Monday, December 20, 2010

Dedication of the Tartell Family Plaque

Robert Tartell's Bar Mitzvah Photograph with his Parents Ida and Julius Tartell
This past Sunday (December 19, 2010) we had the dedication of the Tartell Family Plaque in the Old Broadway Synagogue. Dr. Robert Tartell grew up in the shul in the 1930s and celebrated his bar mitzvah there in 1939. Fast forward 65 years later. Dr. Tartell, together with his wife, Professor Lottie Tartell, visited the shul and became supporters of the work that we do. The Tartells suggested that they would like to install a plaque to honor the memory of Bob's parents, Julius and Ida Tartell. Several years later, three generations of the Tartell family came to the dedication as well as some of the current members of the shul. It was a wonderful moment for me because it made the fact that everything we do with the shul has deeps roots going back to to the early part of the twentieth century. I am thrilled that I can be part of such an historic institution, and I hope that our efforts now, inspired by the collective efforts of the Schiffs, the Bucklers, Browns, the Tartells, the Schwartzes and the Krets will help ensure that our shul can continue to be a place of Torah and derekh eretz for decades and more to come.

A Recent Photograph of Lottie and Bob Tartell

Monday, November 15, 2010

In Memory of Rebbetzin Chana Kret, z"l

I am saddened to report that Mrs. Chana Kret passed away today (November 15, 2010) after a long illness. I unfortunately did not have the zekhus (merit) to know her well, but I would like to share what I learned about her at her funeral today. She was a loving wife, mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. Mrs. Kret was born Chana Lichtenfeld and grew up in a wealthy family in Berlin. The family was on vacation when the war broke out, and Mrs. Kret and her parents were arrested and exiled to a labor camp in Siberia. Her parents both died, but Mrs. Kret survived and there she met Rabbi Jacob Kret, her bashert. She traveled with him from Siberia to Germany after the war, and from there to the United States, where her husband took the pulpit of the Old Broadway Synagogue. There she and Rabbi Kret worked to build up the shul (which needed a lot of building up, and could still use some). She helped recruit new congregants, and hosted the many guests which her husband brought home. She did not complain despite very modest circumstances, and she was very creative, I recall visiting her and Rabbi Kret a number of years ago at their apartment on the Lower East Side. I noticed that they had a number of presentation awards that were given to Mrs. Kret in the 1960s. They were from Manhattan Day School, where Miriam and I believe Norman went to school, and the awards acknowledged Mrs. Kret's excellent work there. When I asked her about it, she told me that she created costumes for the students, if I recall correctly, for a school Purim play. I saw later evidence of this talent when I saw some wonderful photos of some of her grandsons, who for Purim, she dressed up as some rather convincingly cute girls. Her grandson, Aryeh Mezei spoke about how she loved to give, and I recall that for every Shalosh Seudos, she made a special dish for one particular congregant. Whenever I visited or whenever I phoned, she was warm and genuine. She always asked about my family and the other members of the shul. She will be deeply missed. Yehi zikhronah livrakhah - may Mrs. Kret's memory be for a blessing.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

In Memory of Dvorah Womble

Photo: Online.WSJ.Com
There is a Jewish story that Eliyahu HaNavi - Elijah the Prophet - shows up in the guise of an old man or a beggar to test us to see if we are really compassionate towards others. If we were to meet Eliyahu what would he himself be like? I would think he would be kind, gentle, thoughtful and wise. Sometimes we are blessed to have such people in our lives. Dvorah Womble, who passed away at age 90 on August 19, 2010, was one such person. I don't recall when she first showed up at the Old Broadway Synagogue, but in short order she won us all over with her charm, her poise, her faith and her optimism. She was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and had an African-American and Cherokee background. Her Jewish background was more mysterious to me but in our context at Old Broadway, this did not seem to matter much. That she believed in God and affiliated with Judaism was beyond question. Over the years she was sick a few times, and if didn't see her, we would walk a few blocks to her apartment, where we would find her studying the parashah, surrounded by her collection of Jewish books.

