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One Woman’s Unique Journey and Life of Service

Allan C. Brownfeld
Spring 2006

All The Way From Yoakum: The Personal Journey of a Political Insider  
by Marjorie Meyer Arsht,  
264 pages,  
Texas A & M University Press.  
Marjorie Meyer Arsht, at 91, looks back on an extraordinary life, a significant part of it involved in advancing the philosophy of classical Reform Judaism and working energetically as a longtime member and leader of the American Council for Judaism. Her new memoir, All the Way from Yoakum, published by Texas A & M University Press, tells the story of a remarkable woman who became a leading light in Houston and Texas politics as one of the founders of the modern Republican Party of Texas. In a long life filled with both tragedy and joy, she remained steadfast in her determination to make a contribution.  
Former President George H.W. Bush said this of Marjorie Arsht: “As President of the United States, I was privileged to meet kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, and even a few dictators and despots along the way. But I’m not sure any of them compared to Marjorie Arsht, a life force in Texas politics for as long as I can remember. Marjorie was a true pioneer, opening doors for women, and for Republicans — a rare breed in Texas before she came along. However, until I read All the Way from Yoakum, even I did not fully understand what Marjorie was about. In this revealing, funny and poignant memoir, Marjorie shares all the joys and heartaches of her remarkable life, proving what Barbara and I already knew: This girl from Yoakum is truly a Texas legend.”  
South Texas Town  
Marjorie Meyer was born in the small town of Yoakum, Texas in 1914. “Yoakum,” she writes, “remains much as it was when my parents arrived, an unpretentious little South Texas town, located 35 miles south of Interstate 10 between Houston and San Antonio. Over the last half-century, the population of approximately 11,000 souls has remained relatively constant. The town reflects the same measured pace of living it enjoyed through its past.”  
Few Jews lived in Yoakum. “No Jewish house of worship ever existed there,” she writes, “and only two or three Jewish families ever lived in Yoakum at one time. On the holy days of Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, my father took me to Houston or San Antonio, alternating between Reform temples and Orthodox synagogues. The tradition of both my parents’ families, however, was distinctly Reform ... Many of the old traditions, such as dietary laws and ritualistic circumcision, were no longer considered mandatory ... My father had received an in-depth Jewish religious education under the tutelage of the famous Rabbi Henry Cohen of Galveston.”  
Religious tolerance characterized life in Yoakum. Growing up, Arsht recalls, “For a couple of reasons, I think it was possible for me to remain largely unaware of prejudice against Jews. One is that our practice of Reform Judaism did not appear markedly different from the variations of religious practice common to Christian denominations. The other is that I often went to church services with my friends. If I were spending the night at someone’s house on Saturday night, I would go to church with her and her family on Sunday morning. I frequently accompanied my friend Nina Vance, a Presbyterian, to her Wednesday night prayer meeting (Later Nina founded and for many years directed Houston’s distinguished Alley Theater). Also, while in high school, I went to the Catholic convent for music and French lessons, often attending a Catholic Mass. The diversity of religious experiences helped me develop the tolerance necessary to understand that the basis for all religions is essentially the same.”  
Uncle Henri  
Although her parents were not wealthy, Marjorie’s larger family included many prominent men and women, among them her uncle, Henri Bendel, the famous New York couturier. “Uncle Henri was a generous man,” she writes, “extending gracious hospitality to all the brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews who made regular pilgrimages to visit him ... Whenever a niece seemed unable to find a husband, Uncle Henri generally made sure that eligible prospects learned that he usually gave his nieces a wedding present of five thousand dollars. That practice may not have always been followed, but there were no unwed nieces around ... Uncle Henri (a bachelor) allegedly married when he was quite young — a woman who had a store that sold trimmings — and that is how he began his career as a renowned milliner. He is memorialised in the Broadway musical comedy ‘Anything Goes’ with the phrase ‘You’re a Bendel bonnet’ in the Cole Porter song ‘You’re the Tops’ made famous by Ethel Merman.”  
