Author addresses Judaism and minority in Utah
May 16, 2008
Serfdom was reinstated in Utah this past week, at least for a few moments.
Eileen Hallet Stone, historian, freelance writer and author of "A Homeland in the West: Utah Jews Remember," addressed an audience in Park City at the McPolin Farm this past Thursday and used a few of the audience members to illustrate some of the roots of anti-Semitism. Her lecture addressed the Jewish experience, but more generally she tackled diversity in the state (and territory) as part of the Park City Historical Society’s Brown Bag Lecture Series. Stone’s speech was also made possible by the Utah Humanities Council, which funds some of her historical research.
Jewish history in Utah extends back nearly as far as non-indigenous experience on the whole. One of Stone’s favorite stories, and the one closest to her heart as a historian and writer, is that of Solomon Nunes Carvalho, an explorer and member of a John C. Frémont 1853 expedition. Frémont, the self-styled "Pathfinder" of the West cut some of the most famous and ill-fated trails into the West. For his part, Carvalho documented the expedition using his sketch pad and an early type of photograph called a daguerreotype. It was "so unusual that a man would photograph gentry and come out West," said Stone. All the while, she continued, he "managed to maintain his spiritual shawl, his talit."
Stone was first drawn to the stories of westward-bound Jews not simply as a person of Jewish heritage herself, but also as a historian. While working another historical tome, "Missing Stories: An Oral History of Ethnic and Minority Groups in Utah," Stone saw a need to further explore some of the families touched upon in her research. Although many of these histories came long before her own, and many of these families suffered different experiences, she too can remember some of her trials as a Jew living in Utah. She recalled bringing frozen foods like blintzes to Utah for fear of their unavailability in Salt Lake City, among other things.
The story of these first Jewish families also drew her eye because, as she said, "they had enough of a presence in Utah, they had contributed much, even though they were small in number." She continued to say that they faced a degree of adversity and prejudice but prospered and left their mark on history nonetheless. Their story, as a minority experience, is one of many similar tales throughout the United States and Utah. Stone used her speech, in parts, as a springboard to launch the Park City audience into a discussion on the minority experience and prejudice in Utah and the West.
"I think the varied awareness in Park City was illuminating," said Stone of her audience in the McPolin barn. She saw among them a willingness to struggle with their own biases. One audience member went so far as to question the origin of the anti-Jewish sentiment. Stone not only described the history of Jewry as it is associated to usury, but also involved three members of the audience to illustrate the money-lending process in historic Europe.
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"There’s a lot of challenges for people from different minority backgrounds," said Stone. She hopes that her lecture, along with the many that she delivers frequently across Utah, thanks to the Humanities Council, continue to enlighten people and inform them that diversity can exist and thrive without the need for assimilation.