Tuesday, May 20, 2008

June 28, 1927 II - Atlantic City


June 28, 1927


Bright Eyes:1

There is so much to write but
I don't know where to begin.

Well the opposition has lost out,
it was only natural, could it have been otherwise
since I was in it? (It is the opposition I told
you about.)

We put up a gallant fight, but
I cannot say that we lost everything, we have a number
of our men on our new administration but the

Believe me my dear, I am going
through a spiritual revival here.

Witnessing a session of Junior Hadassah
Convention at the Ritz was the most pleasant experience
here, charming young American bund girls assembling
to do their bit for a great cause, everyone embued with
the great national spirit, everyone the personification
of Godliness attending to their convention business in
a manner befitting a much older (in years) aggregation of

They are here from every part of the country,
and the short time that I've spent with them will
long be remembered by me.

I have grown to like Atlantic City, and I will
return here often whenever the occasion will present
itself. The boardwalk is very much like the one
in Coney Island, but the people here are so refined
and make friends quickly.4


Of course it is mostly rich people that
come here, but they're very nice, and I've made
friends with a number who did not come for the
purpose of attending the Zionist Convention.

It also gives me here the opportunity to
observe styles and really beautiful rich modes.

I could not help mentioning here styles,
you know that I am interested in it, the trend
of the present season is white, about 75% of those
I have seen wear white outfits from hat, dress,
coat, gloves to shoes and stockings.5

In general I'm enjoying my short stay here
and happiness would be complete if you were here
to share it, knowing you as you are I know that
you would enjoy it here tremendously.

Now dear please don't forget me, now
that you have other boy friends, so much more
attentive than I am, but I have proven to you I
believe my sincere friendship and admiration, but
when you write to me I want you to write joyfully
willfully and not as a matter of duty.

I now have to go to attend another session
of the convention, and two more afterward, and
I expect to leave for home tonight.

The next letter will be from little old N.Y.

Hoping this find you in good
health and spirit.

I am as ever your

Harry Scheuermann


1 - My wife, Stephanie and I call each other “Bright Eyes” from time to time, but only because it’s what Zira calls Charlton Heston in “Planet of the Apes.” I'm sorry, but I simply can't read the words "Bright Eyes" without thinking about it. I wonder if it was one of Papa’s major nicknames for my grandmother, or if it was just something he toyed with in 1927. Did he ever catch “Planet of the Apes” when it came out, and if so did it amuse him to see “Bright Eyes” so employed?

2 - Louis Lipsky had been head of the Zionist Organization of America since 1921, but long-simmering complaints about his financial and general mismanagement finally came to a boil at the 1927 Z.O.A. convention. Here's what the New York Times had to say about the scene on the convention floor on June 26th, two days before Papa wrote the above letter:

What were until now merely rumblings of dissatisfaction with Zionist leadership came out into the open this afternoon when the Zionist Organization of America opened its annual convention in the Chelsea Auditorium...

Bitter parliamentary wrangles marked the opening session -- so bitter, in fact, that President Louis Lipsky had difficultly at times keeping order in the meeting...There was no clear-cut test of strength between Mr. Lipsky and those who are seeking to oust him from leadership; but emphatic objections were made to his rulings...

The dissatisfaction has been intensified by depressing reports from Palestine, the gravity of which was freely admitted by both sides in the dispute. President Lipsky was frank to recognize it in his address to the delegates, in which he outlined specific proposals to meet the situation.

Time Magazine, though displaying the casual anti-Semetism evident in the period's journalism, provided a good summary of the situation:

The Zionist Organization of America closed another of its annual bickerings at Atlantic City last week. It was the 30th anniversary of this group which has sought to organize Palestine as a national homeland for Jews. In that purpose they have practically succeeded. Palestine has been set up as a League of Nations mandate entrusted to England's overseeing. It is governed by a High Commissioner who deals with regional problems as they affect Jewish settlers through what is known as the Zionist Executive. The High Commissioner also guards the interests of Arabs and other indigents of the region.

Millions of dollars have been dumped into Palestine, chiefly from U. S. purses; 150,000 Jewish immigrants have been carried there chiefly from countries of eastern
Europe. Many more have gone from the U. S., driven by a traditional idealism. Colonies have been established; trading cities created; harbors, roads and railroads constructed; industries set going. Most of this has been accomplished since 1921.

But all has not been economically well in Palestine, especially during the last year. At present 8,000 men and women are out of work. They are traders, too many of whom had been permitted to migrate into the country. There have been insufficient goods manufactured or grown locally to supply them with trade; there have not been enough customers to take the goods they handled. To furnish work for these 8,000, Great Britain has authorized a loan of $25,000,000 to build harbors and railroads, a concession has been granted to develop the hydro-electric power of the Jordan River, and the potash deposits of the Dead Sea will be worked.

At the Atlantic City convention of the Zionist Organization of America last week, Louis Lipsky, chairman since 1922, was charged with all the woes of Palestine. His ideal has been paternal. He would have Jewish immigrants to Palestine fit into a social, cultural and economic frame which the World Zionist Organization would build for them. (Chaim Weizmann, British explosive inventor, is head of the World Zionist Organization.) Other Jews, non-Zionists, like Louis Marshall, constitutional lawyer of Manhattan, would let immigrants build up their own enterprises and order by private initiative. Other Jews, Zionists and non-Zionists, have still further schemes for making Palestine a self supporting, spiritual Utopia. At last week's convention Zionists argued at one another.