In an earlier, much more flexible educational era, Marjorie graduated from high school at fourteen and entered Rice Institute, as Rice University was then called. She arrived in Houston, where family members, who owned Foley Brothers department store, welcomed her. “On my first day at Rice,” she reports, “I was scared to death. I knew the names of the buildings from a map in the catalogue. Besides Lovett Hall, where I stood, there were only a few structures — the biology building, the chemistry building, a dormitory for boys, and Cohen House, which looked like a home. Uncle George and Aunt Esther Cohen, my father’s sister, together with Uncle George’s sister, Gladys, had given Cohen House to Rice Institute in honor of their mother and father, Agnes and Robert I. Cohen of Galveston. It still serves as the faculty club.”  
A Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Rice at 18, Marjorie was on her way to graduate study at the Sorbonne in Paris, her ship’s passage paid by Uncle Henri Bendel. “The first night after dinner (on the grand old British liner, the Berengaria, June 25, 1933),” she writes, “I entered the magnificent library to write my parents a letter ... Finishing my letter, I looked up to see Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. sitting across from me. I thought I was dreaming. ‘Good evening,’ he said. ‘Where are you going in Europe?’ I realized I had been holding my breath, so my words came out in a rush, ‘I’m going to the Sorbonne in Paris.’ He was most congenial, and I know we had a rather long conversation, but even the next day I couldn’t remember a word we had exchanged.”  
Relatives in Strasbourg  
Before leaving Texas, Marjorie had been given strict orders to visit her paternal grandfather’s relatives in Strasbourg: “When my grandfather, Achille Meyer, was born in Wolfesheim, a suburb of Strasbourg, the province was German ... More observant of Jewish ritual than my family, they had prayers and candles and the ‘breaking of the bread’ on Friday night ... We visited Wolfesheim as promised and discussed the war clouds looming over Europe. I knew that trouble was brewing because clairvoyant Jews were already seeking refuge in Paris. But for me, war seemed so remote as to be almost unimaginable.”  
When Germany marched into Poland on September 1, 1939, a date which was also the first anniversary of Marjorie’s marriage to Raymond Arsht, she remembers that, “Our first thoughts, of course, were for my relatives, who were in grave danger. Aunt Esther and Uncle George moved heaven and earth to try to help them all, but without success. Very early in the war, the Germans overran Strasbourg, that charming city of joy and laughter. Poor, sturdy Gustave was shot in the street as a hostage; his wife, Sarah, and two daughters went to concentration camps. Storm troopers invaded Arthur’s home and shot him, Francine and their daughter in cold blood. Their son was swimming and escaped, but was later killed in a railway accident. Mathieu Dreyfus, a diabetic, died in the south of France from a lack of insulin. We didn’t know then that Andrew and Paulette, with their infant daughter Danielle, had been hidden by a French farm family in their barn. At the time, I felt we would never see them or Strasbourg again.”  
After returning from Paris, Marjorie entered a master’s degree program at Columbia University. The university divided degree candidates into groups of three under the supervision of a thesis adviser. “One of our group,” she writes, “an innocuous young man, had terrible colds all of the time in that harsh New York winter and missed most of our sessions. I can’t even remember his name. The other member was Jose Ferrer, whom we knew as Joe. Born in Puerto Rico and the only son of a prominent Catholic sugar planter, he had many sisters who had spoiled him unmercifully, and I understood why: He was irresistibly charming. He wasn’t much to look at — small to medium stature, with a prominent nose and large ears — but what a personality. In addition to impeccable French and Spanish, he spoke the King’s English with panache. A brilliant but not a stuffy student, he was a natural comic. Joe became a frequent visitor to our apartment at Midtown. ... He helped me with my thesis, an analysis of the works of the French playwright Jean Giraudoux, with emphasis on his then current work ‘Amphitryon 38’ — when we weren’t laughing. I kept telling Joe, ‘You ought to be on the stage!’ How prescient I was. And how proud I was at the great success he came to enjoy on Broadway and in Hollywood.”  
