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Sunday, July 3, 2011

Macy's Department Store and Israel - Did you know?

An interesting bit of Jewish history - gives great  meaning to  "Fate" and "Destiny" 

New York City, 1912
A special thanks to Marilyn Kane for sending me this story.

- Michelle

Macy's and Israel

At the turn of the twentieth century, two of the  wealthiest and most famous men in America were a pair of  Jewish brothers named Nathan and Isidor Straus. Owners  of R.H. Macy's Department Store and founders of the  A&S(Abraham & Straus) chain, the brothers were multimillionaires, renowned for their philanthropy and social activism.

In 1912, the brothers and their wives were touring Europe, when Nathan, the more ardent Zionist of the two,  impulsively said one day: "Hey, why don't we hop over to  Palestine?"

Isidor and Nathan Straus
Israel wasn't the tourist hotspot then that it is today. Its population was ravaged by disease, famine, and  poverty; but the two had a strong sense of solidarity with their  less fortunate brethren, and they also wanted to see the  health and welfare centers they had endowed with their  millions.

However, after a week spent touring, Isidor Straus had had enough. "How many camels, hovels, and yeshivas can you see? It's time to go," Isidor decreed with edgy impatience in his voice. But Nathan refused to heed his brother's imperious command. It wasn't that he was oblivious to the hardships around him; it was precisely because of them that he wanted to stay.

Ottoman Palestine, 1912
As he absorbed firsthand the vastness of the challenges his fellow Jews were coping with, he felt the burden of responsibility.  "We can't leave now," he protested. "Look how much work has to be done here. We have to help. We have the means to help. We can't turn our backs on our people."  "So we'll send more money," his  brother snapped back. "I  just want to get out of here."

But Nathan felt that money simply wasn't enough. He felt that the Jews who lived under such dire circumstances in Palestine needed the brothers' very presence among  them: their initiative, their
leadership, and their ideas. Isidor disagreed. The two argued back and forth, and finally Isidor said, "If you insist, stay here. Ida and I are going back to America where we belong."

The two separated. Isidor and his wife returned to Europe, while Nathan and his spouse stayed in Palestine, traveling the country and contributing huge sums of money to the establishment of education, health, and social welfare programs to benefit the needy.

Natanya, Israel
Nathan also financed the creation of a brand-new city on the shores of the Mediterranean. And since his name in Hebrew was Natan, and he was the city's chief donor, the founders named it after him and called  it...Natanya.

Meanwhile, back in Europe, Isidor Straus was preparing  to sail home to America aboard an ocean liner for which he had also made reservations for his brother, Nathan, and his wife.  "You must leave Palestine NOW!" he cabled his brother in an urgent telegram. "I have made reservations for you and  if you don't get here soon, you'll miss the  boat." But Nathan delayed.

There was so much work to be done that he waited until  the last possible moment to make the connection. By the time  he reached London, it was April 12 and the liner had already left port in
Southampton with Isidor and Ida Straus aboard.

Nathan felt disconsolate that he had, as his brother had warned, "missed the boat." For this was no        
The Titanic leaving Belfast Harbour
ordinary expedition, no common, everyday cruise that he had forfeited, but the much ballyhooed maiden voyage of the most famous ship of the century. This was the Titanic.

Nathan Straus,  grief-stricken and deeply mourning his brother and sister-in-law could not shake off his sense that he had had a rendezvous with history. The knowledge that he had avoided death permeated his consciousness for the rest of his life, and until his death in l931, he pursued his philanthropic activities with an intensity that was unrivaled in his time.

Today, Natanya is a scenic resort city of 200,000 and headquarters to Israel's thriving diamond trade - one of the most important industries in the country.  And in almost every part of the city, there is some small reminder of  Nathan Straus's largesse, his humanity, and love for his people.

His legacy lives on.

Otto Frank
Nathan's son (Nathan Jr., 1889รข€“1961) attended Princeton University and arrived in Heidelberg University in 1908 where he met a young art history scholar named Otto Frank. Otto accepted a job in Macy's with Nathan Straus, Jr., where he fell in love with New York and its brashness. But in 1909, Otto's father died and he returned to Germany where he fought in World War I and lived  to see the time when he and his family would have to leave Germany because of anti-Semitism. One of Otto's daughters was Anne Frank.
Anne Frank

1 comment:

  1. In 1893, Nathan and Isidor bought out Joseph Wechsler from the Abraham and Wechsler dry goods store in Brooklyn, New York, which they renamed Abraham & Straus.