Abe Goldstien was born and raised in an orthodox Jewish community in Rochester, New York. He moved to Des Moines in 1969 to pursue an education and career in advertising. During college at Drake University – and for several years later – Abe had very little to do with Des Moines’ Jewish community or the religious customs of his youth. It wasn’t until he started to perform Yiddish (Eastern European Jewish) music on his accordion that he reconnected with his heritage. Today, Abe is the leader of the Java Jews, Iowa’s only klezmer music band. He’s also a CultureALL Ambassador who talks to children and adults about keeping alive their unique family customs and traditions, no matter how strange they are.
“I grew up in an orthodox Jewish home, but I pretty much abandoned the religious customs of my upbringing once I moved to Des Moines for college. Many years later, I became friends with a local chassidic rabbi. He connected me with my roots by describing me as a ‘Goldstien Jew’ – a title I am proud to carry.”
James grew up in a large Burmese family and now lives in the United States. He is starting his own family as a newly married man. He is a leader in the Mara community of Burmese refugees, publishes articles in his own language, and is employed as a case worker for the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants in Des Moines.
“My story is about being a Burmese refugee who lived in Malaysia while in transit to America. My father taught me the lesson of resilience through his experience as a prisoner of war under a dictatorship. From starting work at age eight in my home country to earning a GED in America, my story shows what hard work can accomplish.”