Susan Marie Molloy

Life in the Oasis


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The Voting Rabbi: Tinted Toes, Temple, and The Times

In my last blog, “The Story of the Voting Rabbi,” I wondered who Rabbi Nathan Wolf was, that lone voter in New York’s 40th Precinct of the Tenth Assembly District in November 1934. Who was this man, this voter, this rabbi?

Apparently, he was a very busy citizen.

I found a blog, specifically Jen Taylor Friedman’s blog from HaSoferet.com, which spoke about Rabbi Wolf. He was quoted in the 1936 Milwaukee Journal article, “Tinted Toes Help Girls Get Higher Quality Husbands”:

The Marriage Brokers’ Association . . . reported Friday that tinted toe and fingernails are getting girls more and better husbands . . .  ”Every year there is more business,” announced Rabbi Nathan Wolf …”For example, the girls say ‘Do men like painted nails?’ I say ‘Listen, they want to marry a lady, a pretty one. So make yourself beautiful. Ruby, rose–they look nice. Color your nails if you want to. Even your toenails. It will be a surprise for him.’ . . . The association believes a girl should be beautiful, young in comparison to the man’s age, well-educated and have a dowry of some kind…

The rabbi seems to have had an open ‘round-the-clock temple, too:

He was apparently a bit creative when it came to raising a minyan: In a 1936 issue of the Jewish Floridian: “Midtown New York is being treated to the sight of a sandwich man advertising Yiskor and Kaddish services at the Temple and Centre of Times Square…The rabbi of the Temple is Dr. Nathan Wolf…” This is the Garment District in the 1930s, an area crammed full of Jewish immigrants working in garment manufacture. There were quite a lot of shuls in the area servicing the workers; I imagine that Rabbi Wolf’s “Always Open” temple was quite attractive to shift workers and so on who were trying to cram a bit of communal Judaism into their lives. Best guess is that his shul, like many others of the area, declined as the area ceased to be full of Jewish immigrants.

Moreover, in 1939, he published an encyclopedia of Jewish festivals and holidays.

And now, to return to the mid-term elections in November 1934.

The Chicago Tribune’s article (the one that started me on this research project), read thusly:

Conversely, the New York Times article reads a bit differently. The city’s cost is considerably less. The precinct number moves from the 49th to the 42nd. We see the addition of 100 spectators to the two policemen and four election officials. And we discover this is an annual event, and why he is the sole voter:


It’s difficult to discern which of the two newspaper stories are correct, and how much is embellished, based on missing information and conflicting data. That is, what is true, and what is not.

It sounds a lot like today’s news, doesn’t it?

©Susan Marie Molloy, and all works within.

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The Story of the Voting Rabbi

Writing is never conducted in a vacuum. There is research to be done, notes to be jotted down, paragraphs to be edited and deleted, thoughts to be discussed with family and friends, books to read and ruminate over, and more research to be delved into.

I’m in the process of writing a book I mentioned here once or twice. It seems that I’ve been writing it forever – and maybe so. It’s a story that’s been floating and spinning in my head and sprawled in shorthand and scribbled notes in a notebook for years. Just as writing – good writing – is never achieved in a vacuum, neither is composing a well-written book. And therein comes the research.

My book needed some information on women’s makeup fashion and habits from the 1930s. I knew a little bit about that – I’m a big fan of culture from the first half of the twentieth century – yet I needed specifics: product names, colors, types, where to buy the beauty products, et cetera. An Internet search led me to the November 7, 1934 archived issue of the Chicago Daily Tribune. It had advertisements and a plethora of information I could use.

My husband and I even found a story about one of his grandfather’s friends on the front page (There’s a story for the future!)

Then, turning to the front page, where the headlines and sub-headlines screamed all the news of the mid-term election where the Democrats were the Stars of the Day and won a Supermajority, and towards the bottom of the page, was this story of the voting rabbi in New York City:

Now I am curious why Rabbi Wolf was the only voter in the precinct. Did the election officials know there would be only one voter, or did it just turn out that way? Who was Rabbi Wolf? What kind of poems were in the book he carried to the polls?

This will need more research, and who knows where that will lead me?

©Susan Marie Molloy, and all works within.


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Language

Our language is beautiful in many ways: It’s flexible, lush with foreign root words, and there are thousands of words to convey our thoughts – so why should we debase it with vulgarity?

Today I spoke with one of my colleagues in Miami. During our conversation, he gave me one of the nicest compliments I received in the past month: He thought my use of rarely-heard words made our conversation so enjoyable, that it was “fun, in a retro way” to hear my playful use of clean language such as “swell” and “o-kee-do-kee” during our dialogue. In fact, he laughed, saying he hadn’t heard those types of words in over thirty years. For me, it’s been par for the course over a lifetime.

I grew up in a house where my parents and extended family didn’t use swear words. None. And yet, we kids received a rich education in words and usage. Yiddish words and expressions were such a norm, that I didn’t realize their origin until high school. (“His spiel is schmoozing with the schmo down the street.”) Even hip lingo made it under our roof (“Slap me five and give me some skin!”), and expressions dating from the 1920s (“She’s a hot tomato, but he’s a wet blanket!”) was the norm. A “fag” was a cigarette, and a “yo-yo” was someone who was out of touch, or crazy.

To this day, I use much of this slang, depending upon the situation. When I know someone well, and when the environment is relaxed, I’ll use it. Conversely, when I’m in a more formal setting, my words are more decorous. In fact, it holds true that when I’m speaking in certain circumstances, I allow my obvious combination of a Chicago accent-Polish dialect to bloom; yet in more formal settings, I tone it down.

