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What I learned about antisemitism from a remarkable new archive about Jewish Civil War soldiers



(JTA) — Max Glass, a recent immigrant from Hungary, had an unhappy Civil War. 

Tricked out of his enlistment bonus when he joined the Eighth Connecticut Infantry — recent arrivals were soft touches for scam artists — Glass was then “abused for reason [sic] that I never understand” by men in his regiment. “It may have been,” he speculated,

becaus I did not make them my companions in drinking, or as I am a Jew. If I went in the street or any wher I was called Jew. Christh Killer & such names. I also had stones, dirt thrown at me.

He complained to his commanding officer, begging to be transferred, because “no man that had feeling could stand such treatment,” but to no avail. Finally, Glass fled his regiment, hoping to receive better treatment if he enlisted in the Navy. Instead he was tried as a deserter and sentenced to hard labor. 

Glass was not the only Jewish soldier to be cruelly mistreated when serving in the Union Army. But as the new Shapell Roster of Jewish Service in the Civil War demonstrates, his experience was far from typical.

I explored the Shapell Roster while working on my new book, on the experience of Jewish soldiers in the Union army. What I learned from the vast collection of documents and data was that indifference, benign curiosity and comradeship appear to have been much more common than conflict for the majority of Jewish soldiers in the Union army.

For every Max Glass there was a Louis Gratz. Born in Posen, Prussia, Gratz scraped by as a peddler before the war. Enlisting in April 1861 — just days after the war started — he took to military life. By August he had become an officer. As he proudly wrote to his family,

I have now become a respected man in a respected position, one filled by very few Jews. I have been sent by my general to enlist new recruits so I am today in Scranton, a city in Pennsylvania only twenty miles from Carbondale, where I had peddled before. Before this no one paid any attention to me here; now I move in the best and richest circles and am treated with utmost consideration by Jews and Christians.

In contrast to Max Glass, his letters whisper not a word about prejudice. As my new book on the experience of Jewish soldiers in the Union army demonstrates, Gratz’s experience was not unusual. 

Max Glass ultimately escaped his sorry start in the army through the intercession of General Benjamin Butler. After reading Glass’ tale of woe, the general pardoned the hapless Hungarian. In doing so, Butler seemingly followed Abraham Lincoln’s lead when confronted by antisemitism within the Union army. The president, after all, had quickly countermanded Ulysses S. Grant’s General Orders Number 11 expelling Jews from the districts under his command, the “most notorious anti-Jewish official order in American history,”  

But alas this story does not have a redemptive ending. Beyond the rank and file, Jews felt the sting of prejudice. The damage done in wartime left a legacy of antisemitism that continues to this day. 

For even as General Butler was pardoning Max Glass, he was locked in a heated public exchange that reveals how wartime warped attitudes towards Jews. The imbroglio began when Butler took special note of the fact that a small group of smugglers, recently detained by the Union army, were Jewish. When challenged, the combative general refused to apologize. Instead, he countered that deceit and disloyalty were among the defining characteristics of Jews, and that avarice was a particularly Jewish avocation. According to his logic, Jews could never become loyal Americans because they preferred profit to patriotism.

An 1877 cartoon from the satirical newspaper Puck illustrates the antisemitic practices of the Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga, New York. The cartoon compares the corrupt gentile clients favored by the hotel, center, with respectable (albeit stereotypical) Jewish figures, including Jesus. (Library of Congress)

Butler’s corrosive claims reflected a steady drip of acid on the home-front that began in 1861. In the first year of the war, Jews felt the sting of prejudice as the “shoddy” scandals captured the public imagination. Military contractors were publicly accused of fleecing the army by supplying substandard uniforms and gear, even as soldiers shivered in the field for want of decent clothing. 

In seeking to explain the profiteering and corruption that attended the rush to war, the press summoned the specter of the venal and disloyal Jew. Cartoonists delighted in identifying Jews as the archetypal cunning contractors, who not only refused to enlist but also actively undermined the war effort. Jews were also imagined as the speculators who profited at the expense of the common good and as smugglers who traded with the enemy. Butler, in other words, was drawing on calumnies that became common currency during wartime. 

The contractor, smuggler, speculator and shirker, however, were more than just figures of scorn. Jews and other “shoddy aristocrats” came to be seen as the creators and beneficiaries of the new economic and social order produced by the war. This “shoddy aristocracy” — whose morals and manners marked them as undesirable, whose profits were ill gained, and whose power derived from money alone — was imagined to lord it over a new and unjust social heap summoned into being by the chaos and disruption of war. 

Even as the heated rhetoric of the war years receded after 1865, these ideas remained primed for action. They were returned to service in the Gilded Age

It was no coincidence that the episode traditionally identified as initiating modern antisemitism in America — the exclusion of Joseph Seligman by Henry Hilton from the Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga Springs on May 31, 1877 — had at its center a man who had made a fortune as a contractor and banker during the Civil War. Seligman, a friend of President Grant, was viewed as an exemplar of the new capitalism that was remaking America.

Henry Hilton slandered Seligman as “shoddy—false—squeezing—unmanly,” a social climber who “has to push himself upon the polite.” Hilton drew upon themes familiar from wartime antisemitism: the Jew as speculator who trafficked in credit and debt; the Jew as obsequious ingratiator who attached himself to the powerful; the Jew as profiteer who advanced by improper means; the Jew as vulgarian who flaunted his (and her) obscene wealth and did not know his (or her) place; and the Jew as overlord whose money allowed him (or her) to displace others. In short, the “Seligman Jew” was the “shoddy aristocrat” by another name. 

In an age of inequality and excess, the antisemite imagined the Jew as embodying all that was wrong with American capitalism. And during an age of mass immigration from Romania and the Russian Empire, they soon added another theme familiar from General Butler’s wartime diatribe: The Jew could not be trusted to become fully American. 

Sadly, even as Louis Gratz, Max Glass and many other Jewish soldiers became American by serving in the Union army, the Civil War produced a range of pernicious ideas about Jews that have proven remarkably durable. We have escaped the everyday torments that afflicted Max Glass, but are still haunted in the present by the fantasies of Benjamin Butler and Henry Hilton. 

The post What I learned about antisemitism from a remarkable new archive about Jewish Civil War soldiers appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Local News

Focus group Oct. 11 at Simkin Centre for people concerned about personal care homes



As Manitobans have gone to the polls and with a new legislative assembly about to begin a new four-year term, the challenges of long-term and continuing care homes need to be communicated.

MARCHE, the Manitoba Association of Residential and Community Care Homes for the Elderly will be holding a focus group on Wednesday, October 11 that is intended to provide the community at large a forum to express thoughts and provide ideas and recommendations for the future.

Please join us on Wednesday, October 11th at the Saul & Claribel Simkin Centre. We look forward to hearing from you.

See poster below for more information and how to register to attend.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Local News

Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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