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Presidents' Day at the Maltz Museum

Monday, February 16th, was President's Day so we went to the Maltz Museum for their special program in which actors portrayed former U.S. Presidents George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower who all talked about what they had done to encourage diversity. President Washington talked about the letter he wrote to the Hebrew Congregations of Newport, Rhode Island in 1790 which said “every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. For happily the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."

Accompanying President Washington was Ms. Emma Lazarus, who wrote the words that appear on the lower pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, who talked about her interest in immigration because her own ancestors had to flee Spain and Portugal. Ms. Lazarus said that "many immigrants are coming here now. They must leave and leave a lot behind" which is still very pertinent today as it was in her time.

President Lincoln recalled that prior to the time that he became President no Jewish chaplains were allowed in the armed forces but he worked to change that and was ultimately successful in 1863. Sitting with President Lincoln was Rabbi Bud Frankel who served in that capacity from 1969 to 1992. Rabbi Frankel wore his uniform and proudly discussed the special insignia that Jewish chaplains wear.

President Theordore Roosevelt talked a time in 1895 when he was Police Commissioner in New York and faced possible protests because a very anti-Semitic figure was scheduled to make an address. President Roosevelt tackled the problem by having only Jewish police officers guard the controversial speaker who never came back to New York again.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt said that this nation was built by immigrants but Congress passed laws restricting their entry into the United States which was why in 1939 the ship the "St Louis" containing 1,000 Jews was not allowed to land in Florida. One reason that was given was that it was believed that there were Nazi spies amongst them. True, they managed to let some "British boys" in on a visa program but these were Christians and Jews were very unpopular at that time. Later, in 1944, the War Refugee Act was passed that saved 100,000 Jews from concentration camps.

President Eisenhower shared with his horror over what he saw when the Ohrduf Concentration Camp was liberated in 1945. He explained how he summoned all of the nearby U.S. troops to tour the camp so they could see what they were fighting for as well as the international press.

After we listened to the four presidents we visited with Ms. Leslie Lake who played Emma Lazarus. Ms. Lake is a psychologist who often works with ESL and foreign born students and about 10 to 15 years ago she took some international students to Margaret W. Wong and Associates for help. We agreed that a lot of what we were seeing at the museum could pertain to all immigrants regardless of their ethnicity.

Our guide was Ms. Hazel Brown who urged us to explore the other exhibits that the museum was displaying including "The Jewish Experience in Northeast Ohio-An American Story" and explained that when immigrants first came to Cleveland they lived in their own enclaves in different parts of the city.

Another person who we dialogued with was Ms. Ellie Goldstein who volunteers a lot at the museum. She believes that it is very important for people to know about the struggles of their ancestry so that they can appreciate where they are now. Ms. Goldstein told us that she sees the United States not as a melting pot but as a "stew" in which different elements come together into a whole while maintaining their own unique flavor. She showed us the Alsbacher document that was written by a Bavarian teacher named Lazarius Kohn in 1839 in which he urged his friends who were immigrating to Cleveland from Europe to never forget their religion or their customs even though they were going to experience new things in the United States.

That evening we went to the Siegal Facility in Beachwood where we had signed up for a presentation titled "The Story of the Cleveland Play House; Researching America's First Regional Theatre" which was part of the Laura and Alvin Siegal Lifelong Learning Program under the auspices of Case Western Reserve University.

The speaker was Professor Jeffrey Ullom, Assistant Professor and Director of Undergraduate Theater Studies at CWRU who recently wrote a book called about the Cleveland Play House titled "America's First Regional Theatre". Prof. Ullom talked about how the Cleveland Play House was originally created in a house on Euclid Avenue back in 1915 by high society "misfits in search of a home" who generally did very unconventional works until they finally found the right balance between avante garde and the mainstream. Professor Ullom said what he was really trying for was to show how the evolution of the Cleveland Play House reflected the evolution of Cleveland. As for how things are now, he expressed optimism about the Play House's recent move to the downtown Cleveland Theatre District because he believes that it is the best place for it to find and/or create an audience and now the Play House, which had been experiencing some tough financial times, can concentrate on art instead of maintenance.

Throughout his lecture, Prof. Ullom expressed appreciation for the assistance given to him on this project by Mr. Kevin Moore, Managing Director of the Cleveland Play House and the people who manage the archives at CWRU where all of the records dealing with the Play House are stored.

The program for this evening included dinner so we sat with Mr. Paul Siemborski who is on the board of the Cleveland Playhouse as well as being an architect with the firm Westlake, Reed, Leskosky which has successfully dealt with Margaret W. Wong and Associates. We also shared our table with Ms. Wilma Salisbury, former reporter with the "Plain Dealer" who praised our office for assisting Prof. Chung-Fu Chang of the Dance Dept. at CSU with some immigration matters. Another old friend of Ms. Wong's who was there this evening was Prof. Bill Leatherberry, Law Professor at CWRU for 39 years who now refers to himself as a "law professor in recovery." He was there with his wife, Ms. Diane Phillips-Leatherberry who accompanied Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on civil rights marches years ago.

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