewish youth, get downtown to the YMHA or for religious services, he had to ride the streetcar as a youth. He remembers those tracks being taken up to supply steel during WW II.3 When one walks along Church Street, who would now know that Jewish owned department stores, millineries, dress stores, and bookstores lined both sides of the street? Who would know that the magnificent Vine Street Temple, where the entrance to the library-parking garage currently is, was the most exotic building in the city? Who can imagine a synagogue behind the State Capitol, when today there is criticism about Christmas trees and menorahs on the Capitol grounds? Who would have thought the Orthodox synagogue was next door to the famed Ryman Auditorium? Who would know that Jews, who have been in Nashville almost from the beginning of settlement, actually came in four distinct periods of settlement? First came the early pioneers in the 1840s and thereafter, some even before. They represented mainly Western European with some Eastern European Jewish backgrounds. They became the early tradesmen. From 1880 to the 1920s until immigration was severely cut back, there was a surge of Eastern European immigrants. They came from less sophisticated origins and plied such hands-on businesses as shoe repair and tailoring. In the 1930s until into the 1960s there followed an assorted resettlement. Some came as refugees from Europe; some came as survivors of a Holocaust hell; some stayed as servicemen; and some came as sunbelt seekers. The latter half of the twentieth century is also marked by assorted resettlement but from very different origins. There are the Russian refugees; there are the Iran-

ian refugees; there are Israeli businessmen; there are American musicians; there are the children adopted from foreign countries; and there are the others from elsewhere. But that was yesterday and this is today. Just as the buildings are different, so too are Nashville Jews themselves for two salient reasons. First, unlike the old Nashville Jews of decades past, they no longer have to be concerned about proving themselves as Americans. They are totally woven in to the tapestry of Nashville life. If anything, they are so Americanized and accepted that they can confidently concentrate on their identity as Jews and explore whatever statements of religious definition they want. Second, Nashville’s Jewish community today is a truly heterogeneous group with many diverse elements. Take the sixth generation Nashville Jew; blend him with the musician from New York, the businessman from Israel, the refugee from Russia, the transplant from Argentina, the adoptee from China and don’t forget the converted spouse – they all make up the current Nashville Jewish profile. How unified is such a diverse group? From its very beginnings, the Nashville Jewish community itself was not without its own built-in mind sets, which grew out of the early struggle in the community to define Judaic practice in Nashville. Early on those German Jews with Reform heritage opted for their own religious center, while those moderately orthodox founded a more centrist position which ultimately defined itself as conservative. Those most adherent to the orthodox minhag of their early years established an orthodox center of worship. In simple terms, the latter element was known as the Hungarian Shul, the middle element as the Polish Shul, and the Reform Temple was essentially for the German Jews. How distinct these components in the Jewish community were is summed up in a simple but revealing remembrance made by Margaret Perlen, “I never once went inside the Vine Street Temple.”4 The religious divisions were also found in the social sphere. The German Jews had their distinctive Standard Club which ultimately became the tony Woodmont Country Club, which guardedly excluded Gentile members as well. It was mainly the conservative and, to a large extent, the orthodox Jews who congregated at the Young Men’s-Young Women’s Hebrew Association downtown and the Mayfair Club. So ingrained was the breach that Harry Blum, a Reform Jew, maintained that his family belonged to the Young Men’s Christian Association, which is where he learned to swim. This divisiveness marked life in the Jewish community for more than a century until as one observer remarked “World War II was the leveling force that began a more interconnected Jewish community.”5