Father’s Funeral  
When Marjorie’s father died in 1948, there was some dispute over who should conduct the funeral. Rabbi Henry Cohen of Galveston, an early leader in the American Council for Judaism, was old and weak. “Dr. Cohen, who everyone loved dearly,” Marjorie writes, “had presided over the religious education of all the Meyer brothers and was made famous by a book written about him, The Man Who Stayed in Texas. He was nothing short of a legend. My favorite story of Rabbi Cohen described his trip to Washington, D.C. by bicycle to see President Taft. Insisting on speaking with the president personally, he sat outside the Taft office for several days. Finally, President Taft agreed to meet him. ‘Well, Rabbi,’ he said, ‘what is so important that you would ride a bicycle all the way from Texas to see me?’ Rabbi Cohen replied, ‘There is a young man in Galveston prison who doesn’t belong there. He is a stowaway who, if deported, will face death. Only your pardon can bring about justice.’ The president chuckled, ‘I have to say you Jews do take care of each other.’ Rabbi Cohen held up his hand. ‘Oh, Mr. President, I didn’t make myself clear. The young man isn’t a Jew. He’s Greek Catholic.’”  
While the Meyer family wanted Rabbi Cohen, his delicate health made his presence too unpredictable to preside alone. Marjorie’s mother wanted Rabbi Bob Kahn, whom she personally knew from his visits to Yoakum when he was the young associate rabbi at Houston’s Temple Beth Israel. The debate over Jewish nationalism versus the universalism of classical Reform Judaism was an element in the family controversy: “Mama’s preference did not meet the approval of the other family members. Complicating the situation was the split that occurred in Beth Israel in the early 1940s ... The schism reflected the national division in Jewish attitudes toward the prospective establishment of the State of Israel. At the time, many of Beth Israel’s congregants left their temple and chose Bob to be their senior rabbi in a new temple they called Emanu El. The Meyers felt Bob’s departure showed betrayal and disloyalty, the two characteristics the Meyers most abhorred. He became persona non grata. Instead, the Meyer brothers wanted Rabbi Hyman Schachtel ... He was the current senior rabbi at Beth Israel, newly employed specifically because he opposed a Jewish political entity in the Middle East.”  
Reform Congregation  
Temple Beth Israel, the oldest Reform congregation in Texas, had, Marjorie points out, “always been a socially conservative temple, and the majority of its members had been in the U.S. for generations. They were Southern and very ‘American.’ During periods of social upheaval, they avoided controversial issues of any kind, from integration to the special relationship with the State of Israel, at that time a topic at the forefront of everyone’s mind.”  
The Holocaust had an important impact on the Jewish community of Houston, as it did throughout the world. The mindset of the community at this time is described in these terms:  
“It is a tenet of political Zionism that Jews everywhere in the world have a personal obligation to the state of Israel. They shouldn’t just give money and visit regularly but also defend the state’s behavior and, if possible, move there, which they called making aliyah. Before the Hitler years, Zionism was just a bad word to most Jews, especially those at Beth Israel. The truth is, no one knew much about it; no one knew the difference ... between any form of Zionism and Judaism. More importantly, no one cared. Then came the Holocaust and with it a schism in the Jewish community — a rupture that in one form or another still exists. When more and more of the atrocities committed by the Germans upon their Jewish citizens became known, the actual creation of a political state for Jews loomed on the horizon, with protagonists and antagonists at each other’s throats. The issue divided Beth Israel. Many members of the congregation who favored the creation of a state for Jews resigned to form Temple Emanu El.”  
Marjorie was, at the outset, an opponent of Jewish nationalism and a supporter of the universal prophetic Judaism represented by the founders of American Reform Judaism. She became an active member of the American Council for Judaism and notes that, “I have never forsaken my position that Judaism is a religion, not a nationality, and that when religion and the state are intertwined, religion inevitably suffers.”  
Texas Politics  
Becoming president of Temple Beth El’s Sisterhood led Marjorie to her role in Texas politics. Each year, one of the Sisterhood programs was reserved for public affairs and featured a speaker. In 1960, two years before her tenure, Marjorie “noticed in the temple bulletin that the next program would present a Republican, Bob Overstreet, and a Democrat, Wally Miller, both of whom were candidates for the Texas legislature. At that time, the Republican Party in Texas was so small that a state convention could have been held in almost anyone’s living room. I had been voting Republican for many years, ever since President Roosevelt took the U.S. off the gold standard when I was in school in France. I had watched then, with horror, as the value of my money declined by more than a third overnight. Before I went to Europe, I had been too young to vote, but when I returned, my first presidential vote was cast for Wendell Willkie. ... My father had been a Democrat’s Democrat. He fed me the Constitution at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Arguments and debate were in my blood, along with my father’s philosophy that no opinion is worth having if it can’t be defended or promulgated. By the time I became president of the Sisterhood, my father’s conservative Democrat philosophy had become the Republican Party platform.”  
