Jewish Immigration Monument in Forest Park

Story Submitted by Ed McGue

A monument commemorating the 300th anniversary of the first Jewish settlement in North America can be found in Forest Park at the corner of Kingshighway and Lindell Boulevard. The Jewish Immigration Monument consists of a stainless steel flagpole resting on a sculptured stone base. On the base, great freedoms inspired by biblical verses are inscribed including Freedom from Tyranny, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Fear and War and Freedom from Want.

The monument was first dedicated on November 22, 1956, by a group of Jewish community leaders. It was then rededicated in 1989 after a $275,000 facelift which included the construction of a terraced granite base that would increase its visibility. Special lighting, benches and sidewalks were also added to Lopata Plaza surrounding the monument—named in honor of major contributors Lucy and Stanley Lopata.

Artist Carl Mose designed the limestone monument. In addition to the Jewish Immigration Monument, Mose created the St. Francis of Assisi monument that is also displayed in Forest Park and probably his most recognizable piece—the Stan Musial statue outside of Busch Stadium.

Torah Study Lesson

Just How Directly Responsible Am I For Cleaning Up The Evil Around Me?
By: Michele Long

In today’s Torah Study we were discussing how we don’t have to go looking for the evil around us when Suzanne brought up the question: “What level of evil are we responsible for?” She sited a man who went to prison and, when released, killed a woman. What part did we play in his life and her death? As we sorted through this question, another arose; “Did we contribute to this evil by closing our eyes to the problem?” My soul suddenly felt a very sharp prodding from this question; one I couldn’t ignore.

Time for Shabbat services came all too soon and I left with more unanswered questions. Once again, as the Source would have it, between the Keva, my eyes caught hold of the kavannahs the Bat Mitzvah teen had been guided to include in my studies today:

“Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted” – Albert Einstein.

“Each time a person stands up for an idea, or acts to improve the lots of others, or strikes out against injustice, (s)he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance” – Robert F. Kennedy.

“We have a duty to care for each member of our society. We must therefore avoid, at all cost, the urge to shut away those who are grievously afflicted as if they were a burden. The same goes for those who are diseased or marginalized. To push them away would be to heap suffering on suffering. We need, therefore, to ensure that the sick and afflicted person never feels helpless, rejected, or unprotected. Indeed, the affection we show to such people is, in my opinion, the measure of our spiritual health, both at the level of the individual and at that of society”– The Dalai Lama.

“Judaism is less about believing and more about belonging. It is less about what we owe God and more about wheat we owe each other, because we believe God cares more about how we treat each other than about our theology.” – Rabbi Harold Kushner.

She couldn’t have known of our Torah Study discussion, yet her teachings were providing some important answers and guidelines for social responsibilities. It’s not unusual for the Universe to deliver my lessons throughout the course of Shabbat in this “connect-the-dots” fashion. It feeds my soul in simple terms so that I can digest the lessons, absorbing the knowledge, and leaving fulfilled when the Shabbat lesson has come to completion. It’s not coincidental that the first article I would read in the Jewish Light later that day referred to the upcoming Holocaust Remembrance Commemoration on May 1, 2008, at United Hebrew Congregation.

No, it only brings me back to my original question, “Just how directly responsible am I for cleaning up the evil around me?

Next question: “Where do I start?”

David T. Portman: Part III

Part III. Story was originally written by David Portman in 1979 and submitted in 2008 by David’s daughter-in-law, Carol Portman.

There were activities such as drama groups, social clubs, ballroom dancing, schools to teach reading, writing, English and athletics, but most interesting of all to me was a group known as the Alliance Military Cadets which was very popular. The number of youths who participated was so great that three companies had to be formed along with a rifle and bugle corps. We were taught how to handle a rifle, drill and keep in good physical condition. We were drilled by an Army Sergeant who came from Jefferson Barracks and each company had a staff of officers: major, captain, lieutenant, sergeant, etc. Walter Freund became a sponsor and led us in many activities. We went camping in Lakewood on the Gravois, Ladue, which was then a prairie, but mostly to Creve Coeur where we pitched our tents. We carried with us pots, pans and cooks who prepared food for the hundred or more who went camping with us on the weekends or on holidays. All the fellows carried their own camping equipment, traveling by street car and on the open end Creve Coeur trolley where we had so much fun. I believe that from these adventures came the development of the summer camps. The Y and JCCA began offering camping experiences, first Camp Hawthorne on the Lake of the Ozarks, and later Camp Sabra, which serves thousands of our present youngsters and oldsters.

