What Jewish History Forgot: Three Fascinating Jewish Fathers
Ever heard of Sol Floersheim? Would Jew believe he helped put away Billy the Kid?
Make a speech in front of any group of Jews and ask them their first reactions to these two words: “Jewish Mother.” Wear protective gear as they start. Never in the history of any culture has the word “mother” evoked such controversy, such connection.
Now, if Jewish mamas have staked their emotional claim with intensity, Jewish papas are frequently shrouded in mystery. Some see him as the titular head of the household (“Ask daddy”) who, like the old saw, makes the Big Decisions such as which mortgage company won’t steal from us while we’re paying off the house Mama chose. He’s often back-seated, in stereotype and in media.
Yet, many have been blessed with extraordinary dads. Papa, the learned; the bearer of Big Principles; the Permission giver who took us by the hand out of mama’s grasping one, to introduce us to the world, even if he was out-voted by mama on the big sweet vs. sour gefilte issue.
THREE JEWS DADS: UNCOMMON HEROES
JEWISH PIONEER PAPA TAKES ON BILLY THE KID?
We’ve all heard of Billy the Kid but how many have heard of Sol Floersheim, the 5’, 110-pound dynamo who took on any man who expressed anti-Semitism in his presence and played a key role in the capture of infamous Billy the Kid? (At least according to his son’s 1953 memoirs. Several other accounts exist.)
The German-born Floersheim (b. 1856) came to New York at age 22. Believing there was more gelt and better ops across the county, he Westward Ho’d. In Trinidad, Colorado as a clerk, he had a falling out with his boss and kept moving west, to Las Vegas, New Mexico, eventually working as both clerk and collector for a Mr. Charles Ilfeld. According to Floersheim’s son, on July 12, 1881, one collecting trip near Fort Sumner, New Mexico was a stand-out for his father and the Spanish-speaking colleague he brought. Looking for directions to lodging the men entered a saloon. The lone customer insisted Floersheim drink a whiskey … at gunpoint.
While they were talking, even discussing trading guns Floersheim was asked to take another drink. He now got the fact that the odd stranger, was, in fact, Billy the Kid. Oy vey. He got out of “Dodge” and landed at a ranch house. Who was in the house? Friends. The legendary Sheriff Pat Garret and his family. After spilling all, Garrett was thrilled and invited Floersheim to help get his man. He declined the honor. The very next evening (July 13, 1881), Pat Garrett shot and killed Billy the Kid Bonney! Who would know that it was a Jew behind the death of the infamous outlaw?
In 1897, Floersheim “the fearless” bought a ranch near Springer, New Mexico and later opened stores in other New Mexico towns. He was also skilled at frontier medicine (he delivered 300 babies). Sol took pride in his Judaism and not only founded Congregation Montefiore but stood up to anti-Semitism. When a young fellow referred to Sol, age 70, as “a dirty Jew,” Floersheim reportedly gave him some licking. More, in an era of exploitation, Sol treated his employees humanely and fairly. He eventually created a dynasty with and for his three sons and daughter.
FATHERS TO SON: THE BARUCHS
Many a Jewish father has passed down his values about enriching the world to his children. But one example is the Baruchs. History buffs of course know that Bernard Baruch was “the man” behind “THE men” – United States Presidents, including Wilson, Harding, Hoover, FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, JFK and Johnson. How many know that his papa, an advocate of cleanliness as preventive medicine, made medical history? Doctor Simon Baruch (1840-1921), a Prussian-Polish immigrant, who served in the Confederacy as a surgeon, moved to New York City and opened America’s first public bath. More, he was the first doctor to diagnose the need for — then perform — an appendectomy in 1888. Relatively speaking, could there be a connection between clean people and clean politics?
A FATHER TO TEL AVIV AND TO HIS DAUGHTER
The names Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin are known world-wide. They, along with other distinguished names courageously fought for Israel in the War of Independence in 1948.
But how many of you are familiar with Layos Lenovitz (Lou Lenart) the U.S. marine who was referred to as “The Man who Saved Tel Aviv?”
Born in Hungary in 1921, at the age of 10, the farm boy came with his family to live in the coal-mining town of Wilkes-Barre, P.A. As a youngster he was mocked and teased for being a Jew. Yet he grew to be a hero. At age 18, Lenart joined the U.S. Marines and after a year-and-a-half of training he entered flight school. After WWII, in 1948 he flew clandestine missions in Okinawa and Japan to smuggle war planes into what was to become Israel, evading the British and Egyptians. He took on this dangerous task in anticipation of Israeli independence, especially when he learned that 14 of his relatives were killed in Auschwitz.
Ultimately, the Egyptian troops, who had been assured that the Israelis had no aircraft, halted their advance on Tel Aviv. Lenart also participated in the airlift of Iraqi Jews to Israel. But more, he became a movie producer (“Iron Eagle” and “Iron Eagle II,” among others). This “father” of Tel Aviv has left Israel another legacy in his daughter Michal, who followed in her father’s footsteps by serving in the Israel Air Force. His exploits during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War were the subject of the 2015 film A Wing and a Prayer.