After hearing Republican Overstreet and Democrat Miller at the Sisterhood meeting, Marjorie made her first political contribution, a check to Overstreet for five dollars. “That one check put me on what few lists existed at the time,” she states. “Bob Overstreet lost his election, as did every other GOP candidate at the local level. Texans had become accustomed to voting for Republicans nationally, but they remained Democrats at the state level. They contended that a two-party state wasn’t needed because Texas actually had two parties, one liberal and one conservative, all within the Democratic Party, of course ... I received call after all call to help with one project or another. I became a Republican activist at the local level.”  
John Birch Society  
The formation of the John Birch Society in 1958 and the controversy it engendered caused Marjorie to contribute an article to The Houston Press. Her thesis was: “Concern over the Birch Society should force everyone to examine the reasons for its birth. People who support it are reacting to the sharply leftward trend of government policies ... Extremism breeds extremism. Such a problem existed after the War Between the States, when Southerners, having no recourse against the abuses of Reconstruction, formed the Ku Klux Klan. All such organizations eventually fall into disrepute because they are extrajudicial. We should address ourselves to reclaiming balance in our institutions and public policies in order to negate the impetus for creating groups such as the John Birch Society.”  
After her article appeared, Marjorie was called by Bob Overstreet who said that, “John Tower saw the editorial you wrote and has asked me to bring you to Austin next week to meet him.” Tower, then in the midst of his run for the U.S. Senate, began using Marjorie’s arguments in addressing all questions posed to him about the Birch Society. “That association,” writes Marjorie, “with John Tower was the beginning of a lifelong friendship, and I became an integral part of every one of the Tower campaigns, holding high-level volunteer positions. In 1961, Tower, the little professor from Wichita Falls, defeated the very conservative, crusty West Texan rancher William Blakeley, with the help of liberal Democrats who wanted to purge their party of conservatives.”  
Her deep involvement in Texas politics did not diminish Marjorie’s involvement in Jewish affairs. She was particularly disturbed when, in 1961, David Ben-Gurion, then Israel’s Prime Minister, addressed a Zionist Congress in Jerusalem and declared that, “All Jews living in the Diaspora are living in exile and therefore godless.” She declares: “I thought the top of my head would fly off when I read the transcript of his speech. I obtained a certified copy to be sure I wasn’t receiving something filtered through someone else’s bias. I flew to the typewriter, addressing an open letter to my favorite target, the readers of ‘Letters to the Editor.’ ... I stopped to see Everett Collier, then editor of the Houston Chronicle. Everett read the first line and said, ‘This is terrific.’ It read, ‘You have brought to fruition all the fears of those like me who have always opposed the political Zionist movement,’ Then Everett added, ‘But it’s too long for this paper. You should by all means mail this to Israel.”  
Prime Minister Ben-Gurion  
Marjorie dispatched her material to Prime Minister Ben-Gurion himself. She was surprised to receive a reply, “a single-spaced, two page letter from one Mr. Applebaum, who identified himself as an aide to Ben-Gurion. He said, ‘You have written with emotion,’ and then proceeded to defend Ben-Gurion. ‘You must not have read the entire speech, or you would have understood that Mr. Ben-Gurion spoke ‘allegorically.’ He tried to explain the historical context in which Ben-Gurion had spoken. Of course, I had to reply.”  
Word got around about the exchange and Marjorie was invited to speak in Philadelphia at the annual American Council for Judaism meeting, and her speech was published in Issues. She even heard from New York Times editor Arthur Hays Sulzberger, who invited her to visit him in New York. She recalls of this meeting: “Sulzberger agreed with my objections to Ben-Gurion’s remarks. Furthermore, he worried about the many anomalies that were developing. For instance, because of Israel’s ‘law of return’ which guaranteed a right of citizenship to every Jew born of a Jewish mother, a Catholic monk from Austria had arrived in Israel, demanding his citizenship rights. His mother was Jewish, and that qualified him.”  
