The Museum of Family History
 Great Artists Series

 The Immortal
  Al Jolson  

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The Family of Al Jolson

photo above, Jolson in 1935

As to Al's relationship with his father, this was often a clash of the "old" versus the "new" world. Moshe Reuben thought that participating in popular theatre, as Asa or Al did, was not a "respectable" profession. He himself at a early stage in his life wished to be an opera singer.

All his life, Al had been chagrined by what he felt was his father's stubborn refusal to give him wholehearted praise. Nonetheless, Al had admired the man he described as "a scholarly old gentleman"-- an admiration that turned into reverence after Moshe's passing. In the years that followed, Al would subtly turn back to what he termed "the ways of our fathers." In the years that followed, he did not work on Yom Kippur.

Jolson recorded "Kol Nidre," "Hatikvah" (the Israeli national anthem), and even adopted the melody from "Hindustan" and formed a new song titled "Israel." It was as if his father's death had brought Al to a peace with his religion--and his God. 

Jolson donated all the royalties from the recordings of "Israel" and "Hatikvah" to the state of Israel and, in his will, left much of his fortune to various Jewish charities.




The photographs above and on the far right were taken in Yonkers, New York at the home of Al's sister Etta during a family reunion in 1931.

After Al's mother Naomi died, Moshe Reuben remarried in March 1896. This time  he married the daughter of a second cousin, who at the time was still living in Seredzius. Their father's new wife was of the "old world," a fact that did not sit well with both young Asa or his brother Hirsch, who did not want to be reminded of the past that had ended with the death of his mother.

Most likely due to the loss of their mother, compounded by the fact that their father remarried  (a woman only nine years older than his sister Rose), and also because of the fact that in Asa's eyes no one could ever  take the place of his mother, the children in their own way, rebelled. Etta had an argument with her father's new wife and asked her Uncle Chayim in Yonkers, New York for a job in his dry-good store.

Asa began associating with the wrong crowd and got into trouble. Eventually Asa would run away from home, finding a myriad of odd jobs in order to get by.



Moshe Reuben Yoelson had been among the first rabbis to settle permanently in Washington, D.C. One of the founders of the Hebrew Relief Association, he  served Washington Jewry for over half a century. His good-humored wisdom and deep respect for the beliefs of others had won the Jewish community many friends.

According to Herbert G. Goldman, in his biographical book about Jolson, "Jolson: The Legend Comes to Life" (recommended reading):

"On December 23, 1945, around the time of his eighty-eighth birthday, Rabbi Moshe Reuben Yoelson died in Washington, D.C. In accordance with Jewish law, the funeral was held within twelve hours. Al was unable to attend..."

Moshe was buried in Talmud Torah Cemetery, a couple of yards from his first wife Naomi. The family had the following line inscribed upon his tombstone:


Such was the esteem in which the "scholarly old gentleman" was held.




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This exhibition was made possible in part with the cooperation of the International Al Jolson Society.


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