Collecting Delaware Books
The late William P. Frank (1905-1989) was best known as a Delaware newspaperman, author, and champion of Delaware book collecting whose career spanned parts of seven decades. But he had many other interests, including Zionism. David Geffen, former rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom in Wilmington and founding member of the Jewish Historical Society of Delaware, has lived in Jerusalem for many years. The following account is extracted from a recent article in the Jerusalem Post.
The dizzying, fateful days when Israel came into being resulted in eloquent and passionate support from American commentators across cultural and political spectrums.
The drama of the birth of Israel was embedded in me as I sat next to my father, Louis Geffen, in shul in Atlanta on May 15, 1948, as my grandfather, Rabbi Tobias Geffen, spoke about the monumental event. That milestone has become more meaningful to me and my wife as we have grown older and as two generations of our family, both children and grandchildren, have served and are serving in the IDF. Born and bred in the United States, I have sought to learn more about the American reactions to the birth of this country in 1948 and 1949.
Fortunately, I have known people who spoke out publicly in favor of the establishment of a Jewish nation, and I have found information about many others who worked hard to bring Israel into being.
The most noted journalist in the state of Delaware in the 20th century was William Penn Frank. A native of Brooklyn, he moved in 1911 with his family to Wilmington, Delaware, at the age of six, after his widowed mother remarried. He grew up in the Orthodox Jewish community in the city. As a boy, he hawked merchandise for stores in and around the Jewish neighborhood.
He never liked the job, and went to work as a $10-a-week office boy at the Morning News while still in high school. A year later, in 1923, he was promoted to reporter. When he finished high school two years later, he went to work at the paper full-time. Frank spent his entire career in print and broadcast journalism in Wilmington until his death at age 84 in 1989.
A Zionist devotee in his home city, he wrote many pieces about the need for a Jewish state in the 1930s and '40s. Wilmington was fortunate to have leaders from the Topkis family who were activists in the Zionist Organization of America. Louis Topkis was the national treasurer of the ZOA, and his brother William came to Palestine in 1923 and helped to make possible the work of the first Jewish tourist guides. While here, William Topkis also wrote a script for an early Ben-Dov film, Palestine Awakening. Frank knew these Zionist advocates and others like them in the community quite well.
In 1947, Frank started a radio show on WILM in Wilmington and continued that program for the next 10 years. As with his writing, he had the freedom to cover whatever topics he felt were of significance. On Sunday night, May 16, 1948, Frank devoted his show to the new Jewish commonwealth.
"Ladies and gentleman of Delaware, something very moving occurred on Friday. In the Middle East, a Jewish nation was born, and our president Harry Truman recognized this old-but-yet-new entity. The founders chose the name of Israel for their country."
Now he drew his listeners in with a local note "Only a few blocks from where I am broadcasting is a noted cemetery on Delaware Avenue. At the entrance to that final resting place is a majestic Cypress of Lebanon brought to our community in the 1860s by a sea captain who picked it up in Palestine, nurtured it carefully and brought here for planting. My friends, he saw Wilmington as his promised land and wanted a reminder of the original Promised Land to be placed in the soil here."
Then Frank got personal.
"I know that most Jews have soil from the Promised Land of their ancestors placed in their coffins before they are buried. They believe that no matter where they are, their remains mingle with the holy soil.
"What is so important now, fellow Delawareans, is that there are great numbers of Jews who want to move to Israel and live in that land. The tyrant Hitler killed almost six million Jews " good people " some my relatives.
"There are Jewish survivors residing in DP camps in Germany and Austria. The British have not permitted them to immigrate to Israel so they have continued to suffer even though the war ended in 1945. Now, my friends 'a great change has occurred.'"
He concluded "The local Jewish federation, led by Ben Codor, is collecting money to help Israel survive because it has been attacked by its Arab neighbors.
"Would it not be wonderful if the DuPonts and other leaders of their stature helped those locally who are working so hard to ensure the reality of Israel Please, listen closely, my friends, as my technician plays 'Hatikva,' the hope the Jewish national anthem. My hope is that Israel will ever be."