Southwestern Louisiana is probably one of the last places in America that one would expect to find a town named “Kaplan.” Nevertheless, there it is in the midst of the Bayou, a town sometimes referred to as “the most Cajun place on earth” that was actually named in tribute to a Jewish immigrant whose personal success brought great benefit to the region.
Abrom Kaplan (1872-1944) was born in Most, Poland. He came to America when he was 15 and slowly made his way south from New York. He arrived in Louisiana three years later. Settling in the town of Crawley, Kaplan opened a small store and began buying property.
Many people in the area tried farming rice. The climate was suitable for rice, but the mixture of the local fresh and salt waters were not. When Kaplan applied innovative methods of flood control to let the bayou water in but keep out the salt water, he changed the nature of Louisiana rice farming. His innovations were recognized by the Federal government, and Kaplan even met President Warren Harding in 1922.
The successful development of the rice industry required a workforce not then available in the Crawley area. Kaplan not only sponsored the immigration of numerous of his own relatives but also purchased a recently closed plantation and began to practically give away parcels of land. Thus was born the town of Kaplan.
Prior to Kaplan’s arrival, there had been a small Jewish community in the area, and Kaplan and the Jews who followed him to the area joined their community. They became members of Congregation Gates of Prayers in New Iberia. Kaplan himself served as an officer of Lafayette’s Jewish Cemetery Association (where he was later buried). The town of Kaplan itself, however, never had a strong enough community to build its own synagogue or Jewish cemetery.
On April 30, 1812, Louisiana became the 18th state of the United States of America.
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