Partial Transcript: So my name is Janice W. Fernheimer.
Segment Synopsis: Weissbach explains how he was born in pre-state Palestine on May 14th of 1947. His father was born in Alexandria, Egypt and his mother in Norfolk, Virginia. They met in Tel Aviv, Israel in the 1930s. They immigrated to the United States in 1952 and settled down in Cincinnati, Ohio. His parents opened the Yavneh Day School which was the community Hebrew school of Cincinnati where they both taught Hebrew.
Keywords: Alexandria (Egypt); American Express; Ashkenazi; Balfour Declaration; Cincinnati (Ohio); Galil; Haifa; Hebrew; Hebrew Speaking Society; Israel; Kashrut (see also Kosher food); Maurice Weissbach; Miriam Weissbach; New York (N.Y.); Norfolk (Va.); Observant; Orthodox Judaism; Palestine; Pogroms; Romania; Tel Aviv; University of Haifa; World War II; Yavneh Day School; Yodfat
Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Family histories.; Immigrants; Jewish families.
Map Coordinates: 32.7940463, 34.98957100000007
Partial Transcript: I'm gonna ask you more questions about that memoir in a little bit--
Segment Synopsis: Weissbach's wife, Sharon Goller (later Sharon Weissbach) was born in Lexington, Kentucky where her grandfather worked as a kosher butcher. Her family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where she met Lee Shai while they were members of the Habonim youth group. The Habonim youth group was a Labor Zionist Youth Group. Their involvement in the youth group put them together for many years as youth before they began dating just before college. They both attended the University of Cincinnati as undergraduates and graduated together. They adopted two children, Jacob Zvi Weissbach and Maya Weissbach. Jacob works at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia and Maya works at the Anthropologie store in Louisville. Lee Shai and Sharon both finished their PhDs in Boston. Lee Shai began looking for work at universities with active Jewish communities when he was offered a job at the University of Louisville.
Keywords: Anthropologie Store; Boston (Mass.); Boston College; Brandeis University; Cincinnati (Ohio); Conservative Movement; Habonim; Indiana University; Jacob Zvi; Kosher butchers; Labor Zionist youth group; Lexington (Ky.); Maya Weissbach; National Museum of American Jewish History; Nativ College Leadership Program; Ohavay Zion Synagogue (Lexington); School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Sharon Goller; Three Rivers (Mich.); University of Louisville; University of Pittsburgh; Wapakoneta (Ohio); Zvi Hirsch
Subjects: Education; Employment; Jewish children; Jewish families.
Map Coordinates: 39.1031182, -84.51201960000003
Partial Transcript: Yeah. So, wow, 37 years is a long time to spend--
Segment Synopsis: Weissbach discusses how he was hired at the University of Louisville to fill a French history teaching position. He had written his doctoral dissertation on child labor in nineteenth century France. He also began teaching Jewish history courses because he had an interest in it from his previous research in France. He eventually was given a state grant to hire someone in a Jewish Studies full-time position. One problem he discusses is the instability with a Hebrew language professor at the university. He discusses the Jewish community of Louisville and how they have maintained Jewish programming despite harder financial times with the Jewish Community Center and Jewish Federation in Louisville. He then describes the Jewish student life at the University of Louisville, which has always been small, and their Hillel program.
Keywords: American Jewish history; Bucks for Brains Program; Chabad; Conservative Temple; Hebrew language course; Hillel; Jewish Community Center; Jewish Federation; Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence; Jewish Studies; Jewish history; Louisville Jewish students; Natalie Polzer; Reform Temple; Soviet Jewish Immigration; University of Louisville
Subjects: College environment; College students--Religious life; College teachers--Social conditions; Judaism.; Universities and colleges--Faculty.; University of Louisville
Map Coordinates: 38.21504520000001, -85.76015569999998
Partial Transcript: I know that you--you've talked a li--a bit about your graduate work at Harvard, in French history, and in fact, that's how you got the job at University of Louisville.
Segment Synopsis: Weissbach discusses how his research into French Jewish history became very comparative to research into small town Jewish communities in the United States. This revelation led him to finding communities with approximately 1000 Jews but he could not find census data that tracked people by religion. In order to find these communities he first set out to find all of the synagogues of Kentucky which led to his book "Synagogues of Kentucky: Architecture and History" in 1995. He later wrote the book "Jewish Life in Small-Town America" which focused on the case of the Jewish community in Lexington, Kentucky.
Keywords: "Jewish Life in Small-Town America"; "Synagogues of Kentucky: Architecture and History"; AJS Review; Census; French Jewish history; Harvard; Kentucky Humanities Council; Small-town Jews; Synagogue; University of Louisville
Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Jewish families.; Jews--Kentucky--Lexington.; Lexington (Ky.); Universities and colleges--Research
Map Coordinates: 38.0405837, -84.50371640000003
Partial Transcript: All right. I want to pause a minute to--
Segment Synopsis: Weissbach discusses the various Jewish communities in Kentucky outside of Louisville and Lexington that he wrote about in his book "Synagogues of Kentucky: Architecture and History." The Jewish communities typically followed migration patterns into the state, with many of the first appearing along the Ohio River. The small Jewish communities of Kentucky adapted their own identities and often had to compromise between different degrees of observance in Judaism to exist. These various Jewish communities existed in the Kentucky cities listed in the keywords below.
Keywords: "Jewish Louisville: Portrait of a Community"; Ashland (Ky.); B'nai B'rith; Carly Ely; Cincinnati (Ohio); Colorado Springs (Colo.); Covington (Ky.); East European Jews; German Jews; Greater Cincinnati Area; Henderson (Ky.); Hopkinsville (Ky.); Jewish Federation; Jewish communities in Kentucky; Journal of American Jewish History; Lexington (Ky.); Locust Grove Historic Home; Louisville (Ky.); Main Street Merchants; Newport (Ky.); Ohio River; Orthodox Judaism; Owensboro (Ky.); Paducah (Ky.); Pittsburgh (Penn.); Reform Judaism; Southern Illinois Jewish Federation; Yiddish; Yud Schwartz; synagogue
Subjects: Emigration and immigration.; Family histories.; Jewish families.; Jews--Kentucky--Lexington.; Lexington (Ky.); Universities and colleges--Research; Worship (Judaism)
Map Coordinates: 37.0833893, -88.60004779999997
Partial Transcript: Um, but, uh, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about--uh, you've mentioned some of this, you know, stability, and--and in--and mobility, but if there are some other key components to the narratives that shape the way that Kentucky Jews either think about themselves, or that others think about the narrative of--
Segment Synopsis: Weissbach discusses some of the factors that impacted Kentucky Judaism over time. These factors include proximity to a major city, the Civil war, Sephardim, degree of observance, and various businesses. Weissbach also makes an attempt to help Dr. Fernheimer with the Jewish Kentucky Oral History Project by suggesting names of people for her to interview in the future. He also discusses how Jews began to become involved in Kentucky politics.
Keywords: Anshei Sfard (Louisville, synagogue); Auerbach; Bernheim; Cincinnati Metropolitan Area; Conservative Judaism; Covington (Ky.); East European Jews; German Jews; Hasidic Jews; Heaven Hill Distilleries, Inc.; Hyman Family; Institute for Southern Jewish Life; International Business Machines (IBM); Jerry Abramson; Jewish Confederates; Jewish Federation; Kentucky Jews during the Civil War; Kentucky Jews in politics; Lexington (Ky.); Louisville (Ky.); Main Street Merchants; Mansbach family; Marnie Davis; Montgomery (Ala.); Morris Weintraub; Northern Kentucky; Paducah (Ky.); Rabbis; Reform Judaism; Rhodes (Spain); Sephardic Jews; Shapira Family; Shofar (journal); Simcha Kling; The Union; World War II
Subjects: Family histories.; Jewish families.; Jews--Identity.; Politics and government; Religion; Religion and politics; Worship (Judaism)
Map Coordinates: 38.2262282, -85.6483404
Partial Transcript: Um, but it's interesting that you start talking about your own, uh, personal involvement in the community. And actually, that's sort of where I'd like to go next.
Segment Synopsis: Weissbach discusses the impact Kentucky Judaism had on his home family life, which he said was very little. He says the congregation at synagogue has been his and his wife's Jewish anchor, while the Jewish community found at Jewish summer camps served as such for his kids. Weissbach and his family have attended both Adath Jeshurun and Keneseth Israel synagogues off and on during the time that they have lived in Louisville. He talks about the disappearance of kosher butchers, the closing of the Jewish day school, and the contemplated merger of the two conservative synagogues. He also discusses Jewish programming through the Jewish community center and the Jewish studies department at the University of Louisville.
Keywords: Adath Jeshurun Synagogue (Louisville, Ky.); Camp Ramah; Chavurah movement; Crichton; Eliahu Academy; Eliahu Spivak; Etgar Keret; Gary Zola; Highlands (Louisville, Ky.); Jewish Community Center; Jewish Film Festival; Jewish Studies Program; Jewish counterculture; Jewish programming; Kenesseth Israel Synagogue (Louisville, Ky.); Levine family; Strathmore neighborhood; United Synagogue Youth Movement; Vaad kashrut
Subjects: Jewish children; Jewish families.; Jews--Identity.; Religion; Worship (Judaism)
Map Coordinates: 38.224086, -85.67484000000002
Partial Transcript: So I, I wonder, uh, can you talk a little bit about--these might seem like kind of strangely personal questions after these large questions--
Segment Synopsis: Weissbach discusses how his family has progressively become less observant with his children. Weissbach says he will not do any casual shopping on Shabbat but will spend money if necessary to enjoy the day of Shabbat such as paying an admission fee to the zoo. His son will spend money on Shabbat but still observes, while his daughter rarely will observe Shabbat at all.
Keywords: American Jewish history; Jewish observance; Jewish programs; Kentucky Jewish history; Lee Shai Weissbach; Rosh Hashanah; Seder; Shabbat; University of Kentucky; University of Louisville
Subjects: Jewish children; Jewish families.; Jews--Identity.; Religion; Worship (Judaism)
FERNHEIMER: So my name is Janice W. Fernheimer. I an associate professor ofwriting rhetoric and digital studies, and the director of the Jewish Studies program here at the University of Kentucky. Today is October 20th, 2015, and it is my great pleasure and honor to have the renowned professor Lee Shai Weissbach with me. I hope I've pronounced your name correctly. (laughs)
WEISSBACH: Yes. Very good.
FERNHEIMER: Um, to--to give us an interview as part of the Jewish Heritage Fundfor Excellence Jewish Kentucky Oral History Project. And if that's not a mouthful, I'm not sure what is. (laughs)
WEISSBACH: Well, I'm glad to be a participant. Thank you for inviting me.
FERNHEIMER: It's really--uh, I was--just before the cameras were rolling wastelling professor Weissbach how much of an honor truly it is to have the opportunity to meet you in person, and--and to get you to talk about things Jewish and Kentucky with you, because if anyone has really put Jewish Kentucky on the map, it is you. Um--
WEISSBACH: Well I appreciate that. And again, it's--uh, it's--I kind of backed00:01:00into it in some ways. I think perhaps, we'll talk a little bit about how I got interested in Jewish Kentucky.
WEISSBACH: But, uh, I'm glad to be here.
FERNHEIMER: Let's start at the very beginning.
WEISSBACH: The very beginning.
FERNHEIMER: The very beginning. What was your name at birth, and when andwhere were you born?
WEISSBACH: My name at birth was Lee-Shai Weissbach, with a hyphen between theLee and the Shai, in Hebrew.
WEISSBACH: Because I was born in pre-state Palestine, uh, exactly a year to theday before the state. So May 14th, 1947.
FERNHEIMER: Oh, wow.
WEISSBACH: In Haifa. Um, my family came to the States when I was five and ahalf years old. So basically, I grew up in America, and still am primarily an American. I tell people that I spent six years in Israel, from ages zero to five, and then from age 59 to 60, when I had a Fulbright fellowship at the University of Haifa. (Fernheimer laughs) So back in my birth town at that point.
