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July 27, 2012     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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July 27, 2012

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PAGE 10A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JULY 27, 201 ? Courtesy of Gil Dombrosky Gil Dombrosky, right, with his son, Todd, and granddaughter, Kayla, during a Civil War reenactment in Florida, 2006. By Debra Rubin WASHINGTON (JTA)-- Kim Drapkin says she has gunpowder in her blood. She loves to shoot, but you won't find her on a range with goggles and a pistol, or out in a forest with a hunting rifle and a camou- flage vest. A reproduction of an 1861 model Spring- field, muzzle-loading rifled musket is more her style. And you can find her on an open field wearing the gray woolen uniform of the Confederate States army. Drapkin, 50, is one of a minority of Jews among the many thousands of men and women who each year don the blue and gray for Civil War reenactments. Partici- pants are typically drawn to the reenactments, which often include weekend campouts and period-style Saturday evening dances, by their love for history and the outdoors, along with the camaraderie of the encampments. Beginning last year and continuing through 2015, a number of the events will mark the 150th anni- versaries of major battles, including a reenactment of the battle at Second Bull Run-Manassas set for Aug. 3-5 in Virginia. A sesqui- centennial reenactment of the battle at Antietam, the bloodiest day in U.S. history with some 23,000 casualties, is slated for Sept. 14-16 in Maryland. An estimated 10,000 Jews served during the Civil War, with 3,000 in the Confederacy and 7,000 in the Union, according to Lauren Strauss, an assistant professor of his- tory and Judaic studies at The George Washington University. There were about 150,000 Jews in the nation at the outbreak of hostilities in April 1861 and about 25,000 of them lived in the South, according to historians. With the North having a heavy population advan- 26 years as a Trial Attorney, Criminal, Family and Civil. 14 Years as a County Judge, serving in all divisions of the County Court. Board Certified as a Criminal Trial Lawyer prior to becoming a Judge. Florida Supreme Court Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award Florida Bar President's Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award. "My Pledge is to follow the law and in so doing insure thlt all reoeive fair and equal fragment in my oourt room PolWcai Adve t paid for and appp by Leon Cheek, non-partisan, for Orange County Judge, Group 13 Courtesy of Gil Dombrowsky The North attacking the South at Horse Landing in Florida. tage, the percentage of Jews fighting for the Confed- eracy was higher than those waving the Union flag. Southern Jews were well integrated into their new country, Strauss says. "They were quite loyal to their homes and Southern culture," she says. They believed in states' rights and a sense of freedom. It was basically the same rhetoric you'd hear from other Southerners--'This is our way of life, our inde- pendence.' " Southern Jewish slave owners existed in approxi- mately the same propor- tion as in the non-Jewish population, Strauss notes, yet Jews had far fewer slaves in total as they tended to be urban and typically had just two or three house slaves. By contrast, Northern Jews were more likely to be recent immigrants and thus less likely to be integrated into society. "It wasn't their country yet," Strauss says. "They didn't care that much and didn't understand the is- sues." Just as family members sometimes found them- selves on opposite sides of the North and South, so do members of Drapkin's fam- ily in the re-enactments. Her son and daughter portray rebels--she and her daughter will fill in for Unionists if there's a need--her children's dad is a Yankee (Drapkin assures JTA that her ex-husband's wearing blue had nothing to do with their divorce, saying the two started re- enactments only after their marriage ended.) Drapkin, who lives out- side of Baltimore, attributes her fascination with reen- actments to several things: a love of American history and the outdoors, a need for a hobby and the discovery that shooting the musket is a great stress reliever. "I get antsy off season," she says. "When I go out and fire the gun, I'm fine." Before deciding whether she wanted to portray a Con- federate or a Union soldier, she did some research. "I had to decide if I was going to portray someone now with my modern life and my modern views or what I would have been had I been born in 1840," Drapkin says. "I came to a startling revelation that Baltimore City was primarily Confed- erate and that the Jews of the Baltimore area primar- ily were Confederates It became a matter of which was worse evil--slavery, which you could legislate away, or government, which is going to take away the rights of the people." While Maryland itself stayed in the Union, that's largely because President Abraham Lincoln sent fed- eral troops into the state to keep it loyal, ensuring that Washington, D.C.'s northern flankwould not be an open route for Southern soldiers. Drapkin also learned that one of her ancestors had been a blockade runner for the South. "Everything pointed to being Confederate, so I went Confederate," she says. Gil Dombrosky came to the opposite conclusion. "I'm a Yank," says the resident of Fern Park and who works in the produc- tion department of Heritage Florida Jewish News. "I'm originally from Illinois and I would have been a Yank, since Illinois was in the North. My father's family is all from Pennsylvania. If anything, they would have been in the Northern army." He is a member of the 75th Ohio Volunteer Infan- try, 4th Brigade of Florida. His father's family came to the United States in the 1850s, but Dombrosky has no records on whether any relatives served in the Civil War. Dombrosky, 72, saw his first reenactment about 11 years ago in St. Cloud. "I went nuts [and thought] I've got to join that; I've been a history buff all my life," he says. Jeffrey Cohen, who calls himself a "loyal son of Abraham" using language of the time period to refer to Jews--typically wears the blue of the North, but now and then dons the gray. "Sometimes you have to be a cross-dresser," quips Cohen, a Rahway, N.J resident who plans to par- ticipate in the Manassas and Antietam commemo- rations. A lover of history, he says reenactments "honor the soldiers that actually served during the war, and keeps history alive." Plus, he says, "I'd be lying if I didn't say it's a lot of fun." While in uniform Cohen, 56, says he tries to put himself in the mind-set of a 19th-century soldier. "When a lady walks into a room, I will stand up," he says. And when he's met by Christian proselytizers-- common in the military camps back then--he says, "I say, 'Listen, I'm a son of Abraham.' Usually they leave me alone, but some- times they leave brochures. I'll tell them I left Europe to get away from this." Now and then, Drapkin says, "anti-Semitism does come up," with people us- ing offensive terms and fistfights breaking out. With Christian chaplains typically on hand for the weekends, which include Sunday morning church services, she recalls attend- ing one morning only to hear the minister "preach- ing how Jews are the cause of all the trouble. I got up and left." Yet she and others inter- viewed have had positive Jewish experiences as well. Dombrosky remembers one Sunday when a hand- ful of Jewish participants "asked the chaplain if he could do something for us." He obliged with the Hebrew blessing for wine. Cohen says that when re-enactors have used a field next to the Lubavitch Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, N.J one of the rabbis sometimes comes out on Saturdays to invite the Jewish participants to Shabbat services. "Some of them thought we were no better than goy- im," he says, with a laugh. "We would tease them, and hold our books upside down. We knew the prayers by heart. They would realize they'd been had." He also recalls being among a handful of Jews who brought challah and Shabbat candles to a reen- actment at Gettysburg. Drapkin once celebrated Rosh Hashanah on a battle- field. "We ended up with a whole bunch of people in our camp eating apples and honey, and challah," she says. One year she even made matzah ball soup in the field. "It was probably the best batch of matzah ball soup I ever made," she says.