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August 17, 2012     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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PAGE 14A By Dan Pine j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST 17, 2012 New book toasts Naoa Valley&apos;s rich Jewish heritage ley'sJewishteritage,"anew pioneer to be in this area. Jewish vintners continued cent decades, Napabecomes almost murdered a few years later by a jealous suitor). These are just a few of the fun facts found in "Napa Val- That green cornice- topped building on Napa's Main Street that houses the Opera House offices? In the 1940s, local Jews used to meet on the second floor, just above Lazarus Auto Supply, to welcome Shabbat. That elegant Victorian mansion with the Queen Anne. turrets which today headquarters St. Clement Vi.neyards in St. Helena? Jewish winemaker Fritz Rosenbaum built it in 1878 for his family (including daughter, Bertie, who was Maintenance Inc. 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Recalls Mendelsohn, "A friend of mine once told me that when she had gone to the Napa Valley Histori- cal Society and asked about early Jewish pioneers, she was told there were no Jews [there] in the 1800s and early 1900s." So not true. The 128-page book packs in a lot of history, much of it told through archival photographs the authors uncovered at local historical societies. They used those photos to retell a fascinating narrative about a place that once was not so upscale. "Life was very difficult," Mendelsohn says of Napa's early days. "There were no roads, no hospitals, no services, no schools for the most part. You had to be a By Rabbi Rachel Esserman The (Vestal, N.Y.) Reporter There's nothing like the winning combination of a warm summer day, a cold drink and murder. I would clarify that statement, but it sounds like a great opening line for a murder mystery. Mysteries make for wonder- ful summer reading: While it may be too hot to concentrate on a literary novel, it's never too warm for murder and mayhem. "Boston Creme" Parents are often unfamil- iar with the details of their adult children's lives so it's no surprise that the Boston-area police aren't worried about the reported disappearance of 30-year-old David Fine. How- ever, his Toronto-based par- ents know their surgeon son would never disappear for two weeks without contacting them or the hospital where he works unless something was seriously wrong. That's why the Fines hire private detective Jonah Geller to find David. They trust Geller not only because he's Jewish (although non-observant), but because he understands why they're so worried. In the third novel in the Geller series "Boston Creme" (Vin- tage Canada), author Howard Shrier shows their belief in Jonah is not misplaced. Geller travels to Boston with his partner, Jenn Raudsepp, and finds that something far greater than a man's life is at stake. As they learn the reasons behind David's disap- pearance, Boston becomes a very dangerous place. Geiler comes across as a typical PI, but his musings on the difficulties of being a sec- It was bucolic and beautiful but in a primitive way." She and Michalski learned that Jews flocked to Napa in the wake of the 1849 Gold Rush, opening dry goods stores and providing other necessities to the region's growing population. The authors discovered tales of enterprising, hard- working Jewish immigrants determined to make a life in the narrow valley. Many got in on Napa's wine industry as it first developed. "Since wine is really im- portant in Jewish history, the majority of Jews who became involvecl in the industry did it for the great love of wine," Mendelsohn notes. " Abe Lachman started making wines in the 1870s, building a business that became one of the state's largest wine merchants. By 1902; the California Wine Association, backed by Isaias Hellman and other Northern California Jewish financiers, controlled more than 50 wineries. Lachrnan's nephew, Henry Lachman, ran the association and late acquired Greystone Cellars, now home to the Culinary Institute of America, a prominent landmark along Napa's Highway 29. Throughout Prohibition, to produce what were called sacramental and medicinal wines. During that same pe- riod, Mendelsohn notes, national wave Of nativism and anti-Semitism rolled over the region, even strik- ing Napa. The Ku Klux Klan once marched in the valley. Though she found no evidence of violence, Mendelsohn says many Jews left Napa, only to return after the Depression. But other Jews thrived. In 1906 immigrant Nathan Rothman started Rough Rider, a Napa garment business that thrived into the 1970s (it was the first manufacturer to put zippers in pants). There were few syna- gogues in Napa until rela- tively late. Jews met in homes, social halls (such as the one above the auto supply shop) or at shuls