Saturday, March 10, 2007

Thursday Mar 13

Attend Maccabean camp


Matt's Notes

Earlier in the year, Papa co-founded a new chapter of the fraternal Order Sons of Zion (B'nai Zion) and persuaded his fellow members to nickname it the "Maccabean" camp. As previously noted, the Maccabees were legendary Jewish warriors, so the nickname carried with it a certain combative edge, a deliberate challenge to the caricature of Jews as physically inept and resigned to bad luck.

Papa may have had another inspiration for his camp's nickname, too: "The Maccabean" was the flagship publication of B'nai Zion's parent organization, the Federation of American Zionists (FAZ). My research here is a little muddy, but it looks like the FAZ became the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) around 1917. In any event, the FAZ/ZOA spun off B'nai Zion in 1908, partly to provide health insurance to its members but also to "help the Zionist Congress in the work of obtaining for the Jewish people a legally secured, publicly assured national home in Palestine."1

I'm sure Papa had a lot to report at his Maccabean meeting that day, because the night before he'd attended a major event at the Hotel Astor (pictured below) at which a prominent rabbi declared his support for Zionism after years of ambivalence. Papa had felt discouraged in the course of his activist work over the winter, but with the weather warming up and his beloved cause making strides, his spirits must have brightened considerably.


Additional Notes

I didn't say much about the Hotel Astor yesterday, but here's what I know: It was a 500-bedroom, 300-bathroom beauty that rose ten stories above Broadway on the block between 44th Street and and 45th street.

hotel astor

The wall between its two ballrooms could be moved to accommodate large functions like the one Papa attended, though when it first opened in 1907 1904 the Times got most excited about its thermostats:

In each [room] there is a "temperature regulator." The ordinary method of turning the radiator valves is supplanted by an automatic device enabling the guest to set a pointer upon a clocklike figured scale at a degree of temperature desired.

The building came down, temperature regulators and all, in 1967 to make room for the office tower known as 1515 Broadway, where Viacom now resides. mourns its passing with a typical, and justified, howl of agony.

(Image source: Library of Congress call number HABS NY,31-NEYO,72-.)


My mother adds:

Lots of people, including yours truly. would meet their dates at the Astor (under the clock). I think this is mentioned in Salinger or is it Fitzgerald---and I'm sure many other books. I'm amazed that Papa allowed his priceless
treasure to go "into the city" to meet rapacious young men, but I did nonetheless. Relationships were more proper in those days and my dates always took me home.


1 - Quoted from B'nai Zion's 75th anniversary historic review pamphlet.

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