Monday, July 28, 2003

New Mexico's Jewish pioneers

The carved inscription over the main doors of the Roman Catholic St. Francis Cathedral contains the four consonants of the ancient name for God -- in Hebrew.It's a reminder in stone of a little-known element of New Mexico's diversity -- the role of its early Jewish settlers. Jews were an integral part of life in 19th-century New Mexico, as merchants, bankers, miners, ranchers, soldiers, politicians and the governor of Acoma Pueblo.

In Santa Fe, Willi Spiegelberg was a leading merchant, and his wife, Flora, an accomplished social and community leader who could converse with Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy in his native French.Jewish merchants contributed to Lamy's effort to build a cathedral; Abraham Staab's donation was sizable. Staab's descendants say he tore up the note for a loan he had provided, and the grateful archbishop ordered the Hebrew inscription on the cathedral's front.Whether or not that's the origin of the inscription, there is every indication that Lamy and the German Jews of Santa Fe -- with their shared European background -- were quite close, said Tobias, the author of "A History of the Jews in New Mexico," published in 1990 by University of New Mexico Press.