Michael Jacobson spent the last 30 years of his career performing thousands of magic shows.
I read in the JN about Michael Jacobson passing away on June 14, 2020. Jacobson was a well-known Jewish musician and entertainer from Detroit, who spent the last 30 years of his career performing thousands of magic shows for a wide range of audiences, for children in particular. He is missed.
Thinking about Jacobson the magician led to a question: Is there a historic connection between magicians and Detroit’s Jewish community? After all, the word “abracadabra” comes from the Hebrew ebrah k’dabri, meaning “I will create as I speak.”
Of course, I decided to seek an answer in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History. Just making a simple search for “magician” yielded 3,523 pages where that term was used. In short, there is a wealth of information on Jews, magicians and Jewish magicians in the Archive.
There are citations regarding magicians in the early years of the Detroit Jewish Chronicle. Generally, these are references to magicians performing in Detroit, such as the famous “Thurston,” who brought his act to Detroit many times in the 1920s. Or, sometimes, there is reference to a literary work. In the April, 26, 1929, issue of the Chronicle, for example, one finds a story by J.L. Peretz, “The Wonderful Magician: A Passover Story.”
Over the years, there have also been many stories about well-known Jewish magicians such as Harry Houdini, perhaps the most famous magician/escape artist in history. Houdini, a.k.a. Hungarian-born Erik Weisz, is cited on 192 pages in the Davidson Archive. He had one direct connection to Detroit: He died here on Oct. 31, 1946.
Since the 1930s, magicians greatly increased the practice of their art form in Detroit, performing for children and adults, for clubs, for birthdays, at synagogues and other venues. The pages of the JN from the 1950s to the present are filled with announcements of performances by and stories about local magicians. It would be a rare Jewish Detroiter who has not experienced the thrill of a live magic act.
It is the home-grown Jewish magicians, like Jacobson, who really interested me. In the Oct. 20, 1939, issue of the Chronicle, for example, editor Philip Slomovitz wrote about “Nate Leipzig – Greatest Prestidigitator.” Yes, I had to look-up the meaning of that word — a prestidigitator is a great sleight-of-hand artist.
More recently, along with Michael Jacobson, a number of Jewish magicians have local roots. First, there is Jacobson’s son, Matthew, an accomplished magician at an early age. The Nov. 24, 1989, issue of the JN has a story about 18-year old Matt and a photo of him in action. I found a photo of “Wild” Bill Schulte in action in the Feb. 14, 1997, issue of the JN. Another favorite local magician, Howard Faber, was featured in the Aug. 31, 2001, issue of the JN.
And, it’s not just men who have been magicians. See “Abracadabra” in the March 3, 1987, issue of the JN about June Warsaw Horowitz, who had been practicing magic for 73 years at that time. She was the first female president of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
Jewish magicians have a long and rich tradition in Metro Detroit and Michigan. If only one of them would tell me the magic word that would make me rich, I would be very grateful.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.