Marjorie laments recent trends in Reform Judaism: “The Reform Judaism with which my father and I were imbued is gradually disappearing ... It is becoming, as many religions are, more fundamentalist and therefore less and less distinguished from other branches of Judaism ... I loved the opportunity to speak out on Zionism in all its aspects, not just because I am at heart a teacher but also because I felt I was doing a service by clarifying a subject generally considered too sensitive to discuss ... either between Christians and Jews or among Jews with different built-in attitudes. I particularly liked calling attention to the misuse of words. For example, it is correct to contrast Hebrews with Gentiles (tribes) and Jews with Christians (religions). My involvement with the Ben-Gurion correspondence, however, added fuel to the atmosphere of controversy that surrounded me.”  
Candidate for Office  
In 1962, Marjorie ran as a Republican for the Texas state legislature. She received the endorsements of all three Houston newspapers the Press, the Post and the Chronicle, as well as The Informer, then Houston’s leading black newspaper. The Informer told its readers that, “Mrs. Arsht is a Republican and a conservative, but not a squinty-eyed reactionary ... She stands for sound, responsible, two party government in Texas.”  
Of the election results, Marjorie states: “I received 48.9 percent of the vote countywide, which was amazing. West of Main Street, I ran ahead of the governor. Part of my platform had been a plea for single-member districts. Had such lines been drawn at the time, my life might well have taken an entirely different turn.”  
Recreating the political atmosphere in Texas at that time, Marjorie points out that Republicans were traditionally less conservative than many Democrats and the party was opposed to segregation, which many Democrats embraced. Slowly, right-wing Democrats began to join the Republican Party, creating conflict between “old,” more moderate, Republicans and “new,” far more conservative members.  
In 1963, Jimmy Bertron, chairman of the Harris County Republican Party — who Marjorie calls one of “us” — called: “Marjorie, I don’t want it generally known just now, but I’m moving to Florida. I think I’ve found a good replacement for us, so we could get a head start in warding off a takeover of the chairmanship in a special election. Would you get some of our precinct people together to meet him?” Marjorie asked, “Who is it?” She was told, “His name is George Bush. His wife’s name is Barbara. They’re newcomers to Houston, and you’re going to love them.” An evening reception at the Arsht home represented the beginning of George Bush’s campaign for county chairman.  
Long and Rewarding Friendship  
It also was, Marjorie declares, “the beginning of a long and rewarding friendship. Since then I have repeatedly been asked, ‘Did you have any idea at that time that you were dealing with someone who would eventually become president of the United States?’ My answer has always been the same, ‘The Bushes were charming. We were very pleased but the fact is we were merely looking for a county chairman. And we were delighted that we felt we had a winner.’”  
When George Bush ran for the U.S. Senate in 1964 against Ralph Yarborough, Marjorie was asked to host a dinner for black Republicans at her home, something unprecedented in Texas at that time. Her description of that event paints a picture of a society undergoing dramatic change with Marjorie herself at the forefront:  
“On the evening of the dinner, Craig Peper said to Raymond Arsht, ‘I want to tell you who is coming this evening,’ (a few years later I completely identified with the movie ‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’) ‘George Bush has invited a black lawyer from Washington and some of his professional black friends in Houston for dinner tonight. It should be an interesting evening.’ Ray looked at Craig as though he were speaking in a foreign language, and then he turned to me, ‘Have you lost your mind?’ Then he looked toward the front of the house, ‘Do you realize the front of this house is all glass?’ Without waiting for me to answer, he moved to the front to draw the draperies, and then realized that wouldn’t really do any good since it was summer and still light outside. I turned to explain to Ray who the other guests were so he would know there were others of our friends also involved. ‘Do they know who’s invited?’ When I nodded, he said with a pained smile, ‘So I’m the only one surprised?’ I nodded again.  
“Around that time the doorbell rang, and the Bushes came in with their elegant, tall, handsome guest, Grant Reynolds. Ray’s innate good manners prevented our guests from knowing he was in a state of shock. As the others entered, another unforeseen circumstance caused Ray to shed his bewilderment. Although I had decided on a buffet dinner, I had not anticipated the response of Harold Brown, my black chauffeur and bartender, and Annie Turner, my cook. They were totally baffled. They had never served a black person as a special guest in a white family’s home before and both suffered a kind of ‘brain paralysis.’ One guest asked for a Bloody Mary, and when Ray saw Harold reach for a small wine glass, he knew that he had to help behind the bar, which took his mind off the guests milling around in the lanai.”  
