tv Book Discussion on The Jews of Key West CSPAN August 26, 2015 6:30pm-6:42pm EDT
you don't know what the future holds, but things are changing with cuba. in the past, we had a very close relationship with cuba. it is going to be a new adventure as things between key west and cuba change over the next few years. tour of keyue our west with arlo haskell. he wrote a book on the jewish history of key west. arlo: the book i am working on is called "the jews of key west ." it looks at the jewish community, both the growth of the jewish community which began in earnest in the 1880's and also the earlier history prior to the 1880's of independent
jewish travelers that had passed through key west beginning as early as 1823. by studying the life of the jewish community, which has always been a small, but significant piece of the overall community, it has allowed me to gain a richer sense of the key west community at large. in the 1880's, we get to the birth of key west's jewish community. they are a group of people who identify themselves as jews and are identified by the overall inhabitants of the town. 1880's, it was a time of great difficulties for jews in europe. jews were laws targeting or making jewish life difficult
and this led to a huge explosion in jewish immigration into the united states. jews came to new york first was not a terribly common next stop, but a smart choice for the people who made it. key west was the wealthiest city per capita in the united states. there was a thriving cigar industry here and a lot of activity going on. in 1886, there was a fire that third or about one half of the business district, caused massive devastation, wiping out lots of businesses, lots of stores. it is right after that fire that
a handful, maybe a dozen, maybe 20 jewish peddlers are recorded as coming to key west selling their products door to door streets of key west. fire, youis after the have these established business interests focused on rebuilding. all of their inventory had been destroyed. they had a good bit of work in front of them and some of these jewish peddlers came to settle in key west during that time capitalizing on this opportunity of a wealthy town whose inventory had been destroyed by fire. opportunities to make it in business at that time and that group, about a dozen or so jews from russia, parts of the russian empire, including
poland, romania as well, who arrived here and really laid the foundation for the jewish community that would grow up after that. meanwhile, there is a parallel group of jewish cigar manufacturers who were here as early as 1867 when samuel seidenberg arrived. he was followed by people like david pohalski. a number of jewish cigar manufacturers operating here who -- they were a completely different group from the peddlers. the peddlers were young eastern european single men hoping to make a living and a cigar manufacturers had been here for quite a while already. any of them have served in the civil war, they were older and
wealthy. they tended to be germans and central europeans. you have these two groups of time, butat the same living in completely different worlds. the cigar industry was established i samuel seidenberg, -- by samuel seidenberg, a german-born jew. as went into of -- new laws encouraged domestic production of cigars, made it easier to import leaf tobacco and roll the cigars in the united states. 1867, you had a handful of very small storefront cigar shops that would roll smokes for people walking around key west. he started the first large-scale
manufacturing here in key west. he employed about 500 people at his factory, so it was a huge operation. he made a fortune doing it and quickly pointed the way for other cigar manufacturers, cuban and american manufacturers to operate in key west. growing and by the time the 1880's hit, key west was far and away the most important cigar manufacturing place in the world and key west cigars had a reputation as being the finest smoke to be had. period notes the first immigration quotas, which dramatically limited the number
of jews who could legally immigrate to the united states. of course, as it does today, when we curtail legal immigration, we see a rise in illegal immigration to guess people will go where they need gogo -- because people will where they need to go. eastern european jews hoped to reach the united states and they were now traveling to cuba. there was a loophole that if you could establish residency in cuba for a year, you could enter into the united states. a number of jews started coming to cuba, less than 100 miles from key west, and when that loophole was closed, you had this stranded community of european jews who still wanted to get to the united states.
there emerged smuggling networks. smuggling jewish would-be ,mmigrants alongside liquor narcotics as well. groups these nefarious of smugglers that were aiding jewish migration from eastern europe to the united states. discoveries i have made, a guy who ran a way station here where little boats with jewish refugees would be delivered to key west and he would rescue them at night and bring them to a safe house, hold them, feed them, and look after them for a couple of days until transportation could be arranged.
known as the southern terminal of the jewish underground railroad. after the 1920's into the depression years of the 1930's, the jewish community contracted and became much smaller. miami was rising as a city of great economic opportunity. key west was declining. key west has always been a place of boom or bust. west, thetion of key overall population, fell by half over a period of 10 years. community was moving to miami and the kind of core community that remained here, a
dozen families remained in key west. the community only really began to expand again in the postwar years after world war ii when you had a new wave of jewish americans coming to key west from elsewhere in the united states and creating this postwar boom that happened in the lots of -- in lots of american cities. in 1969.nds that is when the new synagogue was built on united street. anytime you have an opportunity to look at a small group of people, marginalized people, you get to look at the dominant culture through a different lens and you see how individual lives
were impacted and how it affected families and individuals. you come away with a richer sense of who we all are and what life is all about, recognizing differences and celebrating differences and being aware of all of these different threads that make up american life and history and that make us who we are. >> every january, the key west literary seminar brings together writers and readers for panel discussions. we learn more about the literary conference, next. arlo haskell: it was established back in 1983 by david at his wife