Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Nick Kotz stopped by the 109 to talk about his family’s South Texas roots during one of his speaking and book-signing engagements this week.
About 40 people listened at Beth-El Congregation’s Daytimers' event Wednesday as Kotz discussed his book, “The Harness Maker’s Dream: Nathan Kallison and the Rise of South Texas,” which was published by TCU Press last fall.
“Understanding our own families is key to understanding how America works,” Kotz said.
Genealogy discussions broke out among guests before Kotz shared the story of his ancestors and his grandfather, Nathan Kallison, who came to America as a teenager.
Kotz, whose family has ties to Fort Worth’s Jewish community, said many people know little of their family history, and it is sometimes hard to get people to speak about the past.
“They [Jews] were fleeing oppression,” he said. “They didn’t want to talk about it.”
Gail Cooke wrote in a review for www.amazon.com what she gleaned from the book.
“At the age of 17, young Nathan fled his native Ukrainian village barely escaping death in the pogroms, the killing of Jewish men, women, and children that swept across his country.” she wrote. “He was finally able to board a ship as one of a thousand third-class passengers on a vessel built to hold perhaps 250.”
At 21, Kallison owned a harness shop in Chicago. However, after the automobile started becoming more popular, he headed south “where cattle and horses were still king,” Kotz said. Success awaited Kallison in San Antonio.
Rebecca Allen, TCU Press marketing coordinator, accompanied Kotz to the event. She described the story as eye-opening.
Allen said while, at the end of the day, book publishing decisions are not hers, she believes the fact that the story spoke to a local as well as national audience helped get the book in print.
“That was a big part of the book’s appeal,” she said.
According to an article for the Kirkus Review, Kotz wrote that despite their struggles, Kallison and his wife, Anna, were able to keep the Jewish faith and teach it to their children. The family emphasized strong character over worldly achievements.
For those who may have missed the Daytimers’ event, Kotz will also sign copies of his book Saturday, June 14 at a free event sponsored by TCU's Center for Texas Studies and the Fort Worth Library. The event will begin at 10:30 a.m. at Tandy Lecture Hall 500 W. 3rd Street and last until noon.
“There’s an explosion of Jewish American and Texas Jewish history,” Kotz said during the Daytimers’ event. “Anyone who thinks they want to learn more about their family history can do so.”