FERNHEIMER: Oh, wow. I don't think I knew that you were born there.00:02:00
FERNHEIMER: Um, so part--part of this anticipates my next question--
FERNHEIMER: --which is, um, are your parents alive, and where were they born,and when did they come to the US, and what were their names and occupations?
WEISSBACH: This is--do we have enough tape for this? (laughs) Uh, my fatherwas born in Alexandria, Egypt--
FERNHEIMER: --oh, wow--
WEISSBACH: --to an Ashkenazi Jewish family. His generation was the onlygeneration. There was a large Ashkenazi community in Alexandria. I'm not sure of the original origin of my grandfather on my father's side. I know my grandmother on my father's side was born in Romania, and I suspect sh--her family came to Egypt after the Romanian pogroms of 1878, because there was quite a bit of migration of Jews out of Romania, for sure. And one of the places they went were to port cities around the Mediterranean, including Alexandria, Egypt, which is where my father was born. My, uh, my mother was born in 00:03:00Alexandria--sorry, in Norfolk, Virginia.
FERNHEIMER: (laughs) OK.
WEISSBACH: Because I had one parent born in Alexandria and one in Norfolk, butnot Virginia. Egypt and Virginia. That's because my grandfather, born in Lithuania, came to the United States in the mass migration of East European Jews in 1904, and ended up in Norfolk, where some members of the family had already come. So my mother, who was, uh, oldest surviving child, was born there in 1909.
FERNHEIMER: And what was her name?
WEISSBACH: Her name was Miriam Weissbach.
FERNHEIMER: And what was your father's name?
WEISSBACH: My father's name was Maurice, M-a-u-r-i-c-e. Both of them,obviously, had transnational connections from the very beginning. Um, my 00:04:00grandfather on my mother's side was an ardent Zionist, and decided in 1921, with the Balfour Declaration, that he should put his money where his mouth was, as it were, and took the family--my mother was then 12--uh, took the family to Israel, to Palestine. And he remained there the rest of his life. Just as a side note--
FERNHEIMER: Is this the one that you wrote the--that you edited the book about?
WEISSBACH: So that grandfather wrote a memoir, which he finished in the 1940s.And I recently translated the memoir from Hebrew, edited it, added footnotes and an introduction, and chapter introduction, and it was published about a year ago by Stanford University Press. So his backstory is quite readily available. And my father kicked around--he actually ran away from home, didn't finish high school, and ended up in Cuba, and then in the United States, and then back to Palestine. 00:05:00
WEISSBACH: So my parents met in the 1930s in Tel Aviv. My brother was born inIsrael before World War II. And I was born after World War II, so there's over 10 years between us. And the explanation for that is that there was a war in between us.
FERNHEIMER: Wow. What's your brother's name?
WEISSBACH: My brother's name is Yehuda, and he Hebraized the name, kind ofworking off of--of Weissbach, which means "a white brook." He fudged it somewhat, and took the name Agmor--
WEISSBACH: --mm-hmm, from agam or, right? Uh, he passed away just six monthsago, actually.
FERNHEIMER: Oh. I'm very sorry to hear that.
WEISSBACH: Uh, he had had a stroke several years before that, and he was inquite bad shape, unfortunately, for the last few years of his life. But he left five children and eighteen grandchildren that, uh, my wife and I are quite close 00:06:00to. We try to get to Israel every couple of years, uh, or so, and we've managed to do that over the last 20 or 30 years. So we're connected to that branch of the family, my brother's family.
FERNHEIMER: The Agmors.
FERNHEIMER: And are they mostly in Haifa, where you were born? Or are they all throughout--
WEISSBACH: That's another--that's another question (laughs) that could take ane--easily an hour to answer. Um, they are in a co--in what was a collective settlement in the Galil. It's now privatized. It's called Yodfat.
WEISSBACH: At the site of ancient Yodfat, which was the last stronghold of theJews against the Romans in ancient times. As Masada was in the south, Yodfat was in the north. And in the 1960s, when the Israeli government was trying to increase the Jewish population of the Galilee, this settlement was established. And my brother was one of the founders. So they are still--all the children 00:07:00remained at Yodfat, even though they work in various places.
WEISSBACH: And they kind of commute. Um, then they're--they're allinteresting, wonderful families, actually. But, uh, they're a fixture at Yodfat, basically.
FERNHEIMER: Wow. And did you have any other siblings? Or is it--
WEISSBACH: No, just the one brother.
FERNHEIMER: Just the one brother. And how--he was older than you?
WEISSBACH: Yes, t--by ten and a half years. So he actually--I guess themissing piece there is, when we came, I was five and a half, but he was already sixteen.
FERNHEIMER: Oh, wow.
WEISSBACH: And never really wanted to adjust to America. So after three yearshere with the family, he went back to Israel on his own at nineteen, and remained there the rest of his life.
WEISSBACH: In fact, his English was always heavily accented. Uh--
FERNHEIMER: That's--that's pretty amazing when you think about the k--the kindof different timing, and how that--that impacts the different paths.
WEISSBACH: Yes. Mm. I sometimes joke that we both grew up as only children. (laughs)00:08:00
FERNHEIMER: Yeah. I can see how that big shift of difference would--would makethat experientially so. How would you describe your parents' relationship to Judaism, and what did they teach you about Judaism?
WEISSBACH: My mother came from a fairly observant family, as is--is revealed mygrandfather's memoir. She, of my grandfather's five children, was the most observant, only she was not highly observant. In Israel, she kept a kosher home in part because of her father, my grandfather. I think, yeah, if she were on her own, she wouldn't have necessarily been very careful about the kashrut. She was never a strict Sabbath observer, but Friday night dinner was always a Sabbath dinner of some sort. Um, and she kept that approach when she came to America, that is, to be traditional without being Orthodox. Let's put it that 00:09:00way. My father, on the other hand, uh, grew up in a very assimilated Egyptian Jewish home. He went to school in French and British schools in--in Alexandria. Eventually, he spoke nine languages. But the first two were--or the first three, really, were French, English, and Arabic. And then he acquired several other languages, partly because of his service in World War II with the British Army. At the end of the war, he was stationed in Greece, for example, and Greek was his weakest language, but he spoke Greek as well. Passably. Passable Greek. Um, so he was quite heavil--highly assimilated, never really observant in any sense. Uh, though he didn't object to my mother's keeping a kosher home. Um, what--one of the things they both shared, really, was an attachment to Jewish culture, and to the Hebrew language. Um, my father, for example, was the 00:10:00longtime--uh, a longtime officer of the Hebrew Speaking Society in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is where the family ended up. Uh, I guess that's a missing piece also of this trajectory. When we came to America when I was five and a half--that was 1952--we spent a year in New York, and then moved to Cincinnati, which is where I grew up.
FERNHEIMER: What brought you from New York to Cincinnati?
WEISSBACH: Uh, work. My father was working for American Express in New York,and got a promotion to move to the Cincinnati office. And then, uh, they were opening the Yavneh Day School, which was the community Hebrew school, day school in Cincinnati. And she became the first--first grade teacher. So she was recruited to teach. So since they both had work opportunities in Cincinnati, that's where we--that's where we moved.
FERNHEIMER: A--and tell me again--you might have already said this--
FERNHEIMER: --but your parents' names? Uh--00:11:00
WEISSBACH: Maurice and Miriam.
FERNHEIMER: Maurice and Miriam. And so she was teaching at the Yavneh Schoolin Cincinnati?
WEISSBACH: And she had a long career. Uh, again, uh, a little side note. Ijust, last weekend, was at my fiftieth high school reunion in Cincinnati.
FERNHEIMER: Oh wow!
WEISSBACH: And at least a half a dozen people came up to me there and said,"You know, your mother was my Hebrew teacher." (laughs) So there--there are strong Cincinnati connections. Uh, yes, and sh--she had probably about a twenty-five or thirty-year career in teaching, as a principal of an afternoon Hebrew school, and as a longtime teacher in a day school. So--
FERNHEIMER: And so you--you remained--I'm assuming, but correct me if it's nota correct assumption--(laughs) that you were fluent in Hebrew from living in Israel? Um, did you--were you able to retain that while you were here in the US?
WEISSBACH: Well, uh, no. First of all, the--the language at home was reallyprimarily English.
WEISSBACH: That's the language--that, uh, was easiest for my father and my00:12:00mother to share. My mother's Hebrew was obviously excellent. She--she went to high school at the Gymnasia Herzliya in Tel Aviv, which was the first Hebrew-speaking high school in pre-state Palestine. Um, but English was the language that we tended to speak i--in Amer--uh, in Israel before we came to America.
FERNHEIMER: Mm-hmm. Interesting.
WEISSBACH: When we came to America, I forgot all of my Hebrew. I had been tokindergarten, nursery school at least. Yeah, nursery school, because at--Kindergarten, I did in New York. In nursery school, I, of course, learned Hebrew, and was fluent in Hebrew. In that sense, I was bilingual. But when we came, I didn't use my Hebrew at all. And I only started to return to my Hebrew, uh, at the age of ten when I made my first visit back to Israel after having left at the age of five. Uh, uh, and since then I've tried to keep it up. Obviously, it helped that I was--that I was there for the year, sabbatical year. My spoken Hebrew is much better than either my reading or my writing. Uh, and 00:13:00in fact, for a while, I hesitated to do the translation project I talked about with my grandfather's memoir. But, uh, a very well-known poet in Israel who I know, Hava Pinhas-Cohen--
WEISSBACH: --convinced me that my Hebrew was good enough to do the translation.So I tackled it, and it was--uh, it was not easy, but I think the result is very good. And I--if I say so myself. (laughs) Uh, but it was interesting to learn a lot of translation theory along the way. Memoir theory, I had to familiarize myself with those fields, as well as with kind of pure history, or pure social and political history.
FERNHEIMER: Yeah. And I can ask you more questions about that memoir in alittle bit.
FERNHEIMER: I want to focus a little bit on family, uh, for just a few moreminutes, if--if I may.
FERNHEIMER: Um, what is your wife's name? I understand that she comes fromLexington, Kentucky.
WEISSBACH: Yes. Her name is--was, before we married--Sharon Goller, G-o-l-l-e-r.00:14:00
FERNHEIMER: OK, G-o-l-l--
FERNHEIMER: Relation, or not relation to the Gullers?
WEISSBACH: Yes, it's--uh, the two branches of the family pronounce it differently.
WEISSBACH: Um, yes, her grandfather had a kosher butcher here, and wasa--a--really a mainstay of Ohavay Zion Synagogue. But her branch of the family, as her father moved to Cincinnati, uh, when my wife--my future wife (laughs) at that point--was six years old, or so. So both she and I ended up in Cincinnati from different places, uh, in the early 1950s. Um, her mother was actually from Wapakoneta, Ohio, and they had met in Cincinnati at one point. That is, my wife's father and mother had met in Cincinnati. So Cincinnati was a familiar 00:15:00place. Um, we knew each other slightly in Hebrew School and, uh, we were--were at the same high school, although we were a year apart. She's a year older than I am. Uh, in high school, but a--the main connection, the main connection we had with each other, was through Habonim, the Labor Zionist youth group.
WEISSBACH: Which, uh, had an active program in Cincinnati, where we eventuallybecame leaders of--of the city chapter, and which had a summer camp--one of a network of Habonim summer camps--in Three Rivers, Michigan, where the two of us spent many summers as campers, and then as staff. So, uh, so we became a couple by the time we were in college. She actually spent a year in Israel between high school and college on the Habonim Year Program. And that's when I caught 00:16:00up, so we started college together, and graduated together (laughs) at the University of Cincinnati. And we got married between our junior and senior year.
WEISSBACH: Yeah. It was ridiculously young, but it seems to have worked.We're headed towards our forty-eighth anniversary.
FERNHEIMER: Wow. Mazel tov, that's quite an accomplishment. Uh, do you allhave children?