During the westward travel of the Jewish population, the Jewish Alliance moved to 3645 Delmar Square, and a few years later became the YMHA, YWHA, where the activities continued. The Y joined with a group known as Jewish Community Center which was then located in the 3600 block of Page which had outgrown its quarters.

The two organizations merged and purchased property at Union and Enright where extraordinary community activities were offered: a swimming pool, a health club, and multiphased social activities. Some years later, this edifice also became too small, and ground was bought by forward-looking leaders who brought about the Jewish Community Center Association on Schuetz Road which provides excellent facilities for the entire Jewish community.

David T. Portman: Part II

Part II. Story was originally written by David Portman in 1979 and submitted in 2008 by David’s daughter-in-law, Carol Portman.

Westward Ho! We moved to 1217 North 15th Street, a tenement house which housed about eight to ten families, some facing 15th Street, others facing the alley. Our whole family ate and slept in the three rooms, doing the laundry in wash tubs and hanging it to dry on a rope pulley that was connected to the walls between the front and rear buildings. For ironing or pressing, irons were heated on top of a coal stove in the kitchen.

There was a grocery store on almost every block, Kosher butcher shops every few blocks and a neighborhood shopping center on Biddle Street from 12th to 18th Streets, where you could buy anything from a herring to a horse! Food stores, butcher shops, shoe stores, peddlers showing their piece goods, men’s and women’s clothing, children’s wearing apparel, fruit, novelties and anything you could want. It was all there. This was the start of specialty shops and many department stores. Komen had a bakery at 14th & Biddle; Jefferson Wohl (Sheenie Ike) had a shoe store for the complete family; the Reiters had a millinery shop for women; Krams were selling fish on Biddle Street. This was Biddle Market, where the farmers brought in their chickens, fruit, vegetables, etc. Some of the merchants who sold their wares to these farmers and to one another became affluent people and many of their offspring later became merchants, wholesalers, manufacturers and are established in businesses today. 

The population kept on growing and our people kept on going westwards to 16th Street, 17th Street and 18th Street. We moved to 18th and Division which was known as Kerry Patch. The ethnic background of this area consisted of Irish, Germans, Poles and a small number of Eastern European Jews; the area was truly a melting pot. We went to O’Fallon School at 15th and O’Fallon Streets, and when we grew a little older, walked a few blocks eastward to the Jewish Educational Alliance, a forerunner of the YMHA and YWHA. Settlement workers helped all underprivileged young and old to become oriented to living in this country. At that time, the Jewish Educational Alliance was headed by a young man named Oscar Leonard, who had trained a staff of workers.

David T. Portman: Part I

Part I. Story was originally written by David Portman in 1979 and submitted by David’s daughter-in-law, Carol Portman.

I am David Portman, 80 years of age. I arrived in St. Louis about 1905. A year prior, I landed at Ellis Island as an immigrant from Russia, together with my family members, consisting of my mother, an older brother, a younger brother and a sister. My father had emigrated from Russia a few years earlier and had settled in Kansas City where he had found employment as a tailor with Lord & Taylor, a woman’s apparel shop. After we moved from Kansas City to St. Louis, another brother and five sisters were born to our parents. Our first home was a flat at 11th and Washington Street, what is now Cole Street. We lived there for a few years before moving to 11th and Carr Streets, which residence can best be described as a tenement, housing about 20 families. There were 10 families on the first floor and 10 on the second floor, with a common porch for entering and leaving. Each flat consisted of three rooms. There was a water line in the middle of the floor on the outside porch where the tenants from one faucet, obtained their drinking water, clothes-washing water, and bathing water: clothes and body washing were both accomplished in the same galvanized tin tub. We had to keep the faucet running in cold weather in order to avoid freezing. There were no electric lights (or electricity) so we used kerosene lamps which had to be fitted every day, buying the kerosene from a street peddler who supplied the entire neighborhood from his tank filled with coal oil. The glass of the lamp had to be cleaned daily so that we could receive the maximum amount of light; we had a special jug just for the oil. For heat, we bought coal from a peddler which was used in the range that was also utilized for cooking. These needs were purchased daily.