At present there is a great deal of interaction within the Jewish community fostered by the three perceptible elements. The first is, at the heart of the Jewish community, a strong Jewish Federation which equitably represents the entire community. The second is the broadly based Gordon Jewish Community Center, which offers programming and facilities for all and provides a center point for interaction. The third uniting factor is the rabbis themselves, currently a younger group of non-Nashvillians, who interact and provide role models for inter-congregational cooperation. In 2009 there are two reform congregations, one conservative, and two orthodox. There are also two Hillel centers at Vanderbilt University. Although they are all separate entities, there is a great deal of networking and cooperation among them. Today’s Jewish community in Nashville is a totally different community than the one patriarch Isaac Garretson was instrumental in organizing. Sociologist Shaul Kelner, a Vanderbilt professor, studied the Nashville Jewish community in a six-community comparison of the Jewish workforce. He now lives in Nashville having joined the Vanderbilt faculty in conjunction with the Jewish Studies Program. Based on his broad academic, social and now personal experience, Kelner concludes, “The trends apparent in Jewish life in major metropolitan cities do not apply in Nashville.” He notes, in particular, the absence of tension among both established and migrated elements in the community. In the community are the Russian, the Persian, the South American, the Israeli, the American Jews from elsewhere, and those resident for as many as six generations in Nashville. “It’s a new Southern Jewish community, which is very diverse, “ he concludes.6 Isaac Garretson might well be proud of his brethren. He would, however, be dismayed at the new world order which impacts Nashville’s Jewish community as well as the whole world. Even though an electronic game maker simulated an action-packed screen game of what happened on Sep-

tember 11, 2001, the average person would never have imagined the shocking targeted destruction of American landmarks by a group of suicidal airplane hijackers. Coordinated air attacks on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., the twin towers in New York City, and a foiled attempt at the White House, resulting in the crash of a hijacked plane into a field in Pennsylvania stunned the world. A shocked and bewildered Jewish community in Nashville gathered together that evening for a service at The Temple to share their grief and to show their solidarity. Through the early years of the new 21st century, the matter of security has become more and more insistent Events around the country including campus massacres, an attack against Jews in Seattle, gun wielding terrorists, an elderly Jew-hater shooting a guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D. C., and increased anti-Semitism abroad all have led to more stringent security in gathering places for Jews even in Nashville. The Gordon Jewish Community Center responded to the need for increased security with a fee on members to improve check-in procedures and monitoring. In 2007, protective poles were placed in front of the Center’s glass door to prevent a vehicle from being driven into the building. Key-accessed glass doors were installed to partition sections of the buildings. A security guard monitors all reaches of the Center campus. The synagogues, meanwhile, hire security personnel not only for the high holidays but sometimes even for regular services. Congregation Micah, for instance, regularly had a police person on duty for weekend services and religious school following a massacre in Seattle at their Jewish Community Center. There is reason for alarm. Just one example illustrates the need. An Iraqi-born man, who expressed animosity toward Jews and who discussed targeting Jewish institutions in Nashville, was arrested in 2004 on federal weapons charges. He told an acquaintance that he was “going jihad against the Jewish community” in Nashville.

Gathering at the Temple following the Events of September 11, 2001, The Observer, September 21, 2001


2002: DEMOGRAPHIC SURVEY An outside firm was hired by the Jewish Federation to survey the Nashville Jewish community in the year 2002. Yacoubian Research found 7,826 Jews living in Nashville, a significant increase over research done in previous years.. The survey revealed there were 4,022 Jewish households in the Nashville area in the year 2002. It found the average annual growth within the Jewish community to be 3%. A comparison of previous demographic studies confirmed a steady growth. SURVEY COMPARISONS Year Population

1949 2,678

1970 3,663

1982 2,678

1988 5,442

2002 7,826

The Jewish population of Nashville is currently more dispersed. In the 1988 survey over half of all Jewish households lived in the 37205 zip code. Today, three fourths of the Jewish population is primarily situated in four zip codes. ZIP CODE DISPERSION 37205 37221 37215 37027 Others

35% 22% 13% 5% 25%

The survey found the Jewish population of Nashville to be slightly older than the general population along with being better educated, as about two-thirds of Jewish adults have at least one college degree. Not surprisingly Jews were found to have a higher average household income. The estimated median annual income of Nashville area Jewish households was at that point in time in 2002 nearly $70,000. All but about 11% of Nashville area Jews said they own their home. About 50% of all Jews who are employed full-time hold professional positions. 83% of households had at least one member who was a synagogue member. Of those responding, the following percentages prevailed:

Reform Conservative Orthodox

59% 28% 6%

The Temple West End Synagogue Sherith Israel Congregation Micah Congregation Beit Tefillah Chabad

35% 24% 9% 24% 1%

There was no reckoning of the number of unaffiliated Jews. Census, Demographic, and Needs Assessment Study Conducted for The Nashville Jewish Community, October 2002, RG 1, Box 14


Legacies, Circumstances, Prospects