as far away as Va]lejo. In her research, Men- delsohn learned that a syna- gogue apparently existed in St. Helena back in the late 1800s, though documents revealed little. She located the building and took a tour. In the basement she found "hooks in the ceiling, used to hang poultry for kosher slaughter. As the story shifts to re- Murderous mysteries for midsummer home to a thriving Jewish community, anchored by Congregation Beth Shalom, which opened in 1953. The bo6k profiles notable Na- pan Jews, from present-day winemakers to Leo Trepp, the German-born rabbi who fled Hitler in the 1930s and became Beth Shalom's first spiritual leader. Her synagogue is current- ly overseeing the acquisition of Napa Valley's first Jewish cemetery, which will be at St. Helena Cemetery. And the last page of the book includes a photo of Dan Eisner, Beth Shalom's education director, showing b'nai mitzvah children the Torah scroll. Those kids will continue the Napa Valley Jewish story well into the 21st century. Now that she's co-written the book on Napa's Jewish history, how does she assess the experience? "It was wonderful," Mon- delsohn says about her sleuthing. "I got very ex- cited that we vere providing something the community didn't know about. Every time we found one clue, we found something else." Dan Pine is a staff writer forj. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California, from which this article was reprinted by permission. ond son--one who can never match his older brother's ac- complishmentsadd depth to his character, as does his understanding of the clues that show David hasn't volun- tarily gone missing. The plot proved interesting enough to make me ponder it when not reading the novel, which is a rare occurrence. Halfway through the book the mystery is solved, but that doesn't stop the action. "Boston Creme" then turns into a fast-paced work of suspense, as Jonah fights against the clock to save lives. This is not a light- hearted mystery: the mood is serious and Geller faces some very unpleasant challenges, which will not deter those whose preference is for gritty, hard-boiled mysteries. "Children of Wrath" The late 1920s are not a good time to be Jewish in Germany, even if you are a cel- ebrated World War I hero and a successful police detective. When the American stock market crashes, Willi Kraus learns about the underside of his country, including a hideous crime: sacks filled with the bones of children have been found floating through the sewer system. In "Children of Wrath" by Paul Grossman (St. Martin's Press), Willi must not only search for a deadly murderer, but fightwith his own depart- ment for enough resources to solve the crime. Plus, he must decide if it's worth risking his loving relationship with his wife to work on a case that could place him and his family in danger. In his second novel about the German detective, Gross- man manages to combine a fast-paced plot With an excel- lent portrait of the difficulties Willi faces as a Jew. Instead of slowing down the action, the story of his family--par- ticularly the effect that the rise of the Nazis has on their life--adds depth to the story. While I managed to guess the villain, the twists and turns of the plot were absorbing enough to keep my interest. Readers should note that the novel includes gruesome descriptions, so those who prefer light-hearted myster- ies may want to take a pass, However, those who enjoy a serious historical work will find much to admire. "Nights of Awe" To whom does a police inspector owe his loyalty: his religious community or the society he's hired to protect? Ariel Kafka, an inspector in the Finnish police depart- ment of Helsinki, faces this question in "Nights of Awe" by Harri Nykinen (Bitter Lemon Press), the first novel in a series originally published in Finland. When two Arabs are murdered, Kafka is called to the crime scene. When the Finnish Security Police start asking questions, Kafka'won'ders if there are political impli- cations to the deaths. To further complicate mat- ters, members of the Jewish community--including his brother--start asking for insider information. The case become even more complex when Kafka learns that an Israeli minister may be coming to Helsinki for Yom Kippur. The inspector is faced with a dilemma: finding the true murderers may create an international incident. Kafka is an appealing detective: a non-observant 40-something Jewish bach- elor who is such a stubborn, dedicated policeman that he's willing to risk his ca- reer to get an answer. The plot is exciting, with so many unexpected twists and turns that readers will find themselves quickly turning pages. Itwas also interesting to learn about the Finnish Jewish community and the relationship between Kafka and his fellow officers. Here's hoping Bitter Lemon Press publishes the remain- ing books in the series.