Thursday, January 31, 2013

An Inviting Chicago Jewish Resource


By Ann Rabinowitz

Abraham Slimmer, Philanthropist

 
I happened upon a very interesting book by Philip Pollack Bregstone (1866-1934), who was a prominent Chicago Jew, born in Veiveriai, Lithuania, which is 11 miles southwest of Kaunas (see his family tree which stretches back to 1799 at:  http://breakstone.us/berlchart.htm .  His family’s geographic origination in Panemune, Lithuania, and other places is also discussed by Rabbi Jeffrey A. Marx on the following site:   http://breakstone.us/GEOGRAPHIC%20ORIGINS.htm).  

 The part history, part memoire, which Bregstone published in 1933, was entitled "Chicago and Its Jews: A Cultural History".  It has been digitized and can be found at the following site:  http://archive.org/details/chicagoitsjewscu00ilbreg  .  While there are quite a number of publications about Chicago Jews, this book has fascinating true-to-life descriptions of personalities of the day.

One of the items I found was a mention of Dr. Abraham M. Margolin, the husband of Clara Bleichmann, star of the Yiddish stage (her sister and brother-in-law were Minna Bleichmann and Morris Axelrad, also Yiddish theater personalities, who I have written about in the past).  It was wonderful to find a detailed description of Dr. Margolin's career as both a doctor and a Yiddish journalist and also to read that he was also known by the pseudonym of "Avreml" which led me to further references to his writing and theater career.  What was most intriguing was mention of his intention to write a history of the Yiddish theater.  This I have not managed to track down yet.

 

Dr. Abraham M. Margolin

Despite the two chapters on the Yiddish theater in the book, I was disappointed to note that there was nothing about Margolin's wife Clara and her career.  Margolin (and his wife) were also mentioned in the book "Leksikon Fun Yidishn Teater" by Zalmen Zylbercweig which can be found on the Museum of Family History web site: http://www.museumoffamilyhistory.com/yt/lex/M/margolin-a-dr.htm  (see Margolin’s photo from there below).  Further interest in the Yiddish theater can also be stoked by subscribing to the Yiddish Theater and Vaudeville Research Group on JewishGen at http://www.jewishgen.org/ListManager/members_add.asp

Apart from my own personal family finds in the Bregstone book, I located an unusual discussion of Abraham Slimmer (1835-1917), a wealthy philanthropist, farmer and banker, who lived in Iowa and was one of the wealthiest men in the state.  Despite his Iowa residency, he was known to have contributed substantially to Chicago charities.   See more about his career at the following site: http://archive.org/stream/chicagoitsjewscu00ilbreg#page/104/mode/2up

 The description of Slimmer, who was somewhat eccentric and a recluse, was priceless as it pictured him looking like a bum with his shabby and worn out clothing and his hearing trumpet for his deafness.  Further, his home was described as a slovenly hovel (actually it was the woodshed in back of his old mansion which he had donated to become a hospital).  It belied his wealth which was estimated at approximately $500,000 at his death according to court records and, at other times, as high as $3 -$10 million.

A photo of Slimmer in his later years can be found in "The Jews of Chicago:
From Shtetl to Suburb" by Irving Cutler:
http://books.google.com/books?id=85k85NhemBgC&pg=PA163&lpg=PA163&dq=abraham+slimmer,+dubuque,+iowa&source=b l&ots=OwPG1_MEzn&sig=gLxMzlF35ow2PshCt0DeIAor-cA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=Ecb3UN6uLInB2wW22YD4Dg&ved=0CEsQ6AEwBjgK#v=onepage&q=abraham%20slimmer%2C%20dubuque%2C%20iowa&f=false
[or shortened URL http://goo.gl/A7WRW ]

One can also find much more about this singularly remarkable man who lived on $3.00 a week and his theories for benefiting mankind in a number of other resources.  One is the New York Times:
http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F00711F83A5F12738DDDAA0994DF405B828CF1D3
[or shortened URL http://goo.gl/weGT1 ] 

This site also gives an historical timeline of his life from his birth on September 14, 1835, in Obersitzko, Posen, Prussia (now Obrzycko, Poland), to his immigration to America in 1850 as one of nine children, his arrival in Little Rock, Arkansas, then move to Jesup, Iowa, in 1860, and finally his settling in Waverly, Iowa in 1863.  It includes the construction of a mansion on 14 acres in Waverly that was valued at $50,000 which he eventually gave away to charity.  He never married, although he brought his childhood sweetheart to America. The relationship did not work out and he sent her back home.  

 The Ancestry.com site also has a lot to offer about Abraham Slimmer including quite a number of newspaper articles which celebrate his lifetime of philanthropy and good works.  In addition, findagrave.com (http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSob=c&GSlh=1&GRid=100001457&) provides a copy of his obit which gives us a final look at his life as it states that he died of ptomaine poisoning on August 15, 1917, services were held by Rabbi Isaac L. Rypins (son of Israel Rypins and born in Poland) and that he was taken to St. Paul, MN, where he was cremated.

Another interesting contemporary from Abraham Slimmer’s birthplace of Obersitzko, was Abraham Berliner (May 2, 1833 – April 21, 1915).  He was an historian, religious leader and scientist, who remained in Germany rather than emigrating as Abraham Slimmer had done.  Further info on Obersitzko can also be found in the Yeshiva University Mendel Gottesman Library which houses the Mohelbuch aus Obersitzko, 1799-1859, encompassing 369 entries.

While Abraham M. Margolin and Abraham Slimmer are only two examples of what can be found in Bregstone’s book, there is so much more as I am finding out as I read through it.  Researchers will find that the information provided will certainly lead you onto other resources as it did for me.  It is well worth a read.


 

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