WEISSBACH: We have two children.
FERNHEIMER: What are their names and ages, and dates of birth, and where werethey born?
WEISSBACH: Both children are adopted. We--after Cincinnati, after UC, we movedto Boston, where, uh, the--the move was initially for me to attend graduate school at Harvard, although along the way, my wife started a graduate program as well. She was trained at Cincinnati as a teacher of the deaf.
FERNHEIMER: Oh, OK.
WEISSBACH: So for five years in Boston, she taught deaf children, but thendecided she wanted to do special education research. So she started a doctoral 00:17:00program, and eventually got her PhD at Boston College. Uh, and in that period, uh, we--not being able to have children ourselves, signed up for an adoption, waited a number of years. And our son arrived on the day of our tenth anniversary.
FERNHEIMER: Oh, that's a really nice mechaya, as you'd say.
WEISSBACH: Exactly, exactly. It's a--we no longer have to buy each otherpresents, you know? You can't top that. Um, actually, he was born in Boston. We had just moved to Louisville, and, uh--and then found out the first week we were there that the child was available. Our almost three-year wait was over.
WEISSBACH: So we picked him up in Boston, and he grew up as a Kentuckian. Hisname is, uh, Jacob Zvi, Yakov Zvi. But he goes by the nickname "Cobie." 00:18:00Everybody knows him as Cobie. Um, he's actually named for the Zvi, who's Zvi Hirsch, but of Lexington grandfather of my wife, which makes him his great-grandfather.
FERNHEIMER: Oh, wow.
WEISSBACH: Was Zvi Hirsch, so the Zvi is for--for that name. And the Jacob isafter my wife's father, also a Lexington native. So the--the Kentucky connections are much stronger on my wife's side, obviously, than on mine. Although I think when she left at six, if you had asked her to predict the future, would she be back in Kentucky, she would see no reason. But now, we've been back for 37 years.
WEISSBACH: Um, Cobie, uh, went to school at the University of Pittsburgh. Hedid actually a year program in Israel between high school and college as well. Uh, the Nativ Program, the Conservative Movement. Got his undergraduate degree 00:19:00Pitt, and his master's degree in Jewish communal service at Brandeis.
WEISSBACH: At Pitt, he met his wife, Shira. Uh, and, uh, they now live inPhiladelphia. They have two kids, so we have two grandchildren.
FERNHEIMER: Mazel tov.
WEISSBACH: Rina and Ari. Um, and he is--they--they stayed in Boston for a fewyears, uh, but then moved to Philadelphia, where Cobie got a job at the National Museum of American Jewish History, where he's now director of development. And Shira is education director at a large Conservative synagogue.
FERNHEIMER: Wonderful. And what year was he born? You--
WEISSBACH: He was born in 1978.
FERNHEIMER: Nineteen seventy-eight. And you said you have another child?00:20:00
WEISSBACH: Yes. As soon as we got to Kentucky, we signed up for anotheradoption. You know, the first time around--this is something that parents that have biological children don't get to do. We got to choose the sex. (laughs) First time around, we said we don't care. Since we got a son, we asked for a daughter the second time. That's Maya, who was born in 1982, and we adopted early in 1983 when she was about eight months old.
WEISSBACH: Uh, so she obviously grew up here as well. Did her--she did a yearin Indiana University, but didn't like it. So then after a short break, she finished a degree in Fine Arts at, uh, the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. She's now living in Louisville, trying to do some art. She's interested somewhat in film as well. Uh, working at the Anthropologie store in 00:21:00Louisville, doing some design work for them, which is nice, although mostly it's kind of retail work. So she's supporting herself, which you can't always say about children who are artists. And it's not completely clear if she'll want to stay in Louisville, or what her long-term future is. Uh, so she's 33 now, and we'll see. (laughs)
FERNHEIMER: Well, that's pretty exciting. Uh, so 37 years is a long time to bein Louisville. I want you to kind of go back (laughs) to that initial, uh--I--I presume it's the University of Louisville that brought you to Louisville.
WEISSBACH: Yes, exactly. Uh--
FERNHEIMER: Um, can you tell me a little bit about the thought processes thatyou and your wife kind of--the conversations you had about discussing, uh--
FERNHEIMER: --uh, that move? And then we'll--I'll have some other questionsabout Louisville. (laughs)
WEISSBACH: OK. Um, we were in Boston when I finished my degree and started00:22:00looking for a job. And it was in the period when, as today, jobs for--in the humanities, especially, for PhDs, new PhDs, are few and far between. There are many more people available. And it actually took me three years to get a tenure-track job. In those three years, I did part-time teaching in Boston. The good thing was that my wife finished her work towards a PhD as well. But when I--in searching for a job, we had a kind of litmus test for where we would be willing to move. And the test was, we would move any place that had a Jewish day school and a kosher butcher. And the reason for that is--one is obvious, that is that we are involved in Jewish life and we wanted to make sure there was a Jewish infrastructure. But just as important was that we realized you could not find a city with a Jewish day school and a kosher butcher that didn't also have a decent zoo, and a symphony orchestra, and an airport with a reasonable 00:23:00flight schedule. Uh, and a lot of other things like that that create, you know, quality of life. So that became a test. And, uh, I applied for a number of things, obviously, in--in the three-year period, and while I was doing part-time teaching in the Boston area. But Louisville was the first tenure-track position that was in a city which, at the time, had a Jewish day school and a kosher butcher. And, uh, which was attractive from that point of view. And of course, it wasn't too foreign for us, having grown up in Cincinnati, and for Sharon having been born in Kentucky. So I--I actually published this as a--as an introduction to one of my articles.
FERNHEIMER: I've read this.
FERNHEIMER: I've read it, but I want it on the record. (laughs) So--so forgiveme for asking anyway.
WEISSBACH: Yes. She was working at a research firm thatwas run by Boston College, and was staffed primarily by doctoral students at the college. And when her colleagues there heard that she was coming to Kentucky, 00:24:00they said, "Isn't that scary for you to move to Kentucky from Boston, Massachusetts, of all places?" And she said, "No, it's really not that scary, because I'm familiar with it. I was actually born in Kentucky." And their response was, "You were born in Kentucky? We thought you were Jewish!" (laughs) I'll tell that story tomorrow night at my talk, too.
FERNHEIMER: It's a good one. It--
WEISSBACH: --it is--
FERNHEIMER: --it's a great one. And it's a great way to start an article.
WEISSBACH: Yeah. Yeah.
FERNHEIMER: Yeah. So, wow, 37 years is a long time to spend--
FERNHEIMER: --at one institution. Um, can you tell me a little bit about how,uh, Jewish life at the University of Louisville and Jewish studies has changed--
FERNHEIMER: --during the time that you've been there?
WEISSBACH: Well, there was no Jewish studies program at all when I came 37years ago. Uh, I was actually hired primarily to fill a French history position. My doctoral work--my doctoral dissertation--was on child labor in nineteenth century France. And it had a small Jewish component. I wrote a 00:25:00little bit about the reaction of the Jewish community to child labor legislation, because it involved Sunday restrictions on work, and that meant for observant Jewish families, two days when children couldn't work. And for some families, that was significant. So there was a little Jewish piece. But, um, and I had done a field in Jewish history in graduate school, as well as in French history and in social and economic history. And so I had always had the interest in Jewish history, but the dissertation was kind of mainstream French social history, French institutional history. But the ad for the job at the University of Louisville said that they were interested also in a comparative perspective. So the fact that I had an interest in Jewish history was actually a plus and not a minus. And there was no objection where, after I got to Louisville, um, I proposed, uh, a survey of Jewish history as well. So I introduced it one year, uh, a Jewish history component. That is, a one-semester 00:26:00course. It went well. Uh, and it got enough enrollment and enough interest that I split that into a two-semester course. And then later, as I got more involved in American Jewish history, I added a course, an upper-level course in American Jewish history specifically. So I was teaching three Jewish history courses, as long--uh, along with courses in French history, two-semester survey, a course on the French Revolution, uh, a general nineteenth century Europe course that I'd taught a few times. Because of the work on child labor, I also did a family history course at one point. Um, and there were a few other professors that taught courses with some Jewish content, but again, no Jewish studies program as such. I, early on in my career there, saw the advantages and--and, in fact, the need for a Jewish studies position, that, uh, my feeling 00:27:00was the university itself would benefit. Certainly Jewish students--of which there weren't all that many--would benefit from it, but also, the general student population would have an opportunity to learn about, what for them would be a different culture, a different religious group, and so forth. Um, so it was always kind of on my agenda, although I--I probably, if I went to my files and pulled out the first letter I wrote to the Jewish Federation, saying that maybe the Federation should take a hand in trying to engineer some sort of--or at least advocate a--a Jewish studies position of some sort. Probably goes back 20 years, maybe 25 years. And of course, as you probably know, we finally did get that position partly funded by the Jewish Fund for--uh, Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence, partly by, uh, a state grant, so-called Bucks for Brains Program, was partly responsible for that as well. So, uh, more and more 00:28:00individual courses were being added. Now we have an actual chair in Jewish studies. The main missing component is there's never been a Hebrew language component that was stable and ongoing. There had been some part-time instructors in Hebrew language over, I think, already 37 years ago, there--there was some part-time teaching of Hebrew language. But that still is a--a gap in the Jewish studies program at Louisville, and hopefully will be filled one of these years in the not-to-distant future. Um, you know, it's hard to remember exactly what things were like 37 years ago in general, right? Uh, I know statistically, the quality of our students has improved in terms of the scores they come in with from high school, in terms of the geographic distribution of students that come. You know, as the--as the reputation of the school improves, it draws more and more out of state students. So the school is getting--is 00:29:00getting better in that sense, in terms of its academic quality. I must say that I, in individual courses, didn't feel a huge shift over the 37 years. But there were always some wonderful students in--in all of my classes, uh, especially upper-level classes. And--and I truly believe that a student of U of L, like a student at UK, uh, can get an absolutely first-rate education, if that student is a little bit careful about choosing the right courses and talking to people about which professors have--uh, have high standards, and--and really put a lot of effort into teaching. Uh, certainly with--because of the job market, we were drawing faculty from top universities all over the country. I'm sure that's true of UK, too. So--so it's gotten to be a better school in that sense. Uh, Jewish life generally in Louisville, the--the size of the Jewish population 00:30:00hasn't changed all that much. When we came, that was one of the periods when s--Jews from the Former Soviet Union were starting to come.
FERNHEIMER: What year was that? Uh, remind me.
WEISSBACH: I came in 1978.
FERNHEIMER: OK. Oh, that's right. When your son was born.
WEISSBACH: Right. Right. Right. Um--
FERNHEIMER: --sorry, I didn't mean to--
WEISSBACH: --I--yeah, it's all right. I would say that in recent years--well,some of the Jewish institutions in the city have fallen on hard times financially. That was true of the Jewish Community Center. The Jewish Federation has also had its ups and downs. I think in recent years, it's been down somewhat in terms of its activism. I don't know about fundraising. I don't really keep track of that. I don't think there's been a huge change. Uh, but in terms of programming and so forth, I would say there's a bit of a decline. Fortunately, the slack has been picked up by the various congregations. So there's still a lot of good Jewish programming going on, 00:31:00especially on the part of the two Reform temples and the two Conservative congregations in town. Um, there's, of course, a Chabad, which also contributes to the general Jewish programming in the community.
FERNHEIMER: We have one too, now. (laughs)
WEISSBACH: You have your own Chabad rabbi?
FERNHEIMER: We just got one.
FERNHEIMER: I believe he's related to the one in Louisville. (laughs)
FERNHEIMER: I think it's, uh, his son, if I'm not mistaken.
WEISSBACH: Oh. It could well be, because--because there are several of hischildren that would be about the right age now to get involved that way. Okay, next leading question?
FERNHEIMER: Next leading question.
WEISSBACH: I'm not giving you any short answers.