The Times’ June 27th coverage of the convention gave a bit more detail about the leaders of the opposition group with which Papa was affiliated and their unsuccessful bid to unseat Lipsky:

When the convention assembled in the Chelsea Auditorium this afternoon the attack on the administration was launched by Morris Zeldin, New York Director of the United Palestine appeal and thus indirectly a Zionist employe (sic).

His charges concerned financial matters, largely with subsidiary organizations of the Zionist organization. He charged Mr. Lipsky and his associates with responsibility for the financial plight of the American Zion commonwealth, the land-buying agency in Palestine controlled by the American Zionists. He accused them of bad management in the sale of the Palestine securities.

He mentioned unnecessary sums spent for publicity, excessive salaries paid to an executive secretary, and in general charged the administration with dissipating funds which had been raised for the building of the Jewish homeland.

Papa’s fraternal order, B’nai Zion (a.k.a. Order Sons of Zion) was an offshoot of the Z.O.A., and was, perhaps, one of the “subsidiary organizations” mentioned above. This may have accounted for Papa’s sympathy for the opposition, the true leader of which seems to have been one Israel Goldberg. The Times had this to say about Goldberg’s performance at the convention:

More sweeping charges were expressed by Israel Goldberg, the publicity agent who has organized the opposition forces at this convention....

He charged that Mr. Lipsky had concealed facts in his administration report; he held the American Zionist organization responsible for the signing of the Weizman-Marshall agreement [the Z.O.A. was politically aligned with Weizmann, so his attempts to work with a rival like Marshall, who was less supportive of Zionist efforts in Palestine, didn’t go over so well with the Z.O.A.];he insisted that the blunders of the past were serious enough to demand Mr. Lipsky’s removal.

So, what about the opposition’s defeat would make Papa describe it to my grandmother in such a self-effacing way (“Well the opposition has lost out, it was only natural, could it have been otherwise since I was in it?”)? I think it must have been because Israel Goldberg’s representation of their position was flat-out laughable and thus embarrassing to those associated with him. From the Times:

He received little encouragement, however, from the delegates, who seemed to be amused at Mr. Goldberg as he spoke...

“Shall we or shall we not hold Lipsky responsible?” A chorus of “no” flustered him for a moment, but he went on. Soon afterward, he exclaimed: “If I had been in the administration things would be different.”

A wave of laughter swept the hall. It was apparent that the opposition movement had shot its bolt.

All in all, not a great moment for Papa and his comrades, though I think Papa’s long familiarity with unforgiving intra-Zionist debate and disagreement kept it from affecting him too adversely. As the next footnote will point out...

3 ...Papa’s participation in an unsuccessful opposition movement obviously didn’t make him feel any less committed to Zionism or keep him from having a plain old great time at the convention. I don’t doubt the authenticity of the “spiritual revival” he experienced, though I’d wager it arose in part because the chance to enjoy Atlantic City in its prime, hobnob with different classes of people, and collaborate with “charming young American” girls of the Junior Hadassah simply made him feel refreshed and vital and important.

4 - This clip, allegedly a 1926 home movie taken in Atlantic City, shows what the scene was like:

5 - Papa wrote very little about his life as a garment worker in his 1924 diary, which may be why I’ve always thought he was far more emotionally engaged in sowing the seeds of union activism than in sewing the seams of ladies’ garments. Because his personal writing is so articulate and romantic, I think I’ve allowed myself to see his factory work as some sort of dutiful compromise, a demonstration of his willingness to suppress his inner life for the sake of future generations, a profound testament to his capacity for pragmatic self-sacrifice.

In short, I think I’ve been unwittingly condescending and probably flat-out wrong about Papa’s relationship to his profession. My mother tells me he always enjoyed going to work (he kept at it until he took ill at seventy-two) and though he stayed at a sewing machine until the end, he was an able cutter and a talented designer (he designed and made my grandmother’s wedding gown, pictured below).

As the above letter indicates, Papa had developed a genuine interest in fashion and clothing during his time in the garment trade, and by 1927 was (I think) even more engaged because he was working the sales floor of The Lion Costume Company at the behest of its owner, Mr. Surdut, who had taken a liking to him. Surdut had also accompanied Papa to the Zionist convention in Atlantic City, and I’m sure they spent some time between sessions checking out the “rich modes” of costuming and coming up with new sales pitches.

Papa was intrigued by the predominance of white on display, a trend related, no doubt, to the 1927 summer season’s emphasis on sportswear. “This year sports clothes have attracted the greatest attention,” wrote an anonymous fashion reporter for the New York Times, “and at the moment the utmost in style is the equipment for mid-Summer sports. The design originally intended for dresses for athletic activities has come to be adapted for any and every occasion, and now the sports or semi-sports model is taken as a guide in the cut of far the greater number of gowns shown in the Summer collections.”

Thanks to my friend Ingrid, a costume designer who has a great collection of vintage fashion magazines, we’ve got a few examples of the white summer sportswear fashions that Papa observed. (The images below are from a Vogue summer pattern book from 1929, but they probably give us a good idea of what was out there in 1927).

And here’s a photo of an actual person sporting a white tennis outfit in 1927. It seems like clothing looked better on models than on real people back then, too.



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