Sunday, April 8, 2012

Remembering the Titanic ~ April 14-15, 2012

When the queen of the White Star Line, the RMS Titanic, set sail from  Southampton, England on April 10, 1912  en route to Cherbourg, France, Queenstown, Ireland, and eventually on to New York in the United States, she carried with her many wealthy millionaires.   The list of illustrious passengers included  John Jacob Astor IV and his pregnant bride, Madeleine (he perished, she survived), silent film star Dorothy Gibson (she survived), industrialist and mining heir Benjamin Guggenheim (who boarded in France with his mistress - he perished, she survived), and U.S. and Canadian streetcar and railway magnates George Dennick Wick, George Dunton Widener, John Thayer, and Charles Hays (all of whom perished).

Isador and Ida Straus, photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Much has been portrayed about the ill-fated trip, the magnificent ship, and her illustrious passengers, but the couple whose story has touched me the most are financier and former U.S. congressman Isidor Straus and his wife, Rosalie Ida (Blun).

I first read about the Strauses several years ago when I was hosting a midsummer Rosh Chodesh celebration. For the Rosh Chodesh, I asked the women who were participating to share with the group the story of an important Jewish woman who they wanted to honor. 

Honorees ranged from cherished grandmothers to Ann Frank, college advisers and mentors to Emma Lazarus.

I'd come across and saved the my late mother-in-law's handwritten teaching notes for a course she'd taught about important Jewish women.  Rosalie Ida Straus ranked high on her list and I was captivated with the story of the older gentleman in poor health who refused to leave the ship until all of the women and children had first been evacuated, and his devoted wife who likewise refused to leave his side and remained behind rather than board a life boat and leave him to die alone while she would likely be saved.

Theirs is one of the most accurate portrayals of passengers in the movie "Titanic".   Ida Straus's courage and devotion to her husbandand and her words, reported by many survivors, touched my heart. While her husband and other passengers tried to persuade her to leave for safety on Life Boat #8, Ida Straus's response recalls the wedding vows from the Book of Ruth"We have lived together for many years. Where you go, I go."  

Nat and Frieda Wieder on their wedding day in 1947
After my mother-in-law's death in 2003, I added the ritual of Kos Miryam, Miriam's Cup, to our family Seder. Each year, we dedicate Miriam's Cup in honor of an important Jewish woman. 

This year, when I re-wrote our family Haggadah in preparation for Passover, I included the story of Isador and Rosalie Ida Straus.  

With the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic disaster coming during Passover week, it seemed fitting to honor this woman who my late mother-in-law chose as one of the honorees on her list. 

Our celebration of the Titanic will continue next weekend when we attend the Titanic Vintage Dance Weekend sponsored by the Commonwealth Vintage Dancers.