Oklahoma History: April 2006 Archives

Tonight I've come across a few interesting links about Jewish history in Oklahoma. In honor of Passover, which began Wednesday night, here they are.

The quote in the title is from a brief history of Congregation B'nai Emunah (PDF format), and it's a reminiscence of the mid-1930s:

Mrs. Harry Cohen, recalls [1966] the sign which hung in women’s balcony of the old Synagogue which read in Yiddish: “Der Kommitet bet men zol rayden vayneeger oon davenen mehrer!” (The committee requests that you talk less and pray more!) “The women’s minds were not on the ‘davening,’ for the Cantor, below, could not be heard well in the balcony. Other noises competed: children running up and down the stairs, sliding down the banisters, and cracking of peanuts. “When the noise got unbearable, the Cantor would lose patience and stare at the balcony. Finally, with the palm of his hand, he would pound on his siddur and shout: ‘Sha, sha!’”

Going further back to the 'teens:

Far to go to a butcher shop for the kosher meats in those day? Not really, since one had a choice of shopping at Max Feldman’s store (brother of Robert A. Feldman) located at the corner of Haskell and Main-Boulder…or at M. Green’s store on 9th Street between Cincinnati and Detroit. Both stores also had customers in the small northeastern Oklahoma towns to whom they sent their wares. “Tulsans were very observant Jews, very religious and very congenial.” This was the immediate reaction Mrs. Alfred Aaronson had when she arrived here in 1915. “In general,” she says, “my first impression of the orthodox community here were of a close-knit and happy group.”

B'nai Emunah began as an Orthodox congregation, but is now Conservative, while Temple Israel is Reform. Tulsa also has a Chabad House, part of the Lubavitcher movement.

Tulsa has the finest museum of Jewish art and culture in this part of the country. It's the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art, just north of 71st Street and a bit west of Lewis on Wallenberg (Wheeling) Ave.

The museum has an exhibit of photographs about the Jews of rural and small-town Oklahoma. It's called the Prairie Landsmen Project. The website has thumbnails of photos from the museum's collection, by David Halpern: "In these photographs, I have chosen to examine some of the families and individuals in the smaller cities and towns [of Oklahoma]. They may be the last bastions of a shrinking non-urban population. Unlike the European communities from which their ancestors fled to escape bigotry, the forces that influence their futures are likely to be the same as those that affect their neighbors."

Then there's this article from the magazine Aufbau from 2002 about the Jewish community in Oklahoma. In addition to religious leaders, they talk to then-State Treasurer Robert Butkin, who grew up in Duncan. The article talks about the migration of Jews from small towns to the two major cities.

I am a brother of Zeta Beta Tau, a fraternity that was founded in 1898 to serve Jewish college students, who were at the time excluded from most Greek-letter societies. Although ZBT had been non-sectarian since 1954, when I pledged Xi Chapter at MIT in 1981, about a third of the brothers were Jewish.

Although I had Jewish friends and classmates growing up, it was fascinating to see Jewish life on a daily basis and to observe the range of observance and devotion, from a laid-back agnostic from California, who kept the High Holy Days but not much else, to a devoutly orthodox Long Islander who strictly observed the Sabbath and the kosher dietary laws. Many if not most of my Jewish fraternity brothers became more observant and more attached to their heritage over the course of college.

Our house was one of two MIT fraternities in the town of Brookline, a suburb surrounded on three sides by Boston. Brookline was home to a large Jewish community, mainly composed of several generations of immigrants from the old Russian Empire and their descendants. A few blocks from the house was Harvard Street, home to a glatt kosher butcher, a fish shop, a Jewish bookstore, a bagel shop (Kupel's -- one of the brothers served as the fraternity's bagel chairman, and it was his job to bring back fresh bagels from Kupel's every Sunday morning), and a number of kosher delis and restaurants.

If you want to keep a strictly observant Jewish home, Brookline has the necessary support system. (As a city of older, traditional mixed use neighborhoods, Brookline not only passes the popsicle test, it also passes the Sabbath test -- plenty of places to live within Sabbath walking distance of a synagogue.)

Since coming back to Tulsa, I've wondered if it's easy, or even possible, to keep kosher here. Where would you buy kosher meat? Are there any kosher restaurants here? Every March or April, I see matzoh and related kosher-for-Passover products for sale in the supermarkets, so that level of observance at least must be common here.

More importantly for a non-observant Gentile like myself, I wonder whether kosher-for-Passover Coca-Cola can be found in Tulsa. I remember how amused I was the first time I saw Hebrew lettering stamped on top of a Coke can. The letters, I later learned, indicated that the product was OK for consumption during Passover, when corn products, and therefore the high fructose corn syrup used in soft drinks, are forbidden. That meant that for a small window of time each year, you could drink Coca-Cola as Dr. Pemberton intended -- made with real sugar. (OK, not exactly as Dr. Pemberton intended; it still had caffeine instead of coca extract.) Coke with real sugar had more of a bite. I've heard you can get KP Coke in New York and Boston, but I wonder if it's available anywhere in this part of the country.

If you live in Tulsa and keep a kosher home, I'd love to hear how you manage it. Please drop me a line at blog at batesline dot com, or leave a comment below.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Oklahoma History category from April 2006.

Oklahoma History: November 2005 is the previous archive.

Oklahoma History: July 2006 is the next archive.

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