FERNHEIMER: No, no, that's--I--that's great. That's actually what, uh, we wantto hear more about. So it sounds like, um, I--I guess, were there key factors that you--that you mentioned a little bit, the economics, that--that played a role in the downt--or in the sort of decline in Federation programming. But were there key factors, uh, aside from obviously, the--the Bucks for Brains, and 00:32:00the--the support from the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence.
FERNHEIMER: And, like, what other, I guess, elements on campus needed to cometogether to make it possible for--for the--for the Jewish studies program properly--
FERNHEIMER: --but also, I don't know, what--what exists in terms of Jewish lifethere at University of Louisville for Jewish students? Is there a Hillel, or--
WEISSBACH: Yeah. There is a Hillel, a small Hillel. Um, it's been there allalong, but it's always been--
FERNHEIMER: --(coughs) excuse me--
WEISSBACH: --again, because the Jewish student population is so small,that's--that's one of the main factors that keeps the Hillel program very, um, uh, modest.
FERNHEIMER: How many students at U of L generally, and how many would you guessare Jewish?
WEISSBACH: Um, gee, I--I'm always confused about -----------(??)----------.People have asked me that. I would say probably about twenty thousand, something like that, with the professional schools.
WEISSBACH: Something like that. That probably counts part-time students, too.Uh, and Jewish students, maybe in the range of a couple of hundred, most. 00:33:00
WEISSBACH: And so Hillel has never had more than fifteen, twenty, twenty-fiveactive participants. Um, there's a long tradition of--of Louisville Jewish students going away. If they stay in state, they tend to come to UK.
WEISSBACH: Or at least that's--that's kind of--I don't know that empirically,but that's kind of what I've heard all--over all the years. Um, if they go out of state, Indiana is one of the places they go. Or, of course, they go to some of the--some of the top East Coast schools as well. But, um, but very few stay in--in Louisville. Um, so in terms of--of Jewish student life, Hillel is a small component, but not a strong presence. The Hillel director, it's always been a kind of low on the list of priorities for one individual at the Federation.
WEISSBACH: That's how it's been--that position's been funded. So again, um,00:34:00the--the real big change is adding some Jewish faculty. Actually, there is a--another--a woman who--Natalie Polzer--
WEISSBACH: --who was on a term appointment, and just got, uh, tenure. Her termappointment was converted to a tenure track. So now there are two people for whom Jewish studies is their main field. Um, there are a couple of people that do some Jewish literature material.
WEISSBACH: Uh, there's one sociologist, recently retired, that used to do a,kind of, religious sociology with an emphasis on Judaism. So there's always been some--something--a sampling of Jewish studies courses along--across the disciplines, but never a coherent program until now.
WEISSBACH: Now, meaning, last two, three years.
FERNHEIMER: Mm-hmm. And, oh, did this impact the courses that you wereteaching in--in Jewish American history, or Jewish--
WEISSBACH: Uh, no. (laughs)
FERNHEIMER: OK. (laughs)
WEISSBACH: Uh, other than it was something that--that I think the Jewish00:35:00studies program was interest--was happy to be able to add to the list of courses available. Uh, in any given year, I never taught more than one of those courses. I tended--tended to use the survey course as a kind of feeder for the next year. I would offer the upper level American Jewish history course, something like that.
WEISSBACH: But, uh, but I haven't--I didn't feel--uh, the courses were alwayswell-enrolled, the Jewish studies--the Jewish history courses. So I think the creation of a Jewish studies program didn't have a great impact. Uh, didn't increase enrolment.
FERNHEIMER: Oh. I know that you--you've talked a li--a bit about your graduatework at Harvard, and French history, and in fact, that's how you got the job at University of Louisville. I wonder if you could tell me how and when your research interests began to shift from French child labor laws to, uh--and the work that you did your graduate training in--
FERNHEIMER: --to the research and writing that was eventually published in yourbook, The Synagogues of Kentucky: Architecture and History in 1995? Pretty 00:36:00shortly after you arrived in Louisville for--
WEISSBACH: Right. Uh, of course, that was the second book. The first book wasa book based on my doctoral dissertation on child labor.
WEISSBACH: But the transition went something like this. I'd always beeninterested in Jewish history. I was interested in labor issues and in children. So at one point, because of some of the literature I was coming across in the work on child labor, I decided to do a study of Jewish apprenticeship programs in France.
WEISSBACH: I thought maybe a book, but it didn't turn out to be a book, but itturned out to be an article of which I'm very proud. And it was my first published Jewish history piece. Uh, um, I forget what the title of the article was. It appeared in the AJS Review, if I'm not mistaken. I should have a copy of my own CV in front of me. (Fernheimer laughs) Uh, I also did another article 00:37:00comparing Jewish apprenticeship programs with general apprenticeship programs sponsored primarily by Catholic institutions or by secular institutions. This is all French history. And in the process of doing that work, I got--I started to realize more and more that, though the story of French Jews is almost always told as a story of Jews in Paris, or maybe one or two other large cities, like Bordeaux, uh, or Alsace, which, uh, again, is--was for--by the end of the nineteenth century, was detached from France. But French history, generally--especially French Jewish history--concentrated on big cities. And I realized through the apprenticeship program, the apprenticeship, uh, article, that there's stuff going on in small towns also. So I thought I would do--I would look at small towns in France. It was at that point that I had small 00:38:00children, and a wife with a career, which made it hard to get to France for long periods of time. So I said, let me do something comparative. I'll do small-town Jews in small towns in France, compared with Jews in small towns in America. One of the things I knew early was that the migration patterns were similar, because in the nineteenth century, Jews were spreading out across France simply because it had been illegal before the French Revolution for Jews to live in most of France. And when the restrictions were removed, Jews started to spread out throughout the country. In America, at about the same time, you had westward migration movements, which meant the creation of new Jewish communities in small towns all over the United States as well. So I thought a comparison might be interesting. When I did that, when I made that decision, I started to look at material on Jews in small towns in America, and realized that there was almost none. That there were some amateur accounts of individual small-town communities, but no systematic, scholarly, uh, project which looked 00:39:00at Jewish life in small-town America. So that became my major topic, which involved me for 20 or 25 years. And that was the third book--
WEISSBACH: --called Jewish Life in Small-Town America. Along the way, (laughs)um--well, let me say, early in that project, I did a case study, one specific small town, which had fewer than a thousand Jews, and was an interesting town where I could do some local research, and where I had a personal connection through my wife. And that town happened to be Lexington, Kentucky. And it turned out to be an interesting study, really, which showed me that Jewish life in a smaller community like Lexington's, um, was quite different from Jewish life in big cities, or even in midsize cities. Uh, and that's one of the main themes of the book on Jews in small towns, is the way that--the difference, you 00:40:00know, where the dividing line is between even midsize cities and small towns. Since this is video, I should use my hands more. (Fernheimer laughs) Um, along the way, I got--I asked myself the question, where other--what--in what other small towns were there Jewish communities? And that developed into the study of synagogues. I figured if you can find where the synagogues were, you'll know more about the lay of the land in terms of Kentucky. And I got a small grant from the Kentucky Humanities Council to simply find historic synagogues. Where were they? Uh, of course, I wanted to include Louisville in that as well. But it turns out to be--actually, my--my dream was to come up with a visual, uh--a visual image of every synagogue that has ever stood in Kentucky, and came up one 00:41:00short. But just developing the database in the first place was, uh, an interesting challenge. I don't remember the exact numbers off the top of my head. You can book an index to (??)--to the tables in the book, obviously, but there are about 50 buildings that I came up with. Uh, about half of them built as synagogue buildings, and the other half converted from other uses. About half of them still standing, so I could go look at them now. Half of them gone. So I relied on archival materials as well, obviously. And some were really, uh, great revelations. You know, a real a-ha movement that--that any researcher really cherishes. For example, when I realized that there was an image of Kentucky's first synagogue, which burned in 1866, I think, um, there was an image of it, because there was a bird's-eye view map--
FERNHEIMER: --I remember, um--
WEISSBACH: --very popular approach to mapping in the nineteenth century. With00:42:00intricate detail of every building in it, and I could find the--the synagogue, Kentucky's first synagogue, built in 1849, in that map. So I had an image. Again, it wasn't a perfect representation. I'll show it tomorrow night in my talk. Um, so it was an interesting research project. And in fact, I published the book Synagogues of Kentucky: Architecture and History, which most studies of synagogue architecture take--uh, take a--an art history approach. And I took a social history approach, which was quite different. And also, added a long essay at the end of that book, which, um--which describes those project as a case study, which one could do in other places as well, and learn a lot from just locating the building and seeing what the buildings were like. I, myself, did a project on Detroit synagogues, which was very similar, uh, which was 00:43:00funded by Wayne State University and published as a brochure by them. Um, if I had it to do over, I would have given that book a slightly different title.
FERNHEIMER: What would that be?
WEISSBACH: Um, something like, just to make it clear that it's really agen--uh, that it's a case study and not just about Kentucky.
WEISSBACH: Uh, something like Synagogue Architecture in Middle America, maybe.The example of Kentucky, or--
WEISSBACH: So that's a--that's a project I undertook, kind of, while I wasworking on the Small-Town Jews. And Small-Town Jews was a national study. I developed a database there, um, by looking at the best population figures we have. Of course, pop--Jewish population figures are always hard to come by, because the US government never asked people their religion.
WEISSBACH: So census documents, uh, only partly helpful. And--and I use them,00:44:00I think, creatively, census documents. But fortunately, there were some Jewish institutions that collected statistics as well. And the best figures we have are from 1927 and 1937. So I used the 1927 statistics, and on that basis, I came up with a list of 490 towns that had more than a hundred Jew--or at least a hundred Jews in 1927, but fewer than a thousand.
WEISSBACH: Which is how I defined the towns I'd be interest--interested in.Lexington, at the time, had somewhere--it was one of the larger small towns. It had somewhere around seven or eight hundred Jews in the 1920s.
WEISSBACH: And then I looked at what I sometimes call epidemiology. That is,the same way that epidemiologists look for patterns that explain disease, I was looking for patterns that explain what Jewish life was like in small towns, what kind of professions Jews were in, how they organized their religious life, how 00:45:00they even got to these small towns, what brought them to the small towns. And the more individual towns I looked at, the more I could see a pattern, so that I could apply it. And then anybody interested in a specific town could answer the question, is my town typical or atypical?
WEISSBACH: It's interesting--either way, it's interesting, whether your--yourcommunity is typical or not, or--or atypical. But now, one has something to--to compare it to. Um--
FERNHEIMER: OK. Sorry.
WEISSBACH: Yeah, go ahead.
FERNHEIMER: All right. I want to pause a minute to--
FERNHEIMER: --to--to talk a little bit a--more about specifically the Kentuckycase example. Uh, obviously, this is the Jewish Kentucky Oral History Collection.
WEISSBACH: Right. Right.
FERNHEIMER: And so I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about thevarious Jewish communities that still exist in Kentucky outside of Lexington and 00:46:00Louisville at the time that you began your research.
FERNHEIMER: And a--also, now, uh, and how they came to be established there,and what happened with them. And I realized that most of this is in your book, and I have read that book. But I--I want for us to have some of this on the record, and sort of, what were some of the surprises that you encountered doing that research? Um--
WEISSBACH: Yeah. Um, I don't think I encountered any great surprises. But itwas all interesting to see where these towns were. Some interesting patterns emerged, for example, that so many of the small towns that had Jewish communities were along the Ohio River. And that kind of would be logical if you think about it, but to--to actually see it on a map, to actually, uh--uh, see it on the basis of hard evidence, really tells you something about migration patterns within the state. Um, when I started the work--and this--now, the book is about 20 years old now--um, there were obviously significant communities in 00:47:00Louisville and Lexington, as you said. And there was still a community, a small community in Paducah--
WEISSBACH: --which maintained its synagogue building. In truth, I haven't keptup carefully with the history of all these small towns, what happened to them. I think there's still a small number of Jews in Paducah that are maintaining the synagogue. It is, um, on the circuit of the Southern Illinois Jewish Federation which serves a number of small towns in Southern Illinois, and includes Paducah.
