Newspaper Archive of
Heritage Florida Jewish News
Fern Park , Florida
June 29, 2012     Heritage Florida Jewish News
PAGE 14     (14 of 20 available)        PREVIOUS     NEXT      Full Size Image
PAGE 14     (14 of 20 available)        PREVIOUS     NEXT      Full Size Image
June 29, 2012

Newspaper Archive of Heritage Florida Jewish News produced by SmallTownPapers, Inc.
Website © 2019. All content copyrighted. Copyright Information.     Terms Of Use.     Request Content Removal.

PAGE 14A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 29, 2012 By Paul Foer COLLEGE PARK, Md.--As the clouds and rain gave way to evening sunshine at Maryland's historic College ParkAirport, Rabbi Gil Stein- lauf of Washington, Adas Israel Congregation recites the kaddish for one of avia- tion's pioneers who died in a crash there on June 11, 1912, exactly 100 years to that day. A crowd gathers to pay tribute and open a museum exhibit to commemorate the Russian-born Jew who was the Wright Brothers' most trusted instructor, andwhose student became the head of the U.S. Army's air forces in World War II. Arthur Welsh, born Laibel Wellcher, is hardly a house- hold name today. Were it not for his death at age 31 at the College Park, Md airport, he'd probably be lionized along with legends of flight lik~ the Wrights, with whom he was so closely connected. At age 9 in 1890, Welsh came to the U.S. and settled in Philadelphia with his family. A1. as family and friends knew him, moved to Washington in 1898. He was raised Jewish, attended meetings of The Young Zionist Union and joined the U.S. Navyin 1901. . He served aboard two ships until he was discharged in 1905 as.a seaman, and then became a bookkeeper. He and his wife Anna Harmel were the first couple mar- ried in Adas Israel's second synagogue, now known as the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, in October 1907. Captivated by seeing one of the Wrights' demonstra- tion flights in Fort Myer, Va in 1909, Welsh decided to become a pilot. His initial application to the Wrights was rejected, butWelshwas so determined that he traveled to their base in Dayton, Ohio, where they agreed to accept him as a student. He entered the first class of the Wright Flying School in Montgom- ery, Ala in March 1910. Welsh then trained with Orville Wright near Dayton and soonbecame an instruc- tor at the Wright Flying School, where he later trained Henry "Hap" Arnold (who became the U.S. Air Force's five-star general). He also joined theWright's exhibition team, and established records for both speed and altitude Courtesy of the College Park Aviation Museum Arthur Welsh while he flew throughout 1910 and 1911. Welsh won a hefty $3,000 prize" at the International Aviation Meet at Grant Park in Chicago in August 1911 for being the first to fly more than two hours with a passenger. Sent to the U.S.Army's Avi- ation School in College Park, Welsh in the spring of 1912 made 16 official test flights for the Army on the new Wright C plane. On June 11 of that year, Welsh and a Lieutenant Hazelhurst were attempting to meet the Army's exacting loaded-climb test. According to the Jewish Historical Soci- ety of Greater Washington's (JHSGW) website, they took off at 6 p.m. and "the plane climbed to about 200 feet II and then dove downward at a steep angle to gain momen- tum to assist the climb." The airplane then "stalled and crashed into a field of daisies," and "both men were killed instantly, the first fatalities at the College Park airfield." Paul Glenshaw, an aviation historian with the Discovery of Flight Foundation, said Welsh "was the second of only two pilots trained by Orville Wright exclusively." Glenshaw confirmi~d that Welsh was the first Jewish- American pilot. Historians further believe, but cannot confirm, that Welsh was the first Jewish aviator in history. "The Wrights were very private," Glenshaw said this month on the 100th anniver- sary of Welsh's death. "Trust was earned. They did not bring people into their inner circle very easily. By Novem- ber 2011, all their pilots were gone except Welsh." What made Welsh different was that he "didn't make a lot of glaring headlines," Glenshaw said. "He was a married man," said Glenshaw, who added that most other early pilots were millionaires, stuntmen or racecar drivers. "Here's a short, little guy, apparently kind of gruff but he just did sober, straight-ahead flying." "It was probably through [Welsh's] sheer determina- tion and probably a great deal of charm that he was able to get into the Wrights' inner circle and to become their good friend," Glenshaw added. The cause and details of the fatal crash were not completely clear, although many observers--including journalists were present. Welsh was apparently ejected, and crushed his skull as he crash-landed in a field of daisies. Some accounts say the wings collapsed or that the plane buckled, with one saying it fell from only 30 feet. An Army investigation concluded that Welsh was at fault, but that was disputed. Welsh and Hazelhurst were but two of 11 killed in Wright Model C flights by 1913. Welsh's funeral, held on June 13. 