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Go West, Young Meideleh

Libi Astaire

During the 1800s, European Jews were on the move. Although we’re all familiar with the story of the massive waves of immigration to the goldene medina otherwise known as New York City, a lesser-known tale is that of the Jewish pioneers who traveled onward, in search of a “promised land” in the American West. Family First offers a glimpse at women who followed their husbands out West while never abandoning their Creator.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

About a mile from my childhood home, in Prairie Village, Kansas, you can still see some of the deep ruts made by the thousands of covered wagons that passed over the Kansas Plains. Pioneers heading west on the Santa Fe Trail, started their journey just a short distance from my home.

Given that history, pioneer imagery played an important role in the local landscape. But when I would walk past the familiar statue of a stoically heroic pioneer family gazing westward from their stony perch in the Prairie Village Shopping Center, I never dreamed that there might be a yarmulke sitting under the man’s broad-brimmed hat, or that the worried expression on the woman’s face might be due to the fact that the shipment of matzos for Pesach hadn’t yet arrived.

But if my elementary school’s history books neglected to mention that Jewish families were part of that great westward migration that took place in the 1800s, later history books written by Jewish historians have set the record straight. Professor Jeanne Abrams wrote a book called Jewish Women Pioneering the Frontier Trail: A History in the American West, while Professor Kenneth Libo discusses the Jewish westward migration in his book We Lived There Too: Pioneer Jews in the American West.

These books, along with others, tell a fascinating story of Jewish hope and determination, combined with a generous dose of emunah. So grab your kosher pots and climb into your covered wagon; the journey is about to begin.


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