WEISSBACH: Which I didn't really know when I was doing the research, but, uh, Iwas invited to a program for them. Their office is in St. Louis, actually. And they--you know, they have kind of circuit riding professionals that go to these small towns. Uh, and I did a program for them at one point, and realized that 00:48:00Paducah was included in their orbit. Uh, Owensboro has a fascinating building, and perhaps my favorite historic synagogue in--in Kentucky. Which again, is being maintained because, if I'm not mistaken, there's a--there's a--an endowment that keeps it functioning. Although its long-term future still is a question. It was a question twenty years ago. The number of Jews in Owensboro is probably a dozen or fewer. Um, and there's not a--that I'm aware of, not an ongoing program of services or education or cultural programs or anything in Owensboro. And the long-term future of that building, I think, is in doubt. Uh, at one point, I heard that there was some discussion of looking for a Louisville institution to take over stewardship, but I don't think anything came of that.
WEISSBACH: So that's still a question that's up in the air. Henderson, uh,working my way across--along the Ohio. Henderson has a building still standing, 00:49:00but no Jewish population to speak of at all. Um, then Louisville, and then as you move farther east, Newport and Covington, which in some ways--and this was actually an interesting case study for me in--in looking at Jewish history of small towns--which in some ways is part of the Greater Cincinnati Area. And you have to understand it that way today, in the twenty-first century. And even in the late twentieth century, I think you'd have to understand it that way. But in the 1920s and in the 1930s and earlier, these communities had their own--they could literally see Cincinnati across the river, but they had their own identities. They had their own institutions, their own synagogues, their own kosher butchers. That was true in the--in the region of many large cities. Uh, I know that's the case, for example, in Pittsburg, where if you go five or ten miles out of Pittsburgh, you find a small town with a small Jewish community, 00:50:00and they might as well be a hundred miles from Pittsburgh. Even in--in Northern New Jersey, where you can see Manhattan across the river, until, um--until there were new bridges, and you had to go by ferry, those communities were quite isolated. And again, they had their own institutions, their own core families. So--so Newport and Covington, not only did they historically see themselves as separate from Cincinnati, up until World War II, at least, but they saw themselves as separate from each other, even though they are adjacent towns in Northern Kentucky. Um, they each had their own congregation, and kind of their own key families, and so forth. Uh, then Ashland, Kentucky, which was an interesting case study also, because as small as the population was, I think it's--at its peak, it had something like a hundred and fifty or two hundred Jewish residents. And there were two congregations maintained there, because--
WEISSBACH: --the original congregation became Reform, and the small number of00:51:00families that maintained an Orthodox perspective started their own congregation, built their own little building. So I guess that's one of the surprising things, you might say. I use Ashland as an example. There are a few other examples like that, too, where at their peak, the co--the community has no more than about a hundred and fifty, two hundred Jews. And yet two congregations are maintained. Uh, on the other hand--again, this is one of the interesting things about studying small towns. The more common situation is, you have Orthodox Jews and Reform Jews, East European Jews, German Jews, in these small towns, and they're forced to cooperate in ways that they don't cooperate in larger cities.
WEISSBACH: Even in midsize cities. Those elements in the community can't, froma practical point of view, can't possibly maintain their own congregation, and so forth. So, uh, so they cooperate with each other. And so I think that kind of cross, subcultural, uh, uh, cooperation is--is unique to small towns. What 00:52:00else can I tell you about, uh--uh, the only kind of inland community, besides Lexington's, is, uh, Hopkinsville. And I don't know much about that. Um, uh, important to me only because there was a small synagogue building, which, uh, collapsed under heavy snowfall, if I remember correctly. A roof collapsed, and their community couldn't maintain the building.
FERNHEIMER: Is there any threads that you want to share that kind of drew thesedifferent Jewish communities into Kentucky, or that landed the--uh, I'm not phrasing that question very well at all. Um--
WEISSBACH: Yeah. I don't think there was any specific appeal f--uh, ofKentucky as such, as much as I like the state and feel myself a Kentuckian after thirty-seven years.
FERNHEIMER: Lyle Lovett would be proud.
WEISSBACH: Uh, and--yeah. Um, I don't think that Kentucky held out any special00:53:00interest for Jews, Jewish migrants. I think that--that what Jew--drew Jews to small towns, or to big cities, was primarily economic, uh, opportunity. Uh, these small towns are basically--the small towns are towns made up primarily of mainstream--ma--Main Street merchants and their families, people that clerks and bookkeepers and so forth that worked in these small retail establishments. Uh, in--in Louisville, there was also something of a Jewish working class. There were--there was a--a, uh--uh, there were the needle trades, and there was, I think, some also, uh, tobacco that involves some Jews. But again, now we're getting into what's typical of--of midsize and large Jewish communities, and where manufacturing involves Jews a lot. But, uh, even Lexington, even though 00:54:00it was, again, on the larger side, was primarily a community of merchants. Uh, and to find somebody that was actually a wage-earning laborer, or--or even a professional, historically. Now, of course, today, if you look at small-town Jews, they're primarily professionals, doctors, lawyers, accountants, and so forth. Um, managers, in business. But, uh--but historically, uh, it's been that retail niche that Jews have filled. And I don't think there's anything particularly attractive about Lexington, except that it's, of course, convenient to get there early on, even in the nineteenth century, coming from Pittsburgh, coming from Cincinnati. Uh, there's a natural route of transportation. So when looking for a--uh, a place where there was economic opportunity might well land in a--in an Ohio River town in Kentucky. 00:55:00
FERNHEIMER: Is there, uh, any particular story--you've shared a few alreadythat are particularly interesting, that you uncovered, that--that you think are representative of kind of national trends--
FERNHEIMER: --of small-town Jews, or s--this merchant class that you're discussing?
WEISSBACH: Yeah. Uh, trying to think, uh, you're right to intuit that--thatwhen I talk about these--these small towns, I try to find interesting anecdotes to--to go with the descriptions. Trying to think if I've--if I--uh, if there's any specific one from--from Louisville. Actually, uh, the story of Yud Yud Schwartz, the poet, who lived here in Lexington for some time, and wrote a long epic poem in Yiddish about Jewish life in Kentucky, which is fictionalized, really. I mean, there are--others have looked at the details of that poem 00:56:00and--and seen that it's--some of it's invented. But it still gives you a sense of that. Uh, I use that example sometimes, if the large--in terms of the larger picture, to point out that there are pockets of high Jewish culture, even in some of these small towns. So that's an example. Uh, also, it's an example of how Yiddish culture survives in small towns. Uh, if only for a generation. The immigrant generation itself still lives primarily in Yiddish. Uh, I--there was a--published about 20 years ago, a special edition of the newspaper in Ashland on religion in Ashland.
WEISSBACH: And there was a large spread about the Jews of Ashland, and itbegins with this--with this, uh, word picture, which says, you know, I'm--I forget what the main shopping street is--and it says, you know, "On the main shopping street in Ashland, you can hear as much Yiddish as English." And you don't think of that for Ashland, Kentucky. But, um, so--so when I talk about 00:57:00the survival of Yiddish, at least for a generation, when I talk about a high culture and--and the survival of that, some Jewish culture, uh, another example I use is--is a tombstone I came across in Colorado Springs, Colorado, uh, where the--the person buried is described as a Yiddish and Hebrew poet, and there's a lengthy Hebrew poem inscribed on the tombstone. You don't think of Colorado Springs, Colorado as a center of great Jewish culture in--in America. So those--those are kind of little surprises you sometimes find that, um--that enlighten, that--uh, enliven the story of small-town Jews.
FERNHEIMER: Um, are there perhaps one or two essays--of course, yours(laughs)--that you might point folks to, uh, to better understand a more complete history of Jews in Kentucky? I know that--that there's quite an 00:58:00extensive bibliography in the synagogue book, and I have, um, ventured into the small-town book just yet--
FERNHEIMER: --but I imagine that it--there are--
FERNHEIMER: --wonderful resources there, too.
WEISSBACH: Well, for Louisville, there is, uh, a kind of coffee table bookwhich was done by a first-rate historian, Carly Ely--
WEISSBACH: --who is now the director of the, uh, Locust Grove Historic Home inLouisville, who has a PhD in history from Brandeis, University, if I'm not mistaken. Quite sure of that.
FERNHEIMER: How do you spell her last name?
WEISSBACH: Carol Ely.
FERNHEIMER: And what is the coffee book called?
WEISSBACH: Uh, it's called, um, Jewish Louisville: Portrait of a Community.
FERNHEIMER: Oh, yes. I have this book. (laughs)
WEISSBACH: OK. So that--for Louisville, that's--uh, that's an importantcontribution. Again, sponsored by the Federation. Uh, quite well done, 00:59:00although not based on a great deal of deep research. I think that, uh, the Federation forced Carol to--to adopt a pretty tight timeline to get the book done. And, uh, it depends heavily on secondary sources, although many of them are obscure--obscure, also. Um, but that's an important book, in addition, and an important addition to Kentucky--the bibliography of Kentucky Jewish history. Um, and it--and again, it--it tries to tell the whole story, and not just of synagogue buildings, as my book has. But I have published other, uh--other accounts that are, again, primarily interested in small towns. There's an early article of mine, which actually won a prize as the best article in local history in the Journal of American Jewish History in the year it was published. Uh, which looks at mobility and stability in small towns, and it uses three Kentucky 01:00:00examples: Lexington, Paducah, and Owensboro. Those--yeah, so those are the three, because Owensboro, again, once had a substantial community of 300 or so Jews. And there, by looking at things like Synagogue membership lists, and B'nai B'rith membership lists, and some census material and so forth, um, I--I tried to point out that there are two sides to the coin that often, our images, these small towns have some key families, and that's who's there. You know, if you mention a small town, people will say right away--especially, you know, people that are--that know local history superficially, you might say, uh, I knew this Jew from Hopkinsville. And they'll say, oh yeah, that's the Levy family and the Cohen family. All right? And--and in many cases, there are these key families that have been there for several generations that are prominent. But just as important, and often missed, is that there's a cycling 01:01:00of other Jewish individuals through these communities, who arrive, either don't make it, or don't like it, and move on. And there's always--as we were talking about before, there's always economic attraction for small times. Uh, so new families might move in, uh, especially if they know somebody who's already there. So i--both a story of stability with some key families, and mobility, where you've got a constant--and of course, when people come in from other places they bring the culture of those other places. They're often coming from big cities, so they bring big city culture into small towns. And the ones who move out of small towns, perhaps they're born there and then move on, have this small-town experience in their background, which remains important in their lives throughout.
FERNHEIMER: Yeah. That's part of what we hope to capture in some of these interviews--
FERNHEIMER: --as we--we, uh, are bringing a variety of different folks in fromacross the Commonwealth.
FERNHEIMER: Um, and it's interesting that you mention how those experiences01:02:00that--that shape them, growing up in these small towns are, you know, I think sometimes that the rest of the United States thinks that Kentucky is one giant small town.
FERNHEIMER: Um, but, uh, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about--uh,you've mentioned some of this, you know, stability, and--and in--and mobility, but if there are some other key components to the narratives that shape the way that Kentucky Jews either think about themselves, or that others think about the narrative of--
FERNHEIMER: --of Kentucky Jews, if we could even call it that--
FERNHEIMER: --that thing. Because I know that there are these, even here inLexington, there's the--the families that have been there. And there--there's Tugen Hyman and Little Hyman and Pat Hyman.
FERNHEIMER: And they're all three branches of the same Hyman family.