Neighborhood stores abounded. There was a baker who supplied bread, bagels, sweet rolls and on Friday, chala. Across the street from the baker was “Raskas” who sold milk, cheese and dairy goods. We bought milk from a large container, bringing along our own pots and pans to carry it home in. The milk had to be boiled at home since it was not pasteurized. During the boiling process, a skim formed on top of the kettle which was considered a great delicacy. Ice was not available in those years; we didn’t even have ‘ice boxes’ to keep food cold; this advance was yet to come, although it wasn’t too long before we had an ‘ice box’.

The “out-house” was outside in the center of the yard. There were 10 or 15 partitions which were used in true community style by all the tenants year long. We had no flush bowls or fancy soft tissues and not much privacy.

Across the street on the west side of 11th Street, was the Fire Department. On alarm, three horses were led from their stalls to the steam pumper which was always ready to respond to the alarm of the fire and which was always stocked with straw shavings and cord wood. This fuel was used to generate steam to pump water from the hydrant closest to the site of the fire. The three horses ran abreast at full speed to fire, clanging their fire bell, with the firemen hanging on to the side of the engine or on the back of the boiler at the rear of the pumper. A supply wagon loaded with more cord wood and coal would follow the engine as a back-up measure in case the fire was a really bad conflagration requiring extra fuel.

The streets at that time were paved with red granite blocks or compacted rock. For transportation, street cars ran from all parts of the city, leading to the downtown area. The fare was then five cents, including transfers!

About this time, the City of St. Louis started buying a whole block of property from 10th to 11th Streets and Carr to Biddle Streets. This area included a salt warehouse, homes, tenements, stables and houses. It was to become Columbus Square, which would be a recreation spot for the people who lived in that area. There were ball grounds, a concrete wading pool for youngsters, stands for musical concerts, craft rooms and teachers who helped in various crafts. It would serve the poor people in this community who consisted mostly of Italians and Jews and who lived in very close harmony. There was a “Shul” on 9th and Wash Streets, also another one on 11th and Biddle, and another at 14th and Wash Streets where the people went to worship.

Louis Raskas Of St. Louis

By: Dr. Yitzchok Levine

(This article first appeared in The Jewish Press, February 1, 2007. Posted here by permission of the author)

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s America was called the treifa medina by many religious Jews living in Eastern Europe. This was based on the fact that the religious observance of many of the Jews who immigrated to the United States during those years eroded as a result of their exposure to American society.
 
Even if parents managed to maintain their commitment to Torah, their children were more than likely not to follow in their footsteps. Nonetheless, there were families in which both immigrants and their descendents remained staunchly Orthodox. One such family is the Raskas family of St. Louis, Missouri.
 
Some readers may recognize the name Raskas, which has been associated with the dairy industry for many years: “Raskas Foods has been in business since 1888. The Raskas Dairy Company first began its door-to-door delivery of milk in St. Louis by horse-drawn wagons. With the advent of pasteurization, Raskas developed into a general dairy.” (1)
 
In 1882 Sholom Yitzchok [Isaac] and [Shifra] Rivka Raskas immigrated from Kovno, Lithuania, to St. Louis to join members of Mrs. Raskas’s Sarasohn family. They lived about ten blocks from the Mississippi River. Isaac started selling milk, much like Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof.” After the turn of the century the family moved to 1313 North Newstead, which at that time was still a semi-rural area on the western fringe of St. Louis, and began a small dairy.
 
Louis Raskas's ParentsThe Raskases were sincerely committed Orthodox Jews. Pictures of their parents show that they both came from learned, Litvishe families. The Raskases had eight children – four boys and four girls. Knowing that their oldest two sons, Yudel (Julius) and Louis (Chaim Shabatsai Lev) could not receive an intensive Torah education in St. Louis, they sent them to study in the famed Slabodka Yeshiva located near Kovno, Lithuania. Louis was all of 12 years old at the time; because of his young age he was sent to live with relatives.
 
