Big nose Kate's choice


This is the story: Mary Katherine Horony was the daughter of Dr Michael Horony from Pest. Dr Horony landed a position as the Court Physician for Emperor Maximilian of Mexico; he and his wife, however, died in 1865 two years before Benito Juarez dethroned the Emperor. Kate and her sibling were shipped to the States, where some years later in 1876, Kate was to meet Wyatt Earp who introduced her to John Henry “Doc” Holliday and they fell in love. They eventually joined the Earp brothers who had settled in the newly founded town of Tombstone, Arizona, where Doc established himself as a dentist and Kate bought a saloon which was to be known as “Big nose Kate” saloon.


When the cattle owners and the Merchant Association came to blows in 1881, the cattle owners hired Ike Clanton as Sheriff and the Merchants Association hired Wyatt Earp as their Sheriff. The story that followed is known as the “shootout at the OK Corral” of Hollywood fame...


If you go today to Tombstone and you visit the Boothill Cemetery, you can see the tombs of the Clanton and the McLaury as well as Doc Holliday and Big nose Kate, who is buried in a special section of the cemetery surrounded by a fence. Inside that fence are buried the Jewish pioneers of Tombstone. So why do I tell you the story?


The most obvious reason is because it is an interesting piece of American history that shows how the Jews were intimately involved in the building of this country (I could tell you the story of the Goldwater -Goldwasser- family, but that is for another time).


The second reason is to show how interfaith marriages are hardly a “new thing”, and that then – as now -people married those they love; they sometimes belong to the same community, and sometimes they don't.


The third reason is about choice. Kate chose to be buried in the Jewish section even when she didn't attend a synagogue nor did she have close connections with a Jewish community. In this regard, an even more interesting story is that of Benjamin Gratz, a scion of the Philadelphia Gratz family who moved to Lexington (KY) to run the family's commercial enterprises in the area. He eventually married a non Jewish woman and his descendants are no longer Jewish. When he died, however, the local merchants association wanted to honor his wishes and have a Rabbi officiate at his funeral. They went all the way to Cincinnati and brought in Rabbi Stephen Wise who wrote in his memoirs about that funeral, describing it as “the only funeral I ever officiated in where the only Jews were myself and the deceased” Again, Benjamin chose to die a Jew.


But today, in 2012, we all choose to live as Jews. Whether we are born into the tribe or attach ourselves to it, remaining a Jew in the XXI Century is a matter of choice. And choices are informed by education. It is not accidental that many studies show that people who attended a Jewish Day School growing up are more likely to be involved, more likely to marry within the tribe, more likely to contribute to Jewish causes, more likely to be supportive of Israel, and so on and on...


Jewish Day School Education has been one of the most important breeding grounds of Jewish leaders, not only because of the strong emphasis on Jewish Identity beyond religious observance, but also because of the positive context in which that identity evolves. In the days of Big nose Kate, there was not much escape from being Jewish, but in our world, escaping is easy – and Jewish Day School education provides an alternative. I know I owe my own personal involvement in Jewish life and my interest in the Jewish community to my being educated in a Jewish Day School...


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