FERNHEIMER: Um, but then there's also, you know, the university, and there wasIBM, and there are these, uh, local things that attract people who come in and out. And so--
FERNHEIMER: --perhaps that--that whole--
WEISSBACH: --yeah. Well, look, that--that--one of the things that does isexplain what happens--why some of these small-town communities die out 01:03:00completely, and some remain somewhat stable in terms of remaining small-town communities. And some grow. And Lexington is a good example of a community that actually grew, that up until World War II had never got to a thousand Jews. But after the war, by the sixties, seventies, eighties, because of the university, because of IBM, because it was an important regional center, um, it grew--uh, I've seen various figures. What's--what's the figure you give when people say how many Jews are in Lexington?
FERNHEIMER: I think when we're--when I'm in recruiting mode, I think it'stwenty-five hundred or three thousand.
FERNHEIMER: I--I usually go to the Institute for Southern Jewish Life and lookup what they're reporting.
WEISSBACH: Right. Well, that's about what I say too, now. But that's quitedifferent from the 800 that we're--that may have constituted a small-town community before World War II. So--but there are only about--of my 490 towns, only about ten percent, only about fifty of them grew into something more substantial. 01:04:00
WEISSBACH: Um, about half of them disappeared, either because all the Jewsleft, like in Henderson, let's say. Or because they got swallowed up into metropolitan areas.
WEISSBACH: You can no longer think of Covington, Kentucky's community, or theJews of Covington, as part of the Covington Jewish Community. First of all, there's no Covington Jewish institutions per se, all right? And also, just like everybody else that's in Northern Kentucky, they're part of the Cincinnati Metropolitan Area, all right? Commuting is easy, everybody has a car, most families have--many families have two cars, right? Where, in the twenties and thirties, it was unusual to have a car, and there were certainly no interstate highways, and no computers that could connect you immediately with--with, uh, institutions in the nearby big cities. So in that way, it's been typical. Um, I published another piece, I think it's the one where I--where I introduce it 01:05:00with the story of my wife and her move to Kentucky, uh, that looks at Kentucky's Jewish history as a microcosm of national Jewish history, because Louisville is a large enough city with a large enough Jewish population that in some ways mirrors what's going on in other midsize and even large Jewish cities, Jewish communities. So it has that example, uh, with multiple congregations, with something of a Jewish working class as well as a Jewish middle class historically. And, uh--and that's comparable to other medium and big-size cities. But it also has this whole array of small-town Jewish communities, which makes it a good example of--of national trends. And the whole--the whole, kind of, standard, uh, discussion of the German Jews coming first, broadly speaking, and then East European Jews coming later. That narrative, which has 01:06:00to be fine-tuned, but it's basically true, can be witnessed in--in Kentucky as a--as a state. Um, so in that sense, Kentucky can be used as a--as a case study.
FERNHEIMER: Yeah. You've sort of anticipated my question, which is based, ofcourse, on your research, but it's how the story of Kentucky Jews corroborates, undermines, or extends the story of the American Jewish experience.
WEISSBACH: Yeah. Uh, I think it fits quite nicely. Now, the American Jewishexperience itself is much more complex than something we can talk about in a--in a brief interview like this. Um, and one might even say the American Jewish experience is, right? But in--in terms of broad strokes, what we usually teach in survey courses and so forth, Kentucky pretty much fits that--that pattern. Um, when you get into, uh, oh, discussions of the Civil War, which have been 01:07:00held in a--you know, have been taking place because of the hundred and fiftieth anniversary in recent years.
FERNHEIMER: The sesquicentennial.
WEISSBACH: Sesquicentennial. Um, you know, Kentucky in--in a way, fits thepattern of other border states. And the Jewish community reflects some of that as well. You had Jewish Confederates in Kentucky, and--although most of the Jewish population was in Louisville and was more loyal to the Union, we have examples of Jewish Confederates in Kentucky, too. So there's another case where not only do we have, um--and of course, nationally, also, there were some Jews who identified with the Union, and some who identified with the South, especially in southern cities. Uh, so there's an example of not only Kentucky's Jewish history paralleling what's going on in the country as a whole, where you have disagreements between pro--pro-Southerners and pro-Northerners, uh, but it 01:08:00also parallels American history more generally. Um, so yeah, I mean, it--it would be interesting for Kentuckians, and especially for Kentucky Jews, if there was something really unusual about the Jewish population here or the Jewish experience at Kentucky. But, um--but I--there's nothing that I would point to. Maybe if I thought about it after this interview on my way home, I could--
FERNHEIMER: --(laughs) you're welcome to send us some follow-up--
WEISSBACH: --yeah. (laughs) But, uh--but nothing jumps out as something--assomething I would talk about in that respect.
FERNHEIMER: Wow. A couple of sort of, uh, one-off questions.
FERNHEIMER: Did you encounter any--I--I know that there was the influence onthe architecture of that one very unusual synagogue, but did you encounter a--a lot of Sephardic Jews, or any Sephardic Jews in the research that you did in Kentucky?
WEISSBACH: Trying to think if I ever came across one Sephardic Jew?01:09:00
WEISSBACH: Um, in--in modern times, late twentieth century, I mean, there are afew Jews of Sephardic background in Louisville that I knew. But historically, uh, I'm not aware of any. Even the congregation in Louisville that's called Anshei Sfard, which means "Children of Spain," right, you might think is Sephardic. It isn't really, it's just because there are certain conventions of Sephardic Jews that Hasidic Jews picked up.
WEISSBACH: So there are congregations all over the country with, uh, Sfar--with"Sfard" in their name, that have nothing to do with Sephardic Jews, but rather with some ritual and liturgical conventions of--uh, of some Orthodox groups. So, um, there are certain centers in the United States that have attracted Sephardic Jews over time. But I--I'm not aware of any migration of any group, 01:10:00even a small group--again, not impossible that one could find an individual here and there. I didn't come ac--I--nothing jumps out. But certainly, no--no groups of Jews as such. The only small-town--I didn't find in any town, actually, that I studied, a whole community of Sephardic Jews.
WEISSBACH: The closest I came was Montgomery, Alabama, which does have aSephardic Jewish community. But Montgomery had something like two or three thousand Jews in the 1920s, which put it outside the range of the small communities I was studying.
FERNHEIMER: Hmm. Yeah, our president, uh, of the university comes from aSephardic community in Alabama, uh, that hails from Rhodes.
FERNHEIMER: Uh, so that's a currently local connection.
FERNHEIMER: But--but I was very curious about that, because--
WEISSBACH: Hmm. Well, there is a Kentucky Sephardic Jew.
FERNHEIMER: (laughs) Right. Our f--our very first.
FERNHEIMER: Um, and I guess, uh, I--I know this wasn't the subject of your01:11:00specific research, but it is an area that we're very interested in, which is, um, if you know anything about the involvement of--of Jewish, uh, individuals or groups in the--the bourbon industry here. I know that certainly in Paducah, that was very, uh--Bernheim was historically a very important figure, and the Shapiras with Heaven Hill currently. Um, but I wonder--
FERNHEIMER: --if you encountered that along the way around the edges of some ofthe synagogue research you did.
WEISSBACH: Um, n--no, not in--not in connection with the synagogue research.In terms of the small town connections, uh, occasionally, um, Bernheim actually wrote a little study of c--of Paducah Jews. So that was very useful to my research. And I guess, even on the history of the synagogue there, but--but mainly on the small-town connection. And also, I just recently published an article on, uh, Kentucky Jews during the Civil War. And there was one Jewish 01:12:00arfi--officer who was promoted by, uh, kind of made famous by, uh, I'm--I'm trying to think if that's a Bernheim publication or not? I'll--I'll hold back on this, because I'm not sure of exactly where--where I know this story from. (Fernheimer laughs) But there's a--a--a Jewish Army officer who gets killed in action. Uh, a Union officer who--whose story is published, and I think it's published by Bernheim itself. Um, and of course, in Louisville, there are a number of--of Jewish distilling families. The Shapiras, for example. But I didn't come across them. Again, it--he--Bernheim is an outlier in the sense that he's involved in manufacturing rather than retail sales. And he moves to Louisville pretty quickly after getting established in--in, uh, Paducah.
WEISSBACH: Um, Marnie Davis, whose is about--01:13:00
WEISSBACH: --yes. Um, Marnie actually s--uh--when she did her research atLouisville, had dinner with us a couple of times, and, uh, we got to know each other pretty well at--at that point. So I would refer you to her.
FERNHEIMER: We're very grateful she's coming in spring to give us a talk. Yeah.
WEISSBACH: Oh, is she? Good. Really nice.
FERNHEIMER: Uh, yeah.
WEISSBACH: Good. Give her my regards.
FERNHEIMER: I--I'd be happy to do so.
WEISSBACH: Yeah. Although I think I'll see her in about a week and a half--
FERNHEIMER: In Nashville?
WEISSBACH: …in Nashville, yeah.
FERNHEIMER: Yeah. Um, I just wanted to ask that question, because we--we'vegot a small subset that we're working on--
FERNHEIMER: --at the interview collection. It's also a personal research interest.
FERNHEIMER: Um, it seems that, obviously, moving to Kentucky in this--thisproject, you started with the--the small-town life became something that really shifted the--the trajectory of your career--
FERNHEIMER: --from the book on Detroit's synagogues, and the patterns of01:14:00American Jewish life to Jewish life in small-town America, and then finally the edited and annotated version of your grandfather's memoir. Um, I wonder, can you talk a little bit about, you know, was it the sh--the move to Kentucky? Was it the--the--the part of life you were in, uh, navigating small children and a working wife? And, uh--
WEISSBACH: Yeah. I think part of the--part of the reason for the shift fromFrance to America was really practical. Um, but--but I'd always had this interest in, specifically, for the synagogue architecture book. If you had asked me in high school what I was going to be when I grew up, I probably would have said an architect. And one of the reasons I sh--I switched to history when I was in college, I didn't--I mean, I never studied architecture, but I decided on history as a major, is because I realized that everything has a history. And in fact, I got to my senior year in college without enough credits in any given 01:15:00field to graduate. (Fernheimer laughs) So I said, what's going on here? Why do I have some credits in music and some credits in literature and some credits in political science and some credits in history, but I don't have enough in any field? And I said, it's because I'm interested in so many different things, and they all have a history. So I, kind of, scrambled and took a bunch of history courses, uh, end of my senior year, enough to graduate. But there's the interest in architecture going way back. And--and it fulfilled itself by doing a book where I studied architecture. Uh, I haven't completely lost interest in the French material. And in fact, um, I did a--a piece a while back, I don't remember the title of it off the top of my head, where I did compare small-town Jews in America and in France. Again, never turned into a major project or a 01:16:00book project, but I did talk about that. That was in the journal Shofar, published, I think.
FERNHEIMER: Given what you know about relatively recent Kentucky Jewish history--
FERNHEIMER: --if you had to identify ten people (Weissbach laughs) either inLouisville or in the broader Commonwealth, that would be absolutely necessary to interview, who would they be, for you? Um, and I realize that you did this research twenty years ago--
FERNHEIMER: --and some of these people may or may not still be with us, or stillbe in Kentucky.
FERNHEIMER: Um, but, uh, just in terms of thinking about a representativepicture of the Commonwealth's Jewish history?
WEISSBACH: No answer. (laughs)
FERNHEIMER: No answer. OK.
WEISSBACH: I really--it's--it's just--it's too hard a question. Especially,01:17:00you know, ten people, because then you start saying--especially since you've tagged on the idea to get a representative, so--
FERNHEIMER: --oh, I know--
WEISSBACH: --so, you know? So you'd want--you'd want people to representdifferent niches in society, and you want somebody who's important in the business world. You'd want somebody who's important in the cultural world. You'd want--you'd want a specific Jewish leader, like a rabbi. Uh, and you can think, perhaps, of s--of longtime rabbis that might be interesting to--to interview. Um, trying to think who the longest serving rabbis in--in Louisville, for example, are. Um, and again, it's hard because it's so close. Uh, you know, one of the great figures who had a national presence as well as a local presence was Simcha Kling, a Conservative rabbi in Louisville. He's--he's been dead for quite a while now, but that's the kind of person I was--I was thinking of. I think some of the important Reform rabbis are gone too, so--and 01:18:00it would be hard for me to say which of the contemporary rabbis would be a good example of a rabbinic leader and that you really should interview. And ideally, all the rabbis who've served here for maybe a decade or more in this--in the Commonwealth should be interviewed. So again, business leaders, cultural leaders, religious leaders, institutional leaders, uh, people involved in Federation work, for example. And there a number of--and again, I--I can't pick out the exact name. Political leaders along the way. Um, um, we haven't had a lot. Uh, Jerry Abramson comes to mind. I said I wouldn't mention any names, but there's an example.