One cannot help but marvel at the depth of commitment on the part of the Raskases when it came to their sons’ yeshiva education. (The American Jewish historian Jacob Rader Marcus told a grandson of Louis that the Raskas boys were probably the first young men to be sent from the United States to Europe to study in a European yeshiva.)
 
Bear in mind that in 1900 travel to Europe took weeks. Furthermore, there probably were no telephone communications between Kovno and St. Louis. The only method of communication was by mail, which was very slow. Sending one’s sons to Europe to learn meant not seeing them for years. Nonetheless, Isaac and Rivka Raskas made these sacrifices so that their sons would grow up to be observant, Torah-educated Jews. (Indeed, they did not see their sons until 1906, when they returned home for a visit. After this visit, the young men returned to Europe to continue their yeshiva studies.)
 
After spending several years studying in Slabodka, Louis decided to continue his studies in the Chofetz Chaim’s yeshiva in Radin. While he studied in Radin he was known as “der Americaner.” It was in Radin that Louis met and married Ruth Poupko. He supported his family by qualifying as a pharmacist and opening a small drugstore.

In the early part of 1914 Yudel and Louis received a letter telling them their parents wished to visit Eretz Yisrael. (The senior Raskases had purchased some land in Petach Tikva and did eventually settle there with their four youngest children.) Isaac asked the boys to return to St. Louis to take care of his dairy business during his absence, and Yudel and Louis returned in the late spring of 1914.

Louis left Ruth and their two small children in Radin, intending to return to them soon, but World War I made that impossible. Throughout the war he tried to get them out, but in vain. The town of Radin was caught in the maelstrom of bloody fighting on the German-Russian front, and civilians living there suffered grievously, sometimes under German control, sometimes under Russian control, as fierce fighting raged back and forth.

Because the head of the family was an American citizen – Louis, after all, had been born in St. Louis – both Russian and German authorities extended to the Raskas family some very welcome amenities.

Throughout the war, for instance, Raskas was able to send his wife money through the American ministry in Warsaw, and thus she and her children lived in “comparative comfort,” as she later put it, compared with the abject poverty of the surrounding Polish population. Nevertheless, life for them there was extremely trying. (2)

When World War I ended in 1918, Louis and Ruth found themselves in a quandary. He could not leave St. Louis because he was running his father’s dairy business. She, however, did not want to leave her parents and her family to come to a foreign country. Still, she loved her husband very much and wanted to be reunited with him.

It was suggested to her that she see her uncle, the Rabbi of the neighboring village of Aisheshuk (Lithuania-Eiszyszki), who was known for his scholarship, his wisdom, and his good judgment. After a lengthy conversation he told her, “You must now make a decision. Either stay here and get a divorce from your husband or join him.” She decided to come to America to unite the family. Her uncle supported her decision. Had she remained, she and her family would have been destroyed in the Holocaust, for there were no survivors of the Radun Massacre. (3)

In April 1920, Mrs. Raskas and her two children, Berenice, 10, and Ralph, 8, finally arrived in St. Louis. Louis and Ruth became pillars of the St. Louis Jewish community. They were known for their strict adherence to Torah and mitzvos. In 1929-1930 Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, came to America and visited many Jewish communities throughout the country. While in St. Louis, it was Ruth Raskas who prepared the food he ate.
 
Louis developed and expanded what had been his father’s small dairy business. “Under his leadership and acumen – and with his wife working side by side with him – [they] developed the company into one of the nation’s leading dairy concerns. Although he marketed for the broad public, Raskas took great care that all phases of milk processing met strict standards of kashrut.” (4)

Mr. and Mrs. Raskas developed a type of sour cream they labeled “Smetina.” Eventually they gave up the milk business and concentrated on the manufacture of Smetina, cream cheese and other soft cheese products. The business eventually expanded into national and international markets, becoming a most successful food conglomerate.

