Temple Sholom’s upcoming lecture series inspired by a call for civility

The synagogue took as its inspiration its senior rabbi's Rosh Hashanah sermon, "The Dynamics of Dispute," in which he urged for civility in the airing of conflicting points of view.

On the opening page of Gabriel William Friedlander's siddur, or prayer book, published in 1914, is the young Polish Jewish immigrant's address in Chicago: 1332 South Kedzie Avenue.

More notable, said his son, Dr. Arnold Friedlander, is a punctuation-less note that his father, who grew up in the then heavily Jewish North Lawndale neighborhood of the 1920s, added below the address: "If lost return no backtalk."

"We conjecture," said Friedlander, "that my father was occasionally chased down and beaten up by non-Jewish gangs. This was his way of saying, 'If you steal my book, please just return it to me. No questions asked.'"

This story resonates with Dr. James Barrett, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an authority on the Irish-American experience, who was raised not far from Gabriel William Friedlander three decades later. Barrett, whose books include The Irish Way: Becoming American in the Multi-Ethnic City (Penguin, 2012), said that there "was a history of conflict and anti-Semitism" in Chicago, particularly directed by the Irish Americans toward the Jews.

Much of the animosity, Barrett said, arose out of a battle over "urban spaces." Chicago's Irish community felt increasingly encroached upon by Jews in its traditional neighborhoods, particularly on Maxwell Street, on the city's old West Side, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A generation later, the Irish felt pushed out as Jews began migrating south and west to North Lawndale, South Lawndale, Humboldt Park, and South Shore.

Politics, too, were a point of contention, said Barrett. The Irish were diehard machine Democrats. Many of their Jewish neighbors were to the left of them ideologically, supporting Socialists and radical trade unionists in the early part of the 20th century.

Barrett will be talking about the interactions between Chicago's Irish and Jewish American communities at Temple Sholom in the city's Lakeview neighborhood on Sunday, March 10, as part of the synagogue's 2018-2019 Guest Scholar Series, which features a roster of distinguished experts addressing issues of concern to the Jewish community.

Not all of Barrett's talk will focus on conflict. There were, he said, many instances of "intimate contact and collaboration" between the Irish and the Jews. Think, he said, of the 1922 Broadway hit play, Abie's Irish Rose, about the love between a Jewish man and a Catholic Irish American woman. That type of relationship, even 90 years ago, was not so uncommon-in Chicago and other American cities in which the Jewish and Irish communities commingled.

More common, though, he added, were collaborations between the Irish and the Jews in the entertainment field. There were many comedy duos in the early part of the 20th century in which Jewish and Irish partners good-naturedly made fun of each other and found common ground. Barrett also pointed out that Tin Pan Alley produced Irish and Jewish composers who worked together. As he writes in The Irish Way, the 1912 Flannery-Schwartz song "If It Wasn't for the Irish and the Jews" says it all. The ditty includes these lyrics:

There's a sympathetic feeling,between the Blooms and McAdoos, Why Tammany would sure fall, There'd really be no hall at all, If it wasn't for the Irish and the Jews.

That's the point of this year's Sholom Guest Lecture Series, said Jay Rapoport, the congregation's Director of Lifelong Learning: how people from divergent backgrounds and perspectives can respectfully listen to and learn from each other.

Rapoport said the synagogue took as its inspiration Senior Rabbi Edwin Goldberg's Rosh Hashanah sermon, "The Dynamics of Dispute," in which he urged for civility in the airing of conflicting points of view.

The series will also include a Sunday, Oct. 28 talk by DePaul University's Dr. Jason Hill, Professor of Philosophy, author of Becoming a Cosmopolitan: What It Means to Be a Human Being in the New Millennium (Rowman and Littlefield 2000), in which he calls for an end to tribalism based on race, ethnicity, and nationality and a new understanding of identity.

Hill's Cosmopolitan book and books by Rabbi John Rosove, Senior Rabbi of Los Angeles' Temple Israel of Hollywood, and James Loeffler make up the synagogue's "Three Books, One Sholom: Book Discussion" series, a subset of the Guest Lecture Series. 

Rosove will talk about his book Why Judaism Matters: Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation on Sunday, Nov. 18; Loeffler will talk about Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century on Sunday, Jan. 27.

To learn more about the lecture series and to register, go to sholomchicago.org.


Connect with us

Sign up for our weekly newsletter featuring issues and events in the Jewish world.