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Article: The Original Frisco Kid

רבי אברהם (האמיתי) במערב הפרוע

The Original Frisco Kid

Ezra Chwat

The rabbi from Jerusalem who got off the train in Shelbyville, Tennessee, in 1868 must have made a surprising sight. He introduced himself to members of the local Jewish community, who, without even knowing him, gave him generous donations for poor Jews living in the Land of Israel.

A unique ledger describes the travels of four rabbis from the Land of Israel to Jewish communities in North America between 1848 and 1869. One of these was Rabbi Abraham Nissim, who, according to records, left Chicago in August 1861 and arrived in San Francisco in December, where he promised to say the Kaddish (the Mourners’ Prayer) annually for the deceased relative of a generous donor. Similarly, Rabbi Nathan Natkin visited a series of California gold-rush boom towns, such as Grass Valley or Stockton, and its “Cong[regation] Rehim Ahoovim.” A few short years after the Civil War had decimated the Deep South, the Jews of Augusta, Georgia, lacked money but donated any silver they could afford. 

While the locations in this document are surprising, the phenomenon is not. Emissaries from the Holy Land, referred to as shadarim, would travel the globe collecting funds and dispensing spiritual encouragement and global solidarity to Jewish communities. Despite differences in language, culture, religious observance, ideology, and beliefs, there was enough sense of Jewish solidarity between those collecting funds and those donating to see themselves as part of the same global people. Donors would register their donations in a logbook referred to as a pinkas, creating a verifiable record of how much had been collected. The emissaries would then return home to the Land of Israel and distribute the funds. Hundreds of shadarim were active between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.