Private Life  
There is, of course, much in this memoir about Marjorie’s private life, her often troubled relationship with her mother and sister, her happy marriage to Ray, who was active in the oil business, and the tragic loss of her oldest daughter Margot, to a virulent form of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), which also took the lives of two grandchildren. Her two surviving children, Alan and Leslye, have been the joy of her life, along with her grandchildren.  
After her husband’s sudden and untimely death, Marjorie discovered that a series of business reverses had placed her in a fragile economic situation. She went back to work as a teacher, at the predominantly African-American Booker T. Washington High School. At her first meeting with Franklin Wesley, the principal, she was asked, “Are you a soul-saver, Mrs. Arsht?” She replied, “A soul-saver? I don’t understand what you mean. I’m a teacher.” He quickly changed the subject: “Never mind. You’ll be replacing a very nice young woman who simply could not handle these students. It’ll be a challenge. Are you prepared for that?”  
Marjorie met the challenge, and discovered what was meant by a “soul-saver.” She writes: “One of the unforeseen, unfortunate consequences of integration was the assignment of experienced black teachers to white schools and white novices to black schools. In addition, many of the young white teachers felt sorry for the students who didn’t have their own rooms, or good reading lights or caring parents, so they didn’t demand anything. The old-fashioned discipline got lost. They let the standards slide, They were ‘soul-savers.’ They cared,but they didn’t teach, Achievement went by the board, and the students developed no pride in learning ... Now I knew what Mr. Wesley had meant, and I realized then and there that I surely wasn’t a soul-saver. I was determined that the students learn something, even if they didn’t learn tenth grade material. ... My greatest reward came on the last day of school. One of the students who had given me no end of trouble came to me and said, ‘Mrs. Arsht, you and I have had our problems, but, you know what, I learned something this year.’ That one remark by that one student made the sometimes hilarious, sometimes brutally frustrating year worthwhile.”  
Real Estate License  
Later, Marjorie obtained a real estate license and a broker’s license and, in her late fifties, began selling limited partnerships for raw land. She also accepted an appointment teaching real estate at the University of Houston. From those classes, she staffed newly licensed agents for the new division of the real estate firm she headed.  
At the same time, she was named by Texas Governor Bill Clements to the board of Texas State University, a school for African-American students in Houston. Another member of the board was Maurice Barksdale, a black Republican from Ft. Worth who was an authority on public housing. A self-made millionaire, Barksdale was asked to serve in the Reagan administration and was named deputy assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for multifamily housing. In January 1983, Marjorie received a call from Barksdale in Washington. He said, “I absolutely need you up here!”  
“At first I thought Maurice was joking,” Marjorie writes, “when he called. Surely there were thousands of young people who could help him better than a 69-year-old grandmother. He insisted he desperately needed my speech-writing skills and that he had to have someone who was tough enough to guard the door to his office ... He suggested, further, that I might after all have a ball.”  
Marjorie took the job and moved to Washington. “I had been truly impressed with Maurice’s title and not a little proud of my own,” she states, “until I learned the longer your title, the more insignificant you are. The most important person has a very brief title: Mr. Secretary. Then comes the undersecretary. After that there are several assistant secretaries, modified by the name of the section of HUD of which they are in charge. When you get down to what I was, a special assistant to the deputy assistant secretary for multifamily housing, you aren’t even as important as a fly on the wall. I didn’t know that in the beginning, which was just as well. A few months after I arrived, Maurice was promoted to assistant secretary for housing, which dropped one word from my title as well as his, thereby increasing my importance to everyone but me.”  
Convention Delegate  
In 1988, Marjorie was selected as a delegate from Texas to the Republican National Convention which nominated George Bush for president. Bob Schieffer of CBS interviewed Marjorie as the oldest delegate but, she notes, “I heard later that another woman was really older than I but had not given her correct age on the form.”  
