Jacob’s Cane: A Jew­ish Fam­i­ly’s Jour­ney from the Four Lands of Lithua­nia to the Ports of Lon­don and Baltimore

  • Review
By – August 25, 2011
At a cer­tain point in this care­ful­ly researched and beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten sto­ry of a remark­able fam­i­ly, you begin to feel as if you have got­ten to know the peo­ple the author is writ­ing about. You admire the excep­tion­al accom­plish­ments of New’s great­grand­fa­ther, the inven­tor and busi­ness­man Jacob Levy, and the man who brought him to Bal­ti­more from Lithua­nia, her great-great uncle, tobac­co mag­nate and phil­an­thropist Bern­hard Baron. You become absorbed in the dra­ma of how two men who were close friends, and whose fam­i­ly mem­bers mar­ried each oth­er, could become ene­mies. And your heart aches at the fate of the Levy fam­i­ly mem­bers in Lithua­nia who were mur­dered by the Nazis and their col­lab­o­ra­tors. Inter­wo­ven in the author’s sen­si­tive and deeply felt quest to under­stand the per­son­al­i­ties and every­day lives of her ances­tors is an in-depth look at the his­to­ry of the tobac­co indus­try, which became the basis of Baron’s for­tune after he moved to Eng­land in the late 1800’s.

But the emo­tion­al pow­er of this book resides in the author’s jour­ney back to Lithua­nia, to the places where her rel­a­tives and their Jew­ish neigh­bors lived and died, and to the streets of Bal­ti­more where Levy and Baron toiled over ground­break­ing inven­tions intend­ed to improve the con­di­tion of the com­mon work­ing­man. The result is a book that cel­e­brates the tri­umph of the Jew­ish immi­grant over adver­si­ty and that tru­ly gives a yad vashem, a memo­r­i­al and a name, to Elisa New’s rel­a­tives who per­ished in the Holo­caust. Select­ed fur­ther readings. 
Shi­ra R. Lon­don is the librar­i­an at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Com­mu­ni­ty High School in Bal­ti­more, MD. She holds an M.L.S. from Colum­bia University.

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