WEISSBACH: Uh, Morris Weintraub would be an interesting one. He's been deadfor about forty years now, (laughs) but he was Speaker of the House. Uh, and somebody who I actually knew as a youngster because he was in--uh, growing up in 01:19:00Cincinnati, my parents knew him. And, uh--and he was a Northern Kentucky political leader, and served in the Kentucky house. Uh, so he's somebody who--eh, who was, uh, I--and I'm not certain of this, but I think he may have been the first Jewish elected, uh, Kentucky state representative, or senator. Not sure of that.
FERNHEIMER: Yeah, there were some mayors earlier, but--
WEISSBACH: Yeah, mayors. Mayors, uh, the--there's a disproportionaterepresentation of Jewish mayors in small towns. That's an interesting phenomenon, too.
FERNHEIMER: Why is that?
WEISSBACH: I think because, first of all, they see it as good for business tobe politically active. And because they have a lot of visibility as Main Street merchants. You know, if everybody buys their clothes from the same Mr. Goldberg, or their shoes from Mr. Cohen, you know, when he decides to run for office, it'll be a familiar--name recognition in politics is always very important. I think that's part of it. Part of it is, uh, not to make it too 01:20:00mercenary, right, part of it is civicmindedness. They want to improve their talents. But I think part of it is, it's good for business if they're seen as public spirited. Uh, and it gets them elected, because they're known to such a large part of the population. So--so I--I go back to my basic answer. I can't give you a list of ten. (laughs)
FERNHEIMER: Any others, though, that stand out besides Abramson that might beworth thinking about? Cer--certainly in the smaller towns where you had a bit more--
FERNHEIMER: --experience than some.
WEISSBACH: Right. Um, I'm not in touch or aware of anybody in--in Paducah.Owensboro really has nobody now. Newport and Covington don't have a Jewish life that I'm aware of. Uh, and maybe there's some former Newport Covington families in Cincinnati now, but again, I'm not in touch with. Um, there's the Ashland 01:21:00family, the key Ashland family, was the Ma--Mansbach family.
FERNHEIMER: How do you spell that?
WEISSBACH: M-a-n-s-b-a-c-h. And the daughter of that family is very prominentin the Louisville Jewish community now. And in fact, there's a lectureship named for her in women's studies. I'm blocking on her name. But if we Google "Women's studies, University of Louisville"--
FERNHEIMER: --we can turn her up--
WEISSBACH: --yes. So she probably could talk about Ashland's Jewish community,and her father's role in it. And it was a fairly large family. I think--again, I think he was a merchant, but was most responsible for building a small Orthodox synagogue. It's--and serve that community. 01:22:00
FERNHEIMER: Say that--
WEISSBACH: Yes, is her name. A-u-e-r. Ashland. Hopkinsville, I don't knowanybody. Lexington, you probably know better than I. Um--
FERNHEIMER: Louisville is actually surprisingly challenging, given how many--
WEISSBACH: --yeah, well, maybe because it's too big. Because if you wanted topick out one family that was important, say, in the professions, or in the--or in the, um, the business world, or cultural life, it would be hard without offending a lot of people. Or even just, you know, who would be the best person? I--I can't tell you. Um, and I think a lot of the old families are represented by people in the Reform community. Since we're involved in the more traditional community, I don't even know a lot of those people who might come from prominent families. It's--it's just big enough that you don't know everybody, yeah? Uh, I think even with two or three thousand Jews in Lexington, 01:23:00even--and even though you haven't been here all that long, you probably have a pretty good handle on who some of the older, more prominent families are.
FERNHEIMER: I'm beginning--finally beginning to get a little bit less green.
WEISSBACH: Yeah. Yeah.
FERNHEIMER: Um, but, uh, it's interesting that you start talking about yourown, uh, personal involvement in the community. And actually, that's sort of where I'd like to go next.
FERNHEIMER: Um, not--we've talked about your professional commitments and yourresearch trajectory. I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about the way Kentucky influenced your personal and Jewish community life, and what it was like raising two adopted children in Louisville--
FERNHEIMER: --during the time that your kids were growing up?
WEISSBACH: Yeah. Uh, the answer is Kentucky had very little influence on it.in fact, one of the things we realized early on is that, um, there was a--I'll say--I'll use the word "danger." It was a danger that if we relied on Kentucky Jewish life to define our Jewish life, it might be a little too provincial. 01:24:00Because after all, we are a little bit out of the way. Even though Louisville and Lexington are substantial communities, it's not a New York or a Philadelphia or a Washington, or Boston, which is of course the community we know best. Uh, and that it was important for us to keep larger connections. So we've been involved in--in, uh--first of all, we've maintained a lot of friendships in--in various places around the country. Uh, especially friendships that developed in our Boston days, when we were involved in the early stages of the chavurah movement--
WEISSBACH: --uh, informal fellowships that have prayer services and studysessions in people's own homes and so forth. Uh, that was a--that was a development of the 1970s, primarily. Kind of counterculture. I said I'd use air quotes, but counter--Jewish counterculture development, uh, that we were 01:25:00involved those, and we've maintained those connections. Uh, with children specifically, we realized also that it was important for them to have connections beyond Kentucky if they were going to grow up with--to be kids with a--a Jewish identity and with a wider perspective. And of course, with that, also goes a larger perspective in general. So our kids went, uh, for many years to Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, and maintained that connection. Our son, especially, was very involved in the United Synagogue Youth Movement. Uh, he's very connected with Jewish Life, obviously, in his work life now, too. Our daughter, less so. But I think that the--the Camp Ramah experience was formative for her. And so she has maintained, uh, an element of a Jewish identity. Again, not as--not as strongly as our son, but, uh, uh, congregational life has been important to us. Again, it's a kind of anchor. 01:26:00
FERNHEIMER: Which congregation are you members of?
WEISSBACH: We've been members--over the years, over 37 years, we've managed toquit the two Conservative congregations. Twice. (laughs) So initially, we were members of Adath Jeshurun, then we moved to Keneseth Israel, which at the time, was not a Conservative congregation. It called itself "traditional." Then we moved back to Adath Jeshurun, uh, and now, for the last ten years or so, we've been members of Keneseth Israel again. So it depended on what fit our needs at a given point. One of the reasons--one--one of the shifts back was that when our kids were school age and going to camp, there were more young families of that--in that cohort at Adath Jeshurun. So even though we've been members of Keneseth Israel and moved over to AJ, as it's called, um, because the kids, for example, who went to Camp Ramah, tended to be there. But, um, when--when 01:27:00Keneseth Israel became Conservative and egalitarian, that was an attraction to move back to Keneseth Israel, also. So kind of our ideal is a kind of, um, very traditional religious practice and liturgy. But egalitarian in approach, in terms of women's participation, which we had in Boston early on, which you can find fairly easily in big cities, but that's rarer here. So for example, Adath Jeshurun, which we joined initially, was egalitarian, which was an attraction for us, but not as traditional as we liked. Uh, so that took us over to Keneseth Israel after a while. So that's one sign that Louisville is a big enough city to live a rich Jewish life in, because you can quit a synagogue and there's another one that fills the need.
WEISSBACH: And that was even--you know, and that's only two of the congregations.
FERNHEIMER: And what were--were you involved, um, in any kind of leadership01:28:00roles? Or was your wife involved?
WEISSBACH: Uh, we--we--
FERNHEIMER: Or obviously, you talked about your children, and certainly, yourson has become very involved.
WEISSBACH: Right. Well, we've both been on s--on the synagogue boards alongthe way. Uh, I haven't been deeply involved in Federation work, but I've been on some Federation committees along the way. Uh, I've sometimes been called on for individual programs, like to introduce a speaker or to--to consult on who might be invited by a congregation or by the Federation. Um, so I would say, uh, neither of us has held highly visible positions. My wife actually, uh, in recent Jewish history--recently Louisville Jewish history--this was a kind of significant milestone. There was a study, uh, considering the merger of the two Conservative congregations.
WEISSBACH: And my wife was the co-chair of that. There was--she representeds--there was one co-chair form Keneseth Israel and one from Adath Jeshurun. Uh, 01:29:00so she was the co-chair from Keneseth Israel. And that--that, uh, the decision was made not to merge. But that was an--an interesting and important, kind of, step. I think that probably will come, that merger will come in the future, but the congregations weren't ready for it yet.
FERNHEIMER: What pre--precipitated the move to discuss merging in the first place?
WEISSBACH: Uh, the fact that both congregations have aging populations,attendance is down in both congregations, um, both of them are maintaining big buildings.
WEISSBACH: Um, but in fact, one of the things that got in the way was the factthat each group said, "If we merge, we have to use our building." (laughs) And Adath Jeshurun, in terms of my interest in synagogue architecture, has actually done a major multimillion dollar renovation of their building.
WEISSBACH: On the other hand, the most--the most, uh, prominent artistic01:30:00feature of any Kentucky synagogue are the glass windows--faceted glass windows at Keneseth Israel. So to give up that building as a Jewish institution would be a real shame. So that's one of the--one of the things that caused a breakdown.
FERNHEIMER: Mm. OK.
WEISSBACH: Also, a question of, uh, what the rabbinic leadership would looklike. Uh, so as I said, I think it will happen eventually for financial reasons. But not in the immediate future.
FERNHEIMER: What would you say would be some of the most significant thingsthat have changed in the Louisville Jewish Community in the time that you've been living in Louisville and raising your family?
WEISSBACH: Well, the disappearance of the last kosher butcher. Actually, therewere--when we moved to Louisville, just before we moved the phone book still had 01:31:00three kosher butchers in it. By the time we got there, about a year later, there's only one still functioning. And, uh--and that--
FERNHEIMER: Who is that?
WEISSBACH: That was, uh, Crichton.
FERNHEIMER: And where was he located?
WEISSBACH: It was called, uh, in the Strathmore neighborhood, it's in the Highlands.
WEISSBACH: Highlands is the--
FERNHEIMER: --faculty neighborhood, is from what I know of it.
WEISSBACH: That's--that's interesting. I'll tell you a little anecdote. In1978, when I got the offer at Louisville, we had to decide where we'd look for a house. So I, being a social scientist, took a map of Louisville, and I took a Louisville phonebook, and I plotted on the map where every member of the history department lived.
FERNHEIMER: Wow. This was before geo--Google Maps. (laughs)
WEISSBACH: Before Google Maps. And I had to do it by hand. And I also plottedwhere the synagogues were, and I plotted where all the Levines lived. I picked one distinctive Jewish name. There were about twelve or fourteen Levines in the 01:32:00phone book, and I plotted them. And lo and behold, more than half of the Levines, and more than half of the history professors, lived in the Highlands. (Fernheimer laughs) So there was no question where we were going to live. And also, the--uh, all three traditional synagogues were in that--were in that neighborhood. So the--the two Reform temples were further out a little. Uh, so yes, so the butcher was in the Highlands. And of course, the Jewish Community Center is--it's in the Highlands, too, although kind of at the edge of the Highlands on the Expressway. Um, so the--the last kosher butcher clo--has closed. There is kosher meat available through--there is a vaad kashrut, uh, and they've had an arrangement with one of the Kroger stores to have fresh kosher meat, although that's been--had its ups and downs in terms of availability and quality. Trader Joe's has kosher meat, so it's not really a 01:33:00problem. But when you lose the institution of a kosher butcher, where you, you know, run into other members of the Jewish community on a Friday afternoon, or--or on a Sunday, getting corned beef or something, that's gone. Day school, got an even bigger problem. Day school closed. Our kids went through fifth grade, and then from middle school shi--shifted to public school. And a few years later, they were already combining middle school grades, because there weren't that many kids going. Then the--the enrollment kept dropping, and the problem of finding qualified teachers, really trained Jewish educators, are not usually attracted to smaller communities. So I think that combination. Uh, the Chabad has tried to continue to run a little day school, and I think they have a 01:34:00program with about 15 kids in it. Um, there is a group of young parents that are talking about trying to start a--a new day school. But I don't know how f--how far that's going to get.