Writing in The New York Times (Nov. 10, 1988), Maureen Dowd pointed out that, “Mrs. Arsht first introduced George and Barbara Bush to local political leaders in her living room 25 years ago, when Mr. Bush sold his interest in an oil-drilling business in Midland, Texas, and moved his family to Houston. ‘He was naive in the beginning,’ she said, recalling that there was some skepticism that the ‘Yankee Yalie’ could handle barbed-wire style Texas politics. ‘We had to convince him there were going to be some bad people, some Democrats, who weren’t going to like him and who might say terrible things about him. But,’ she said with satisfaction, ‘he learned to be a fighter.’”  
According to Dowd, “Marjorie Arsht talked approvingly of the next Secretary of State ... ‘Jimmy Baker grew up here ... I knew him when he was in short pants.’”  
In recent years, Marjorie has been concerned about the rise of extremism within both political parties, particularly the influence of some on the religious right within the Texas Republican Party. She writes: “I have often been asked why so many Republicans do not agree with the Republican platform — particularly its position on abortion and homosexuality. Democrats are often asked the same question about their platform, which tilts as far to the left as the Republican does to the right. The reason is simple. The great majority of voters don’t support their respective party platforms because they hold opinions that fail the litmus tests given by single-issue extremists. The people who devote almost every waking hour to party politics are zealots by inclination, thus, by definition, intolerant of divergent opinions. Single issues dominate their lives. Those who are violently anti-abortion and those who just as vehemently identify themselves as pro-choice are the ones who work in the precincts, go to the executive committee meetings, and to the nitty-gritty of their respective party organizations ...”  
“Who and What Are the Jews?”  
In a talk to Houston Republicans on December 13, 1994, entitled “Who and What Are the Jews?,” Marjorie told her audience: “I urge all of you to pursue a study of comparative religions. It is fascinating to discover how the practices of primitive peoples who were in such awe of the changing of the seasons have influenced our own festivals and holy days. Through the ages, very different religions developed different rituals and celebrations. But if you search deeply enough, they have a strangely comparable basic meaning. Christmas and Hanukkah are both festivals of light and hope, and are occasions for the exchange of gifts. Easter and Passover represent rebirth and new beginnings. My father used to say that in order to truly understand and appreciate one’s own religion, it was necessary to understand all others. Certainly, we should bring to our modern, sophisticated society an understanding and respect for different methods of faith and of worship of the supreme being who is the creator of us all.”  
This book is a moving account of Marjorie’s life, from her childhood as a member of one of the few Jewish families in small-town Yoakum, Texas, to her years of political activism and social involvement, as well as her role as a leader in her Houston temple and in the American Council for Judaism. She emerges as an indomitable spirit, one that will provide both inspiration and an understanding of the racial, religious and political turmoil which characterized the era in which she came to maturity and rose to leadership. Marjorie’s was always a voice of sanity, moderation, and a commitment to make the world a better place.  
This writer has known Marjorie Arsht for nearly fifty years and much of the material in this book reveals sides of her life previously known to few outside her immediate family. It is, beyond this, a document of historical significance, portraying Jewish life in small-town America during an era of tremendous change and transformation, particularly in the South.  
Jewish Life Outside Urban Centers  
Mark Bauman, editor of Southern Jewish History, makes the point that, while many Americans, both Jews and non-Jews, do not know it, there is a great deal of Jewish American history outside of the major urban centers: “Because of historical forces and cultural norms, in America Jews have been a remarkably urban people. In 1878, 71 percent lived in the 26 metropolitan areas that boasted at least a thousand Jewish inhabitants, whereas over half of the general population did not live in cities until 1920. With the increased influx of Jews from Eastern Europe, and particularly Russia, from 1881 to the 1920s, the number and proportion of Jews in American cities rose even higher. And yet a tiny but important segment chose to move into the American hinterland, where they exerted disproportionate influence on civic and cultural uplift in towns and smaller cities.”  
Now, at 91, Marjorie Arsht is signing books at Barnes and Noble and other bookstores in Houston. She attended and signed books for more than three hours at a party held in her honor at the home of her daughter Leslye in Arlington, Virginia. An event to honor her is now being planned in Yoakum.  
Marjorie’s journey over the past ninety-one years has taken many unexpected paths. Now, as ever, she is focused on the future. All of us can truly draw inspiration from her story.

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