As Purim approaches, thousands of Israeli children and families grapple with poverty
In the early part of 1914 Yudel and Louis received a letter telling them their parents wished to visit Eretz Yisrael. (The senior Raskases had purchased some land in Petach Tikva and did eventually settle there with their four youngest children.) Isaac asked the boys to return to St. Louis to take care of his dairy business during his absence, and Yudel and Louis returned in the late spring of 1914.
Louis left Ruth and their two small children in Radin, intending to return to them soon, but World War I made that impossible. Throughout the war he tried to get them out, but in vain. The town of Radin was caught in the maelstrom of bloody fighting on the German-Russian front, and civilians living there suffered grievously, sometimes under German control, sometimes under Russian control, as fierce fighting raged back and forth.
Throughout the war, for instance, Raskas was able to send his wife money through the American ministry in Warsaw, and thus she and her children lived in “comparative comfort,” as she later put it, compared with the abject poverty of the surrounding Polish population. Nevertheless, life for them there was extremely trying.[ii]
When World War I ended in 1918, Louis and Ruth found themselves in a quandary. He could not leave St. Louis because he was running his father’s dairy business. She, however, did not want to leave her parents and her family to come to a foreign country. Still, she loved her husband very much and wanted to be reunited with him.
It was suggested to her that she see her uncle, the Rabbi of the neighboring village of Aisheshuk (Lithuania-Eiszyszki), who was known for his scholarship, his wisdom, and his good judgment. After a lengthy conversation he told her, “You must now make a decision. Either stay here and get a divorce from your husband or join him.” She decided to come to America to unite the family. Her uncle supported her decision. Had she remained, she and her family would have been destroyed in the Holocaust, for there were no survivors of the Radun Massacre.[iii]
Mr. and Mrs. Raskas developed a type of sour cream they labeled “Smetina.” Eventually they gave up the milk business and concentrated on the manufacture of Smetina, cream cheese and other soft cheese products. The business eventually expanded into national and international markets, becoming a most successful food conglomerate.
Dr. Yitzchok Levine, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at email@example.com.
[ii] Zion in the Valley, The Jewish Community of St. Louis, Volume II, The Twentieth Century, by Walter Ehrlich, University of Missouri Press, 2002, page 123.
[iii] As A Brand Plucked From the Fire, by Bernard S. Raskas, communicated to the author by the late Walter Ehrlich.
[v] Ibid, page 124.
About the Author: Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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