FERNHEIMER: When did the day school close? And when did the last butcherclose? Roughly.
WEISSBACH: Roughly, yeah. Probably, butcher was there for about 10 years afterwe came, so I would say it closed in the late eighties, early nineties, maybe. And the day school went until--let's see. Maya would have finished fifth grade around that. Uh, also--also, in the mid-nineties, I would say. And--
FERNHEIMER: And--and what was the name of the day school, again?
WEISSBACH: It was called the Eliahu Academy, named for a donor in the early fifties--
WEISSBACH: --or mid-fifties, uh, who put up what was then a huge sum. What Iheard was he put up ten thousand dollars, which is nothing these days. But at 01:35:00the time, uh, he got naming rights. I believe the family name was Spivak. Eliahu Spivak.
WEISSBACH: Um, so it became called the Eliahu Academy in Louisville Jewish Day School.
FERNHEIMER: Um, those were some pretty significant changes.
WEISSBACH: So again, I--I would say that there's been a--a decline. Not a--nota radical decline, but clearly a decline in terms of Louisville's Jewish institutional life. About five or eight years ago, something like that, the Federation and the Jewish Community Center merged to save costs. The center stopped most of its Jewish programming. They had had somebody that was involved specifically in Jewish programming, and that's disappeared. Membership--uh, again, this is, uh--I don't have official figures, but I've heard that as much 01:36:00as seventy percent or eighty percent even of the members of the Jewish Community Center now are non-Jews who joined for the facilities, for the racquetball courts and the swimming pool, and so forth. Um, it has a good theater program, but they put on plays--primarily plays with no Jewish content, and most of the people who act in them are not Jewish. Uh, and there's a--a little art gallery, uh, which doesn't necessarily emphasize Jewish themes. So again, it serves as a cultural resource generally, but Jewish content has clearly declined. Uh, there used to be much more programming of a Jewish nature. There is still a Jewish Film Festival--
WEISSBACH: --which is part of the--Louisville's--of the--of the JCC's program.
FERNHEIMER: And would you say the decline in programming is because there's adecline in interest? Or you had mentioned before the sort of aging population and the declining participation in these two s--uh, cons--I'm presuming, sort of 01:37:00Conservative-ish synagogues. Um, and I imagine that that's sort of a--uh, is--or I'm asking a question. Is that a microcosm of sort of the larger trends across all the communities? I know you said you're not as familiar with the reform congregations.
WEISSBACH: Yeah. Um, well, part of the decline in populations in theConservative congregations is that some--is that the younger families, if they affiliate, move to the Reform congregations. So I think they haven't suffered as much in terms of declining population. Um, but yeah, I think--I think it's a question of interest. It gets--um, uh, I don't know what the best adjectives to use would be, but, well, I'll give you an example from this week. A very important and very successful and very fascinating Israeli writer, Etgar Keret-- 01:38:00
WEISSBACH: --spoke in Louisville last Friday. And he drew a--a crowd, I wouldsay, of about fifty, sixty people, of whom maybe eight or ten were community members who came to the university. This was a project of the Jewish Studies Program.
WEISSBACH: So there were quite a few students in the writing program, a fewstudents from Jewish Studies, who came. And it was a wonderful program for them. But the fact that so few people from a community of eight or nine thousand to hear this--this great, great writer, really is an indication of--of lack of interest and enthusiasm for Jewish programming. I think that's part of the explanation. Part of it also is financial. Uh, to--to get a--a highly recognized name, uh, we need a lot of money. So, uh, so yeah, I mean, again, I 01:39:00don't want to paint too bleak a picture, because some of the slack is being taken up, in fact, by the university, who's bringing it--Sander Gilman is coming, for example, coming November, I think, next month. So there--there is stuff going on, but in terms of attracting people, that's as much of a problem as actually planning the programs.
FERNHEIMER: I'm familiar with this, uh--
WEISSBACH: --yeah, sure--
FERNHEIMER: --with this narrative. Um--
WEISSBACH: How many people came to the Gary Zola talk, for example?
FERNHEIMER: Uh, we had a pretty--I mean, for us, it was a--a respectablecommunity showing. I think there were some s--uh, probably about 35, 40 people from the community.
FERNHEIMER: Um, and that was pretty good for us.
WEISSBACH: That's certainly respectable.
FERNHEIMER: There was a timing issue with the end of Chag and the beginning ofthe program--
WEISSBACH: --right, right--
FERNHEIMER: --and I think had that been a little bit less murky, we might have01:40:00had more. But he had a very--we had a very difficult scheduling--
FERNHEIMER: --his schedule, our schedule, trying to make things work.
WEISSBACH: Right. Right.
FERNHEIMER: Um, so, but that--it was not, uh, atypical for us.
WEISSBACH: Yeah. There's a kind of myth, also at--at the university that it'shard to get to campus, that parking is a problem and that, uh, you don't want to be in that part of the city late at night.
FERNHEIMER: In Louisville?
WEISSBACH: In Louisville. But I think that's partly an excuse. And again,it's a real--it's a real issue with some older people, for sure.
FERNHEIMER: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So I--I wonder, um, can you talk a little bitabout--these might seem like kind of strangely personal questions after these large questions about--
FERNHEIMER: --but, um, how--how is your Jewishness different from or similar tothat of your parents', and different from or similar to that of your children?
FERNHEIMER: You've--you've sort of talked about--01:41:00
FERNHEIMER: --around this in a little bit.
WEISSBACH: Um, in terms of my parents, well, my father died fairly young. Iwas seventeen when he died. And he was--
WEISSBACH: --fifty-six. And his approach never changed much. I mean, he wasnever terribly knowledgeable of Jewish law or Jewish history. But, uh, very interested in Jewish culture and the Hebrew language and so forth. And in that sense, I--uh, I--I've--I got my involvement in Jewish life from my parents, for sure. Especially from my mother, who came from a much more traditional background, and was involved professionally in Jewish life, Jewish teaching. So I would say it's probably similar in philosophy, and even in practice, to my mother's approach. Um, my children have gone in two different directions. And my son is--again, probably less observant. And not that we're highly observant, 01:42:00but, um, but less observant than we are. I mean, for example, we don't do general shopping on Shabbat, my wife and I. We'll spend money if it's something that's for Shabbat. You know, if--if you're going to the zoo on a Saturday afternoon and you have to pay admission, that wouldn't keep us from going. But to go buy shoes on Saturday afternoon because you need a new pair of shoes is something we would say doesn't fulfill the spirit of Shabbat. Uh, my son, even though Friday night is important, and the kids are in Jewish programs, and so they're raising their kids, very Jewishly involved, uh, obviously, my daughter-in-law is involved as an educator. But--but they do shop on Shabbat. So I would say they're slightly less--less observant. My daughter, uh, has strayed much farther in terms of observance. Uh, unlike--my wife and I keep 01:43:00kosher. Not on the very strictest standards, but we do. And so do our--and so does my son and his wife. But our daughter stopped keeping kosher. She actually has a job which--where she has to work in a store on Shabbat. Uh, now that she's in Louisville, we would love to have her come Friday nights for dinner, and she does occasionally. Of course, she came Rosh Hashanah, for example, and she came for the Seder. But most Friday nights, she's working. So that's--that's, obviously, a much lower level of observance and involvement. Um, still has her eye open for Jewish culture. I think probably hearing news about Israel is more important to her than hearing news about Argentina. But, uh, they're also a little less engaged than either our son or--or us.
WEISSBACH: So you never know. And, uh--uh, I've sometimes wondered, (laughs)01:44:00sometimes wondered whether the adoption part of this has anything to do with anything. And I think the answer is no, because you hear these stories with biological children all the time, that--that the two--you know, two children that are very different from each other in many different ways. And it's true, also, in terms of--of our son's interest in practical stuff in Jewish history, in Jewish life, um, and--uh, and our daughter is the artist. You know, lots of families have an artist and somebody else that's more practical.
FERNHEIMER: Yeah. I--uh, generational change between families is somethingthat's really interesting.
WEISSBACH: You have all this ahead of you to see how--how your--
FERNHEIMER: --(laughs) yeah--
WEISSBACH: --child will end up.
WEISSBACH: How similar to you or how different.
FERNHEIMER: Yeah, uh, I wonder, is there anything else that we--that I haven'tasked you that you think would be important to share on the record?
FERNHEIMER: Either--uh, in any of these areas that we've sort of looselycovered today? 01:45:00
WEISSBACH: Yeah. Well, I must say, I had no idea what direction this--thisinterview would go in when I agreed to come in and--and be interviewed. I found it interesting. I think we've had a chance to--to the extent that somebody might be interested in my experience, personally, I think they'd have a lot of information available. And more importantly, I think they have a bit of a window into my research on Kentucky, and on American Jewish history generally. Um, I frankly had not really thought about, you know, what's something I want to be sure to fit in while--while we're talking. Uh, and maybe it's because you've done a good job preparing questions and being an interviewer. But, uh, I don't think there's anything that I want to jump on and say, "Oh, here's one more thing." You know?
FERNHEIMER: Uh, I want to thank you for your openness and--and willingness tocome to be interviewed and be part of this project. Like I said at the beginning of the interview, really--if--if there's something of a--of a subfield that's developing on Kentucky Jewish history, um, you know, it's--it's thanks to 01:46:00you, and the pioneering work that you and some other scholars have done in this area. Certainly, um, it's been an honor to hear about how that work really was (laughs) impacted by the very practical nature of life with small children. (laughs)
WEISSBACH: Yes. Well, I was very glad to do it. And--and I must say, Isometimes have to pinch myself and say I enjoy doing this kind of work, this kind of research, this kind of writing so much. And I can't believe people pay me to do it. So--so I've been very fortunate. I think that having made that decision to become a historian, and then at the last minute as I was graduating for college, uh, was--was the right decision. And again, I thank you for the invitation, and for--for the very good job as an interviewer.
FERNHEIMER: Oh. Maybe that inspires one last question, which is do you havesome advice to give to students who are either involved in oral history work or doing--working--studying at University of Louisville and studying at University of Kentucky, Jewish or not? What--what would be your sort of parting last words 01:47:00(laughs) for--
FERNHEIMER: --for students to think about?
WEISSBACH: Yeah. Well use the opportunity. I would say use the opportunity ofcolle--of a college education to explore as many areas as you're drawn to. Uh, don't worry too much about having a practical skill when you come out. College is about learning generally, what we call in Hebrew torah lishma, learning for the sake of learning. It's about an opportunity to learn how to write well, to communicate well, to think critically. And the individual major doesn't matter that much. Then, as you move on from there, that's when you have to start thinking about what--what kind of career do you actually want? So I would say, you know, if--if--to a student at UK or U of L, if you're interested in Jewish studies, either as a Jewish student or a--or a non-Jewish student. If you're interested in Jewish studies but you're afraid you won't get a job in the field, 01:48:00don't let that stop you, because if you can demonstrate that you've learned to write, learned to think, learned to read critically, learned how to do research, right? Research skills are important in almost any field that you might want to get into. Uh, go for it.
FERNHEIMER: Well, I think that's--
WEISSBACH: --and good luck to you.
FERNHEIMER: That's a great place to close the interview. (laughs)
FERNHEIMER: Um, and, uh, we're very much looking forward to your talk. Sothanks for coming in today, Professor Weissbach.
WEISSBACH: Thank you.
FERNHEIMER: It's been a pleasure.
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