I won’t use vulgarity in any setting, particularly swear and curse words. I cringe at hearing them, and I will stop reading when I see they are loaded within an article or in comments. I find that speaking without swearing projects a happier, positive mood and response. The other way – no.

Our language is too beautiful and the words too vast to slip in expletives every third word or so –

And I believe it’s more refreshing, too.

©Susan Marie Molloy, and all works within.


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BOOK REVIEW: “The 20s Girl, The Ghost, and All That Jazz” By June Kearns

The 20s Girl Picture CoverStraight out of the box, I found this novel fun and delightful to read. Englishwoman Gerry discovers her Aunt Leonie left her half a share of a Texas ranch, and an inscrutable Texan, Cooper, is somehow part of the deal.

June Kearns does a wonderful job with moving the story along at a perfect pace, and she is clever with awakening all the senses by utilizing flawlessly written words. I saw the colorful silk dresses and felt their melting softness; I smelled the fruity-spiciness of Mitsouko perfume; I was curious, wary, excited, and thrilled at the ups and downs of the relationship between the exuberant Englishwoman, Gerardina Mary Chiledexter (a.k.a. “Gerry”,) and the enigmatic Texan-with-no-surname, Cooper.

At first, I was a little chagrined at June Kearns’ writing style. The half sentences and phrases threw me off at the beginning, and I wasn’t sure if this would be a good read. However, I continued, determined, and discovered that much of what she wrote is, indeed, thoughts that ran through Gerry’s mind, and that we ourselves think and converse in such a manner. Does anyone think to themselves, or even speak to other in complete, perfectly grammatically correct sentences? Not always. Sometimes. Mostly. Indeed. Let’s move along—

What I was impressed with was Kearns’ knowledge and obvious well-researched history and social aspects of the 1920s world. She was right on about societal conventions, clothing, fashion, and even right down to perfumer Guerlin’s Mitsouko. That perfume, indeed, was a fairly new scent (introduced right after World War I) and was popular, too.

Kearns’ descriptions of England and Texas are picturesque and authentic. I felt I was in the cool, green English countryside and in the dusty, stifling heat of Texas. Even the brief allusions to Gerry’s ocean voyage and the undulating feel was something to which I could relate.

The romantic scenes are tastefully written and leaves all the details to the reader. To me, that is a sign of a truly gifted writer. Bravo!

I warmed up to Kearns’ writing style as I turned each page, I actually grew to care quite a bit about all the characters, living, dead, human, and beast. There were funny scenes and scenes that made me giggle, and I grew so curious about Archie, that, well, I’d like to see his story in a future Kearns novel. I would like to get to know him better.

All in all, I highly recommend “The 20s Girl, The Ghost, and All That Jazz” by June Kearns for anyone who likes the 1920s era, loves a little sweet romance, and relishes a mystery and intrigue.

This is a novel that I’ll pick again off my shelf and read.

©Susan Marie Molloy, and all works within.


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BOOK REVIEW: “Social Life in Old Virginia before the War” By Thomas Nelson Page

Social Life In Old Virginia Before the War.jpg“Social Life in Old Virginia before the War,” written by Thomas Nelson Page, is a well-written memoir of sorts of life in antebellum Virginia. This book was first published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1897 and is an assemblage of Page’s recollections on the arrangements of the economic and social hierarchies in antebellum Virginia.

In this book, Page shows the fallacies of Southern antebellum culture and presents his objective view of Southern life in those days before The Rebellion (1861-65). Even in those days – both in the era in which he lived and in the years prior and after – Southerners were described as shiftless, lazy, base, ignorant, brutal, and prejudiced people.

Page judiciously shows that the South wasn’t at all like that. He describes everyone’s vital role in maintaining and running the plantations, and that each person, from planter to field worker to servant to planter’s wife had important roles that kept operations running and productive.

I found this book to be very well-written and educational. Though there are some clichés (women’s complexions described as “peach-blossom,” for example), one can overlook that in favor of the actual facts and elements of many aspects of Old Virginia: How the English judged the Virginian accent and word pronunciation as being “near perfect;” the myriad and critical roles of the planters’ wives in running the farms; the maintenance of orchards; planting fields with various crops (wheat being one of them); the depictions of the harvests; the social hierarchy of the servants; the education of both planter and servant; et al.

Though most depictions of antebellum Southerners have them as leading an idyllic, mostly unproductive life complete with mint juleps and vapid conversations, Page’s book begins to dispel those views. Life in the Old South was anything but idyllic and unproductive. Those planters who could afford vast home libraries filled with the classics and books in languages other than English (Latin, Greek, and French, for example) were, indeed, filling their libraries with books they actually read. Those library were not just for show.

Indeed, “Social Life in Old Virginia before the War” clearly shows life in old Virginia and leads the reader towards a better understanding of the Southern mind today.

Thomas Nelson Page (1853-1922) was an American lawyer, writer, and ambassador to Italy. He was born in Hanover County, Virginia. He attended the University of Virginia and Washington College and practiced law in Richmond, Virginia between 1876 and 1893. He wrote many books and papers about the South and the antebellum years.

Readers can find “Social Life in Old Virginia before the War,” on Kindle through Amazon. I highly recommend this book as a continuing education for anyone who wants to have an honest and well-rounded primary source view of the antebellum years and to gain a better understanding of American political economic, and social history.  It is a good compendium to other contemporary works.

©Susan Marie Molloy and all works within.