THE MUSEUM OF FAMILY HISTORY presents

 

Jews in Small Towns:
Legends and Legacies

Nebraska




PAUL NATHAN--
SCOTTSBLUFF, NEBRASKA
 

I was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on April 23, 1921, and did not leave there until World War II. In 1944, I went to Abilene, Texas, and then on to Charleston, South Carolina, and then to New York City. I was stationed on a hospital ship that shuttled from New York to Naples, Italy. While on leave in New York, I met my future wife, Rebecca.

When I was in the service, my widowed mother went to live in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. After my discharge from the service, my mother died of cancer. I took my mother's death very hard, and I recuperated back in Scottsbluff.

In August of 1948, I took a trip back to Brooklyn to see Rebecca. We discussed getting married. I made one condition before marriage; I would not raise a family in New York. We got married August 22,1948, in New York City, where people were still celebrating the establishment of the State of Israel.

We drove to Scottsbluff, Nebraska, and I showed my new wife just how big the United States is. We joke about it now, but we figured out there were as many people living on both sides of the street in Williamsburg, New York, as there were in Scottsbluff (about 15,000). It was exciting taking this Jewish girl and having her make her home in the "stars." At this time, there were five Jewish families living in Scottsbluff. She had to bend a lot and so did I.

The following year, on August 1, 1949, our first son was born. We had promised her folks if we ever had a son we would find a mohel to circumcise him. That was a big expense for us, as our mohel had to come by car from Denver, Colorado, to Scottsbluff (220 miles). This was the first briss in Scottsbluff in thirty-five years. The briss was very successful. We even had a minyan for him and a pidyon ha-ben thirty days later. Our Gentile neighbors and friends were as excited as we were.

We didn't have any incidents of anti-Semitism. Most of the people living in Scottsbluff are of German-Russian families. (If we had trouble with Russia, they were German. If we had trouble with Germany, they were Russian.)

My wife made a good adjustment living in a small city. We tried to keep a kosher kitchen and had meat sent in by dry ice from Denver. After two months, we gave it up. In 1958, my wife was in Denver, Colorado, for heart surgery. Our Gentile neighbors took care of our house: washing clothes, laboring, baby sitting, etc. We couldn't ask for better neighbors. We often wonder if we would have had that kind of help if we lived in aJewish neighborhood. We are still good friends, and we try to see them often.

Now for Jewish learning: my wife and four other Jewish mothers started a Sunday school in our house. One taught the older children, the other one taught the small ones. (The children learned about Bible stories but the gatherings mostly kept the parents as a close-knit family.) We then started Jewish holiday services with one hundred percent turn-out from the adults. We had two Sukkah at Succoth. We had a community Passover Seder. We had High Holiday services.

Every Passover my wife and I drove to Cheyenne, Wyoming (110 miles), to buy Passover foods. On Yom Kippur, each family drove to a larger city. We went back to Cheyenne. We were treated very nice there and, since it was the only synagogue in the whole state of Wyoming, people came from all the small cities in the state.

When it became time for my second son to be a Bar Mitzvah, we made numerous trips to Cheyenne. The rabbi there helped us a lot. The only hard thing we had to live with was our son in public school. We took our children out for the High Holidays, but other Jewish families did not. It was hard to explain that to Gentile teachers.

In about 1965, a college was established in Scottsbluff named, "Hiram Scott." While this college operated, we received about one hundred Jewish young men, mostly from the east--New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, etc. We tried very hard to make these boys comfortable in a small town. We had Friday night services and the women baked lots of goodies to serve after the services. Too bad the college was such a "phoney": It was only started to keep men out of the draft. It folded after about eight years.

We stayed in Scottsbluff for twenty-one years. Our oldest son went to, and graduated from, the University of Nebraska. After graduation, he looked for Judaism. He married a nice Jewish girl and they have given us three good grandsons. They are brought up in a good Jewish home (not kosher) in Omaha. Our other son is still looking.

I retired from working in the scrap business two years ago and just take it easy now. We can honestly say that we enjoyed our family growing up in a small city. We couldn't have made better friends in the whole world.

 

 


 

 

 

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