[Louis] Raskas’s impact upon the St. Louis Jewish community was much more than his success as a dairy entrepreneur. Ardently interested in Jewish education, he became actively involved with the Associated Hebrew Schools, the local Yeshiva Zechariah Joseph, and the establishment of the Rabbi H.F. Epstein Hebrew Academy. He generously supported the Jewish Hospital and other philanthropic activities of the Jewish Federation.
 
Raskas was an avid Zionist and was particularly active in the St. Louis Mizrachi organization, and, after Israel was established in 1948, in innumerable State of Israel bond campaigns. Many knew him as a humanitarian especially helpful to European refugees, undoubtedly recalling his family’s earlier hardships in Poland. He had a reputation also in the international Jewish community as a generous supporter of institutions of higher [Torah] learning all over the world and especially in Israel.
 
Raskas contributed positively also to many areas of the non-Jewish community. He was president of the national Dairyman’s Association, where his impact was felt in the industry throughout the country. His name could be found among contributors to many St. Louis community programs, especially those engaged in helping needy families. He served as an honorary colonel on the staff of Governor John M. Dalton of Missouri. He died on April 20, 1974, and was buried in Jerusalem. St. Louis newspapers used a very simple but most appropriate term in eulogizing him: “Orthodox Community Leader.” (5)
 
(The author wishes to thank Stanley Raskas, a great-grandson of Isaac and Rivka Raskas and a grandson of Louis and Ruth Raskas, for his assistance with the preparation of this article.)

Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

References:

(1) http://www.zoominfo.com/search/CompanyDetail.aspx?CompanyID=3214567&cs=QEB6oEKyA 

(2) Zion in the Valley, The Jewish Community of St. Louis, Volume II, The Twentieth Century, by Walter Ehrlich, University of Missouri Press, 2002, page 123.

(3) As A Brand Plucked From the Fire, by Bernard S. Raskas, communicated to the author by the late Walter Ehrlich.

(4) Ibid.

(5) Ibid, page 124.

An Irish Jew?

I have had a rather unique upbringing.  My mother was raised Catholic, was married and divorced, then converted to Judaism, and finally decided she wanted to have children.  She was artificially inseminated to have me, her now 22 year old daughter.  It has been just my mom and I in my immediate family for my whole life, but we have been blessed with an amazing extended family and have many friends that have become part of and added branch of our family. For the first 9 years of my life, My mom and I lived in the basement apartment of one of my mom’s friends from work.  Elaine was a little older than my mom and had 4 children with her former husband, and had grandchildren that were around my age.  They became my adopted Jewish family.  We moved out when I was in 4th grade, and Elaine passed away when I was in 8th.  We stuck together through that hard time, and we are still extremely close with her family.  Elaine’s son, Andy, is my Godfather.  We spend passover each year with most of the family (it is a huge celebration that I look forward to enthusiastically) and see them on a regular basis throughout the year.  I feel so fortunate to have a strong Jewish family to be a part of.  I am lucky, because I also have a strong, supportive Catholic family.  My mom is one of seven children, so although I don’t know anything about my father or that side of the family, I have many aunts, uncles, and cousins.  I have never felt looked down on or left out with my family even though we are of different faiths.  If anything, it has made both my family bonds and my faith stronger.  I am able to learn from my family and to teach them.  It has created an open forum and has kept communication flowing.

My faith has always been a large part of my life.  Until I was in 3rd grade, we attended conservative Congregation B’nai Amoona, at which point we moved to the reform Congregation Shaare Emeth.  I went through Ladue School District, so I was not alone in my faith at school, seeing as there is a large Jewish community within the district.  I attended Hebrew School and Sunday School, was bat mitzvahed, participated in youth groups through middle and high school, and was a familiar face at temple.  My mom also played a large role in the community as a Gesher (7th grade religious school) and Sunday School teacher.  Since beginning college I have not been able to be as involved with the community, but my faith and spirituality are still a large part of my life.  I attend Saint Louis University, where I am in the extreme minority, but I love representing my religion and discussion theology with my friends and fellow students.

I am so grateful for my unique background.  It has made me a strong, distinct individual.  After all, how many people can say they are Irish Jews?

Lauren Yates