1912, was briefly postponed so that Orville Wright and his sister Katha- rine could come from Dayton. It was just two weeks after the funeral of their brother, Wilbur. Wright served as a pallbearer along with Lt. Arnold. Welsh was buried in the Adas Israel Cemetery in Anacostia (which is in Wash- ington). In his autobiography, General Arnold said Welsh "taught me all he knew~ or rather, he had taught me all he could teach. He knew much more." Welsh's widow died in 1926, and their daughter Aline moved to England and lived until her 90s. The public reception marking the 100 anni- versary of Welsh's death featured speakers, the new exhibition, and descendants of the great aviator. A com- memorative sign honoring his unique place in aviation history was unveiled along with an Arthur Welsh Com- memorative Medal, com- missioned by the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington (JHSGW) and sculpted by former Lenin- grad Mint Chief Engraver Alex Shagin. JHSGW Presi- dent Laura Applebaum remarked that, "The notion of a Jewish immigrant pen- etrating the inner circle of the Wright Brothers seemed improbable." Cathy Allen, former Col- lege Park Aviation Museum director, recalled how the late Adas Israel rabbi, Stanley Rabinowitz, had once insisted to her that any exhibit about Welsh should prominently say he was a Jew. Allen re- called the rabbi admonishing her by saying that. "Being JeWish is why A1 Welsh is who he was". The Welsh exhibit in Col- lege Park runs until Sept. 3. For more information visit www.collegeparkaviation- By Gavin Rabinowitz CHISINAU. Moldova (JTA) To tour the largely empty Jewish communities of Moldova and its capital, Chi- sinau once known by Jews the world over as Kishinev--iS nottowonderwhere didall the Jews go but why there are any remaining. Overgrown cemeteries are all that remain of most outlying shtetls and long- abandoned synagogues that lay in ruins in the city, home to the notorious 1903 pogrom that prompted Theodor Herzl to propose his controversial Uganda plan as a temporary Zionist refuge. Chisinau once had 70 syna- gogues; today there is just one. As Alexander Pinchevsky said of the remaining house of wor- ship, "It's not good enough; it spoils the image of the Jewish community." Pinchevsky is one of two Jewish local tycoons work- ing to restore some dignity to the remnant and memory of Bessarabia's historic Jewish community amid its present despair and disrepair. And they have received backing from a surprising source: a man responsible for moving many of the country's Jews to Israel who now says he can rejuvenate the community with the help of local volun- teers-with an eye on Natalie Portman and Rahm Ernanuel. That's all taking place in a small, landlocked Eastern European nationwith abitter and violent recent history. In the 20th century alone, the country traded back and forth between the Russian Empire, Romania and the Soviet Union. About 20 years ago an independent Moidova emerged, one wracked with civil war and grinding poverty. The Jews fared even worse. Late 19th and early 20th cen- tury pogroms and persecution were succeeded by German concentration camps, death marches and mass, unmarked graves in the forests. Lib- eration at World War II's end turned into nearly five decades of Soviet oppression. Independence has brought little respite: So it was no surprise that when the Iron Curtain fell, Jewswhowere able fled. From a pre-World War II height of some 400,000 Jews, today there are 12,000 to 15,000 in the country, mostly in Chi- sinau. The small community is aweak one, besetwith mas- sive assimilation. Many are elderly and poor. And the long tradition of anti-Semitism has not abated, nor has govern- ment indifference to it. "The one thing we want is to know that tomorrow there will not be a pogrom, that they won't come and throw us in the river," said Anatholy Leibovitch, whose many local businesses include facilitating Israelis investing in Moldova. For the past decade, efforts to