• Rose Rowady hailed from the mountains of Lebanon not far from Palestine. In the early 1920s she found herself in Winchester, Kentucky struggling to raise her seven kids during the Great Depression.

    Rose Rowady
  • New Yorker, Rose Moosnick, had an urban personality in small town Kentucky. When another Jewish family moved in, Rose knocked on the new neighbor’s door and said, We have good relation with the goyim (non Jews), don’t ruin it.

    Rose Moosnick
  • Teresa Isaac is a contemporary Arab American politician who was the mayor of Lexington, KY from 2002 to 2006. Unlike other Arab American Christians, she does not shun Muslim Arabs.

    Teresa Isaac
  • Rose Moosnick raised her boys in small town Kentucky from the 1920s to the 1950s as virtually the only Jews. Even though isolated from their own, Rose expected her sons to marry Jewish women. From left to right, Monroe and Sonia Moosnick, center, Rose, and Franklin and Marilyn Moosnick.

    Moosnick family
  • Nadia Rasheed, M.D., is an American born Iraqi. Since her family came to Kentucky nearly two decades ago, Nadia has unconditionally devoted herself to her Muslim community in Kentucky.

    Nadia Rasheed
  • Arnold’s, a dress shop in Hopkinsville owned by the Myer sisters

    Arnold’s dress shop
  • Former Lexington mayor Teresa Isaac while visiting Pakistan

    Teresa Isaac in Pakistan
The Call of Lebanon

The Call of Lebanon

I met Macy at the Kentucky Book Fair.  She was peddling her book as I was mine.  When she came to my table, her story was not the normal Lebanese story I had come to know.  Like other Lebanese immigrants, her family had come to Kentucky in the 1920s and opened a store in eastern Kentucky.  At some point, her father decided that better profits were to be had in eastern Tennessee and moved the family there.  Unfortunately, he did not get to see his Tennesssee store through to fruition because he died, leaving Macy’s mother, in her twenties, to fend for her three children.

Macy’s mother prospered and made the store a success, but decided it was time to return to Lebanon.  She packed up her family and sold her Tennessee home, instructing her neighbors to take what they wished from the house.  She returned to Lebanon raising children who became successful adults and who chose to leave Lebanon.  Macy moved back to Kentucky and became a psychology professor.  Her mother, meanwhile, stayed in Lebanon and fearlessly managed years of civil war.  Macy recalled being on the phone with her mother during the war and  hearing shelling in the background.  Her mother would try to console her daughter’s fear for her safety.  “Oh, that’s far away,” her mother would say when artillary would fall not on her street but two streets over.

KFC in Lebanon

KFC in Lebanon

I interviewed a Lebanese American (Kentucky) woman, Elsie.  She was born and raised in Kentucky’s largest city, Louisville.  But her frame of reference also included Lebanon given that her parents were originally from there and everyone around her was either Lebanese or Lebanese American like herself.  Lebanese communities had been reproduced in Louisville.  Childhood playmates were the children of her mother’s playmates in Lebanon.

Elsie made trips to Lebanon after her parents had died to see family members she both knew and had never met, honoring her mother’s memory because her mother never returned.

Kentucky was never far off for Elsie even when in the Middle East.  Elsie visited those things familiar to her while in Lebanon like Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Elsie, along with others on her trip from Kentucky, entered the restaurant and exclaimed, “we’re from Kentucky.”  The workers, according to Elsie, however, “didn’t know what we were talking about.”

 

Aunt Sarah

Aunt Sarah

Aunt Sarah was not a Kentuckian.  No, no, no.  She was a New Yorker–to her core.  A slight woman weighing maybe 73 pounds and standing at 4’11 or somewhere in that vicinity, she was, nonetheless, of strong constitution.  She never married nor had children, but worked as an administrative assistant to an attorney on the 86th floor of the World Trade Center (long before the towers came down).  She spoke her mind.  Of her expansive rent controlled apartment in Astoria, Queens she said, “they (her landlords) want me to die so they can charge more.”  She usually spoke the truth.

