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B’nai Khaim in America By Joseph M. Gillman Foreword This study concerns the adaptations to the American way of life of nearly 100 immigrant Jews, stemming from a common ancestor, and of their American-born offspring. Nearly all of these immigrants came here in the years 1903-1914 and 1921-1925. The “common ancestor” was a candlemaker named Khaim Kaprov who lived in Yustingrad, a ghetto town in the Ukraine, circa 1800-1870. We call his descendants the B’nai Khaim; liter- ally, the children of Khaim. For convenience, we shall use this collective term to designate any single Khaim Kaprov descend- ant, any segment of the mishpokhah, as well as the whole mishpokhah. So, I am a B’nai Khaim, my children and grand- children are B’nai Khaim, and the book treats of the B’nai Khaim – of the B’nai Khaim in America. The criteria for evaluating the “adaptations” of the B’nai Khaim in America are the values and mores of the religious and cultural life in which our immigrants were nurtured in their native Ukraine. I treat of this background mostly in the first three chapters of the book. I then seek to evaluate the eco- nomic, sociological and cultural levels which they and their American-born offsprings have attained here over the past 60 years. In turn, all these achievements ( and failures ) are mirrored in the degree of adherence to and departure from the precepts and practice of traditional orthodox Judaism of the 19th-century Ukrainian Jewry. The chapters on the Ukrainian home culture are based in the main on my own recollections from childhood, reinforced and amplified over the years by family lore. The rest of the book, the major portion, in fact, is organized around information secured from the B’nai Khaim in the past several years through formal questionnaires, personal interviews and voluminous cor- respondence. This information they supplied me either directly or through my “lieutenants” living in various parts of the coun- try, literally from Maine to California. All the information was given voluntarily, although not without occasional prodding. In all these respects the study is intensely personal. On my part, I knew Yustingrad, where the study begins, and its people through closest association: I lived there until I was 14 years old and in nearby Uman for another four years. I knew the B’nai Khaim intimately, being one of them. I continued intimate con- tact with most of them over the years in America through fre- quent visits and correspondence. Through my “lieutenants” I extended this personal relationship to the many B’nai Khaim I could not meet individually. To do so would have been physi- cally impossible in any case. Excluding children under age 16, but including spouses, our “statistical population” is now over 250. It would have required a “university team” to do the study on a personal interview basis. In no small way, however, the study was made possible by the confidence my kin had for me. Their willingness to cooperate reflects, in a measure, the extent to which the traditional cohesiveness of the Jewish family still operates in America a half-century beyond the ghetto life of old Russia. On the other hand, while in most cases this personal touch was a positive asset in the pursuit of the inquiry, in several cases it proved a handicap. Some B’nai Khaim “who knew not Joseph” were reluctant to divulge their “vital statistics” to a distant relative. In the end, however, replies to our question- naires ran 85 to 95 per cent of potential respondents, depending on the “depth” of the questions. The “potential” is the entire American B’nai Khaim “family tree.” This study had been germinating in my mind for over 40 years, but it was not until 1946 that I took the first steps to give it concrete form. The immigrant generation was beginning to fade away: the second generation was maturing, and the third was pressing forward. Material was accumulating to give the study substance. That year I visited my uncle, the late Rabbi Avrom Kaprov, in Bangor Maine, and obtained from him the basic information regarding our family origins back to Zeide (grandfather) Khaim. It was a fortunate visit for the future of the Project: Fetter Avrom died the next year, at age 80. There was no one else even then who knew of these early records. I let another dozen years go by before I followed up that lead. In 1958 and 1959 I interested four more relatives in the study. These gathered preliminary statistics on B'nai Khaim of whom I had but limited information. Finally, in early 1962, I enlisted the interest of a number of younger B'nai Khaim who volunteered to gather the mass data I needed for the study. Working within a most closely related family group each volunteer, as my "lieutenant," collected the statistics for the "family tree" and drew up the family charts. My helpers distributed questionnaires relating to the location, education and occupation of the B'nai Khaim. to the usual vital statistics of age, nativity, marital status. etc., and to changes in family tradition. Often I called on them to coax recalcitrants in to compliance and to carry the brunt of my impatience when returns did not come fast enough or were inadcquate or inconsistent in content. The book has three objectives. The first one, of course, is the chronicling for the present and future generations of B'nai Khaim of the story of their heritage. I wanted them to be able to say without apology. "My immigrant grandfather was an illiterate junk dealer," even as Carl Sandburg declared in an interview on his 86th birthday, recently, that his grandfather was an illiterate blacksmith who signed his name with an X. Secondly, I think, the study might serve to stimulate similar studies of other American-Jewish families as well as families of non-Jewish ethnic groups of recent immigrant origins. Thirdly, the findings should be useful in studies of cultural anthropology at a time when the question of the ethnic pluralism of our society is engaging the scholarly interest of academic sociologists as well as religious and political leaders. Although this is a study of the social, economic and cultural experiences of a rather large family group of Yustingrad origin, it is not presented as a sample of the experience in America of all emigrants from Yustingrad and their American-born offspring. Nor, definitely, is it presented as the experience of American Jews of other immigrant origins. Ours is a study in cultural change of a single Jewish mishpokhah. And the changes I talk about are projected against the specific cultural background of this group. Moreover, any generalizations that might seem to be warranted by our findings must be evaluated with due regard to the time limitations of the coverage. The American-born B'nai Khaim are hardly more than two generations removed from their immigrant progenitors and their age-old mores. The definitive story of "The B'nai Khaim in America" will have to wait another generation or more when another descendant of Khaim the candlemaker will resume where we leave off.