keep the community afloat have been mostly borne by Pinchevsky and Alexander. Bilinkis. They serve as co- chairmen of The Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Moldova and have been funding activities from their own pockets. Pinchevsky 56, is a busi- nessman with interests across the Moldovan economy, from a chain of gas stations to malls and health clubs. He also sits on the Moldova Olympic Committee. Bilinkis, 44, has a company that produces canned pickles and baby food. He also makes kosher wine. Most of their efforts have fo- cused on welfare for survivors and establishing Holocaust commemorations. Communi- ty events and celebrations are largely left to the traditional outside aid groups such as the Jewish Agency for Israel or the American Jewish Joint- Distribution Committee. Now the two community leaderswant to restore asrnall portion of the city's grand Jewish past. They are leading a group with an ambitious plan to restore the historic yeshi- va named for Yehuda Leib Tsirelson, the chief rabbi of Bessarabia, as the region was " once known. The only Jewish member of parliament in Ro- mania, hewas killedwhen the invading Germans bombed Chisinau. Pinchevsky and Bilinkis, alongwith eightotherwealthy Moldovan Jews, already have donated $660,000 to buy back the derelict shell of the build- ing. They need $3.4 million more for renovations~ much of which will have to come from outside the country, Pinchevsky said. Plans call for the reno- vated building to house a synagogue, yeshiva, mikvah, kosher restaurant and market. The structure is intended to be a focal point for the com- munity and host events such as a 600-person communal Passover seder organized by the philanthropists for the first time this year. The effort to reinvigorate the commur~ity is catching a boost from an unlikely source. Chaim Chessler has done more than anyone in receht times to deplete the number of Jews in Moldova, which numbered about 90,000 on the eve of independence. As the head of the Jewish Agency delegation to the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, he oversaw the massive aliyah to Israel. At one stage he was sending-500 Moldovans a day to the Jewish state, he said. "Maybe I'm guilty, or re- sponsible, for taking those I could to Israel, but now I also feel responsible to those who remain," he said. Since leaving the agency, he founded Limmud FSU in 2005. an organization that brings Jewish learning to Jews throughout the former Soviet Union. This month, the group hosted its first confer- ence in Moldova; more than 400 people showed up - ap- proximately 360 of them fro.m Moldova and the rest from Russian and Ukraine. Chessler believes that the key to Limmud's success is its reliance on volunteers, which gives the local community a sense of ownership over the program. "Much of the idea of Limmud is to return the pride to the community, to give them renewed energy," he said. But Chessler, a consum- mate showman with a restless energy, also is superb in the use of celebrity to give his program added gloss. He uses the emotional appeal of his projects to draw in the rich and famous, who then attach their luster to Limmud and the local community. For this program, he brought American philan- thropist and businessman Matthew Bro'nfman chair of Limmud FSU's steer- ing committee to discover his ancestors' hometowns. Bronfman. in turn, used his clout to persuade Moldovan Prime Minister Vlad Filat to attend Limmud's opening, an unprecedented stamp of government approval for the beleaguered Jewish com- munity. And Chessler knowswho he wants for the next Limmud. "We have to target Natalie Portman," he said. "Her family is from Moldova; we have to get in touchwith her. And also [Chicago Mayor and former Obama White House Chief of S~ff] Rahm Emanuel. He is difficult to reach, so we have a job to do." Such efforts may give Chisinau's Jews hope for a more vibrant community, but saving the smaller, outlying communities shells of the shtetls of the past--seems unlikely. One, Soroca, is on the border with Ukraine. It once had 18,000 Jews; only 100 are left and only 20 of them are Jewish according to Jewish law, said community head Semyon Weksler. The glory of his community is clearly in the past. "I have the cleanest ceme- tery in all ofMoldova." Weksler said with pride. "Ask anyone who has visited." Still, he seems undeterred in'his task. "Frankly speaking." he said.- "there are not going to be any Jews here in the near future. We will try and do everything we can so this light does not fade away."