One cold day in January 1958, a copy of LIFE magazine was delivered to Shapiro’s Modern Economic store at 28 W. Blackwell Street, in Dover, New Jersey.
The shopkeepers, Israel and Ida (Fogelson) Shapiro were perhaps moved by the cover photo. It depicted a mounted Cossack soldier about to slash a poor peasant woman with his saber.
The issue was devoted to “a new and authoritative account” of the Russian revolution that ended the reign of Czar Nicholas II and the Romanov family dynasty. Irving and Ida, both Russian immigrants (from a region violently taken ripped from Poland), gave the magazine issue to their son Henry and his wife, Doris, who saved it. The Life magazine cover now hangs on a wall in our home as a reminder of my wife’s grandparents’ struggles and incredible resilience.
This cover photo captures the bitter personal history of the Shapiro’s, the Fogelson’s, the Raicer’s, and so many other Jewish families who made their way to Dover at the turn of the 20th Century. They fled the harsh Russian “pograms” that resulted in the deaths of thousands of Jews and the displacement of whole Jewish communities. Waves of Jewish families arrived here with nothing in their pockets and only the clothing they could carry. Israel restarted his life as a peddler carrying his wares in a sack on his back and walking from town to town. Yet, by the 1950s he and his fellow immigrants had become prominent business owners, shopkeepers, and community leaders. The unwanted “refuse” rejected by Russia blossomed here under our democratic and open society.
This brings us to us today, as Russian troops once again murder innocent civilians and lay siege to Ukraine. We have to ask why. Why are the good people of Russia so cursed with abysmal “strongman” governments? When will their voices ever be heard? When will the Russian people be free to navigate their own future?