Maybe twice a year she would visit us in Kentucky.  The adults dreaded her outspoken monologues.  “Why Kentucky?  Why did Laz (my grandfather) have to take Rose (her sister and my grandmother) to Kentucky?  What’s here?  You know, Laz never would have made it (in his store) if it weren’t for Rose.”  Kentucky was an out of the way place for Jews to be according to Aunt Sarah.  But as she neared retirement (which she never did), amazingly enough, she commented, “maybe I’ll move to Kentucky.”

She died alone in a hotel at Tanglewood years ago.  May she rest in peace.

Belonging to Kentucky and Jordan

Belonging to Kentucky and Jordan

I chatted with Sawsan in her living room adorned with items such as a hookah from her home, Jordan.  Sawsan, over twenty years in the United States, loves her adopted land, and Lexington, Kentucky, in particular, with its close-knit, internationally diverse and religious Muslim community.  But she also never loses sight of Jordan and raises her children knowing her home–taking them back with her when she can.

While a devoted Muslim, Sawsan doesn’t fit stereotypes.  She doesn’t cover her head.  She’s a fashion maven and keeps abreast of European fashions and, as such, she worked at Victoria’s Secret in the mall in Kentucky.

A Chicago Girl in Kentucky

A Chicago Girl in Kentucky

My mother, Sonia, moved to KY in the late 1950s to marry my father.  She was a Chicago girl raised in an all Jewish neighborhood in the 30s and 40s.  Jewish she was, but religious she was not.  She use to say, “I never thought about being Jewish in Chicago.  I became more religious in KY.”  Not fully, because when we were young she would steal away from services to smoke a cigarette with other women.

Between Kentucky and Iraq

Between Kentucky and Iraq

Iraqi communities find new life and are reproduced in Kentucky.  Refugees flee a war torn country overseas and arrive in middle America to face the demands of being in a culture, for instance, that relies on owning a car.  In central Kentucky, Iraqis also encounter advocates like Nadia Rasheed who make sure they join the close-knit Kentucky Iraqi community and avoid isolation.

 

BAGELS in Kentucky

BAGELS in Kentucky

bagel

1970's Kentucky was not a hot spot for finding fresh bagels.  Every Saturday, after Shabbat had ended, we ate defrosted Lender's bagels straight from the bag.  Bagels, at the time, were not a food a choice known to the masses.  We marveled and treasured bagels that came our way from the northeast.  I was unfamiliar with traditional Kentucky foods, because I came from a kosher home.  Hot browns, bacon, grits, and burgoo were things I didn't taste until I was a young adult.  And it was just the other day that I entered the KY butcher shop known for its hams and not kosher meats given that my childhood involved travelling to Cincinnati to buy kosher goods. Continue reading...

Not Stereotypical Kentuckians

Not Stereotypical Kentuckians

WE LIVE IN THE SAME STATE BUT DO WE KNOW EACH OTHER?

Stereotypes are shunned in contemporary America.  Somehow launching sweeping characterizations of Appalachian states and inhabitants remains acceptable.  No doubt, Kentucky is not NY.  Diversity is not the norm in KY as it is in urbane locales, but the State is not devoid of minorities.  Arabs and Jews emerge in unexpected places.  Despite being less than 1% of KY's population, according to the Arab American Institute, the Arab population in KY is among the fastest growing in the country. Continue reading...

Dramatic Presence in Eastern Kentucky

Dramatic Presence in Eastern Kentucky

alene

Joe and Alene Isaac had a dramatic presence in eastern Kentucky.  They ran movies theatres throughout the region.  Joe was stern and always formally dressed in suits that he had shipped into the mountains from Daytona Beach.  Alene, according to her granddaughter, Teresa, kept customers coming to the theatres with her kind demeanor and notable beauty.  Alene was an actress whose dramatic ways equipped later generations of her family to take to the political stage. Continue reading...

Shopkeepers

Shopkeepers

scan0008

Gishie and Julian Bloomfield owned and operated the New Way Shoe Shop in downtown Lexington, KY for decades starting around the time of WWII.  Gishie, in particular, was a dedicated saleswoman.  As her daughter, Simone, said of her, She was a really hard sell.  She was a saleswoman.  Her idea was not to let them (customers) out of the store without buying something.  Gishie was adroit on the sales floor at a time when the business contributions women made were not fully appreciated even when the women were the forces behind family stores. Continue reading...