Nobody could be more qualified than Romanian born Vladimir F. Wertsman to offer readers on all continents a book with a highly inspired title “Salute to the Romanian Jews in America and Canada, 1850-2010, History, Achievements, and Biographies,” 288p., Xlibris, Corp. 2010. The author is Chairman of the Publishing and Multicultural Materials Committee in the USA and President of the American Library Association.
By a happy coincidence, this first comprehensive examination of Romanian Jews from a multicultural perspective was published in 2010 during the International Year of Youth (August 12, 2010 – August 11, 2011) proclaimed by consensus by the United Nations to be celebrated with the central theme of dialogue and mutual understanding. A world youth conference having the form of a high level meeting of the General Assembly will be held at United Nations Headquarters in New York on 25 and 26 July 2011.
While the book presented here is mostly about the past, its fundamental message is addressed above all to current and future younger generations who are invited to learn from the glorious, frequently dramatic but often fascinating experience of their ancestors.
After an introductory section, the volume continues with three substantive parts, the first part being suggestively entitled Romanian Jews: Goodbye Europe – Hello, New World! Part two is dedicated to an extremely useful Who’s Who among Romanian Jews in America and Canada (over 300 biographical sketches), while part three is a collection of surprising archival documents on the major themes of the book.
The themes of dialogue and mutual understanding to be promoted worldwide during the United Nations International Year of Youth can be illustrated by two “cases” treated in the book. Readers will learn, for instance, about a unique Jewish Romanian American like Marie Marchand (May 17, 1885—February 20, 1961), better known as Romany Marie, who was a Greenwich Village restaurateur who played a key role in bohemianism from the early 1900s through the late 1950s in New York City’s Manhattan. She arrived in USA in 1901 at the age of sixteen coming from Romanian Moldova, where she was born. Her cafés in Greenwich Village became the most interesting in New York’s Bohemia and many customers compared them to the best cafés of Paris.
Romany Marie was described by her contemporaries as attractive and unusual, lively and generous, and a Village legend. She was a dynamic character who provided free meals to those who needed them. Playwright Eugene O’Neill was one of many needy artists whom Romany Marie fed when they could not pay for meals. She was said to have kept O’Neill alive during 1916 and 1917 by feeding him regularly in her kitchen when he was an alcoholic. Eugene O’Neill was awarded a Nobel Prize in literature in 1936.
The great Romanian sculptor Constantin Brâncuºi was an old friend of hers in Paris and New York and visited Romany Marie’s cafes with the famous French painter Henri Matisse. It should be noted that Bertrand Russell, the best known British philosopher of the previous century, Nobel Prize Laureate in literature in 1950, used to be a regular customer of Romany Marie’s cafes.
A second “case” is about Sam Finkelstein from Dorohoi, Romania, who under the name of B. Virdot played an important humanitarian role during the Great Depression. B. Virdot placed a notice in the Canton newspapers offering $10 (a considerable sum in 1933) to 75 Canton residents experiencing financial hardship. He also invited poor people to send letters describing their needs. He received so many requests for help that he reduced the gifts to $5 and assisted twice as many families. In a remarkable book entitled “A Secret Gift” (2010) by Ted Gup, a grandchild of Sam Finkelstein, it is clearly demonstrated that economic hardship can bring suffering, but can also foster compassion and strengthen the sense of community and solidarity, a universal value solemnly proclaimed in the United Nations Millennium Declaration (2000). This is a great humanistic reminder today, in times of global crises, planetary vulnerabilities and natural disasters to be considered during the July high level meeting in New York.
Vladimir F. Wertsman’s book is open to the future. It advocates traditional values which must be preserved in all societies as a rich resource and powerful engine of development and tool for intercultural dialogue, as encouraged by the United Nations during the International Year of Youth.
Focusing on the most relevant aspects of the Romanian Jewish community in America and Canada, this genuine mini-encyclopedia recommends itself as the most reliable and extensive treatment of this significant topic to be found in the twenty-first century.
Unrivalled in conception and scope, this book represents the preeminent source of information in this field and is destined to become a trusted reference instrument for the years to come, while inspiring similar research on other continents. There are promising perspectives in this direction. From Thai sources it appears that around 1890 a few Eastern European Jewish families settled in Siam. The most prominent of these early families were the Rosenbergs.
According to existing information which may be enriched in the future, Morris Rosenberg, who died in Bangkok in 1930, was born in Galati, Romania and while working in the capital-city of Siam he opened one of the first large Western style hotels called Hotel Europe. His business interests also included real estate and diamond trading. In the 1930’s about 120 German Jewish refugees, including a number of physicians, were admitted to Thailand with the help of local Jewish residents in spite of protests by the German Embassy.
During an era when multiculturalism is being vividly discussed by the younger generation as a global issue, Vladimir F. Wertsman’s book is a very useful contribution to the current academic efforts to explain how America has become amalgamated with mixed cultures, with immigrants from everywhere, natives and minorities, all of them metaphorically covered by the expression “the melting pot”.
If multiculturalism is generally accepted as a fair system, it may be conducive to better adaptability for new young immigrants, as may be the case also in Thailand.
In conclusion, there are strong and persuasive reasons to hope that Vladimir F. Wertsman will receive an award for the best reference book published and circulated in 2010 – 2011 -International Year of Youth – as a valuable work meant to greatly facilitate future research and scholarship in the complex and attractive sphere of multiculturalism.
Note: Dr. Ioan Voicu is a visiting professor at Assumption University of Thailand, Bangkok. The book reviewed above can be ordered at: http://www2.xlibris .com/books/webimages/wd/81254/book.html.