Monday, April 28, 2008

June 25, 1927


June 25, 1927

My dear Jeanie:

Well I'm here at my old pastime
ready to begin my labors of the great Zionist
convention for the restoration of the Land of Israel
to the people of Israel.1

Great problems are confronting us
which we will have to cope with.2

It is still Shabos the day of rest
for our people, so the actual business will
commence with the shades of the night, which
are now rapidly approaching.

The trip here was very enjoyable
due to the company I had on the train,
the intimate chats with them helped a lot
to chase away the blues that have accumu-
lated last night and this morning, and
although I am stopping at the Ritz I don't feel
ritzy yet.3

You know dear this place would be
heaven for me if you had been here with me
at this beautiful sea shore.

But what's the use. I know that
this would not change your attitude, which
I failed [to do] personally in two and one half


There is no use repeating what I have
said personally, but there is one consolation
and that is that I have won your friendship
whether you show it or not and this friendship
is going to be everlasting.5

And now dear how was your trip
and how are you enjoying the country.

You know [how] anxious I am to hear from you
if you should need something I'll be
back Wednesday and take care of
whatever you desire immediately.

I will write more tomorrow and
also Monday and Tuesday from here.

It is pretty dark now and I'll have to
stop soon.

I see about me many familiar faces
of delegates whom I have met before
at previous such gatherings, and things
are getting quiet interesting.

Well dear here I must close
this letter now as Mr. Surdut is calling6
me. So don't forget Bright Eyes
when I get home I expect to find your
precious letter.

Your loving friend

Harry Scheuermann

This was a rather hasty letter
so forgive my errors


1 - Papa was in Atlantic City for the thirtieth annual convention of the Zionist Organization of America. I assume he attended this one, as he had the previous year's Z.O.A. convention in Buffalo, as a delegate from Order Sons of Zion (a.k.a. B'nai Zion), the Z.O.A-affiliated Zionist fraternal order to which he belonged.

2 - It's hard to say what "great problems" were on Papa's mind when he wrote this letter, because the Zionist cause certainly had its share. One of Zionism's big questions of the day was how to handle Britain's waning interest in the administration of Palestine, but I'd bet the hallway gossip at the Z.O.A. convention probably focused on the reelection prospects of the longtime Z.O.A. chairman, Louis Lipsky, who had been criticized in recent months for mismanaging the organization's funds.

3 - Like the Statler Hotel in Buffalo, where Papa stayed at the previous year's Z.O.A. convention, the Ritz-Carlton was relatively new, though it was certainly swankier and, located as it was right on the boardwalk, must have teemed with summer vacationers enjoying Atlantic City's heyday. The building, designed by Whitney Warren (of the famed architecture firm Warren and Wetmore, designers of Grand Central Terminal) still stands, but it has long since been converted to condos.

Luckily, Papa wrote this letter on Ritz-Carlton stationery, so I can finally satisfy all those Papa's Diary Project readers who have been clamoring for an artifact of the telegraph age. Check out the contact information on the letterhead:

It looks like, as late as 1927, the Ritz preferred to advertise the telegraphic address "rizcarlton" instead of a telephone number. (Since this is my first brush with a telegraphic address, you'll forgive me for pointing out its obvious similarities to modern e-mail or instant messenger addresses.) Commercial telephone technology was fairly well established by then (the dress shop Papa worked for listed two phone numbers on its letterhead) but perhaps long-distance calling was not yet widespread or reliable enough for the travel industry to count on.

4 - I'm always trying to piece together answers about Papa's life, so I'm glad this passage confirms a previously unsupported assumption that he met my grandmother back in early 1925. (That's how the math works out if he'd known her for "two and one half years" in mid 1927.) As someone who so admired and loved him, though, and hoped the lovelorn, mournful version of himself we met in his 1924 diary might know a little less sadness a little sooner, this letter isn't much comfort.

5 - Papa's previous batch of letters to my grandmother, written in the the summer of 1926, showed how frustrated he had become with her romantic indifference to him, but it looks like this frustration had turned to resignation by June of 1927. I suppose he wouldn't have written her so extensively without some hope of resuscitating whatever affection she once showed for him (he did, after all, wind up marrying her) but he certainly had to work hard at hoping if, as this letter indicates, she didn't even show much enthusiasm for his platonic friendship.

As I've mentioned before, I think Papa's compulsion to commit himself to my grandmother so completely, even in the face of her her lukewarm response, sprang from a strong combination of emotional needs and external circumstances. Still, understanding why someone does something seemingly irrational doesn't always make it easy to watch, and even though I might know the answer I still find myself asking how, really, could he have clung to her for so long?

6 - "Mr. Surdut" is a character we've known for a while because he owned the dress shop and factory where Papa worked, though he and Papa had more than a casual employer-employee relationship. I sometimes think Papa, who had spent Jewish holidays at the Surduts' house and had been set up on dates by Mrs. Surdut, was even Mr. Surdut's protege or heir apparent. I may never be able to confirm that, but it is interesting to see that Papa and Surdut were part of the same posse at the Z.O.A. convention.

Still, when Papa writes "here I must close this letter now as Mr. Surdut is calling me," does it imply that Surdut retained some measure of authority over Papa outside of work, even if it was that of a surrogate father over a surrogate son? Or did Papa, who had been known to keep his friends waiting while writing to my grandmother, just happen to get interrupted by Surdut in this instance?



1 comment:

  1. This blog is so interesting. I just love escaping from my life in2008 and taking a trip back in time.

    m dot