Through speaking with her in shul, and visiting her at home, we learned that she had lived most of her adult life in New York. She apparently attended the Old Broadway Synagogue in the 1970s, but then moved downtown, where she attended the Brotherhood Synagogue near Grammercy Park. We also knew that she had been involved in a catastrophic automobile accident, but had miraculously pulled through. She had suffered other losses as well and still recovered.  From this I think that we all had a sense that she was indestructible, which is why her death still seems so incongruous.

We were all proud of her when she appeared in article in the Wall Street Journal November 2008 about people who had lived through and recalled the Great Depression. I recall speaking with her about that time and what a blessing it was to be able to connect with someone who was from that time period, but also very much in the here and now. Now that she is gone, another link to the past is broken, but I hope that in us, her to her kindness and wisdom will continue to live on. We send our condolences to Dvorah's son Larry Womble and to her two grandsons. Yehi zikhronah li-vrakhah - May Dvorah's memory be for a blessing.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tisha ba-Av at Old Broadway

This past Monday night, July 20, 2010, Tisha ba-Av evening, our teacher, Daniel Fridman, opened his remarks with a surprising statement. He said that he probably should be forbidden from attending Tisha ba-Av services at the Old Broadway Synagogue. The reason is that he gets so much joy at seeing the shul open or Tisha ba-Av. Indeed, this is only the fourth year that Old Broadway is open for Tisha ba-Av in particular and or the summer in general. For many years, the shul used to be open year round, during the summer and also for daily minyan. The daily minyan was discontinued in the 1970s, and I suspect that so was meeting in July and August. It made sense, since the shul was not air conditioned and Rabbi Kret and Mrs. Kret and the other survivors made their way to the Catskills to escape the heat of the city. Now most of us do not go to the Catskills and, thanks to the generosity of the Plaks family (in honor of the Eric and Gloria's wedding), the shul has had air conditioning since 2006. Summer 2007 was the first summer we decided to stay open. I made a list of all the Shabbosim and made sure that we would have enough people for at Shacharis each Shabbos. Thank God, we were successful, but I was nervous that we would not pull it off. When it became clear that Old Broadway was also viable during the summer, it felt that we brought a dead person back to life. Not that the shul was ever dead, but the more active we can make it, the better. In this way, it can serve us in the present and enable to deepen our Jewish commitments. God willing, having a vibrant shul will also be a valuable gift for the future members of our congregation. Finally, dedication today demonstrates that the hard work of the previous generations has not been in vain, and their hopes and desires continue to live on.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Mysteries of Riverside Cemetery

Cemeteries are by their nature mysterious places. They are where the living come to commune with the dead, and where, to some degree, the dead commune with each other. Cemeteries are also museums of the past, containing the earthly remains of people and sometimes, even institutions. The Riverside Cemetery is excellent of this sort of open air museum. Set among rolling hills and tree lined lanes in Saddle Brook, New Jersey, traveling through the grounds, one sees the gates of many New York and New Jersey synagogues and organizations that are no longer. Particularly poignant are the many Harlem congregations and organizations that are now defunct: Beth Israel of Harlem, Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol of Harlem, Harlem Benevolent Association, True Fellowship Society Harlem, Harlem Progressive, Young Men's Aid Society of Harlem, Harlem Kurlander, Harlem Israel Society, and others. There are some congregations that were in Harlem, but have moved out and still exist, such as the First Hungarian Congregation Ohab Zedek, and Temple Ansche Chesed. Of all of them, only our small synagogue, the Chevra Talmud Torah Ansche Marovi, still exists in Harlem.

The Chevra Talmud Torah Ansche Marovi purchased our section of the Riverside Cemetery around the time that it was constructing the synagogue on Old Broadway. The first burial there was of Dora Rubin, who died on October 22, 1922. Since then, our section of the cemetery has become the final resting place of a number of people who were important to the shul, such as past presidents Davis Brown, Isidor Thornschein and William Joachim; Sam and Ida Ratner, who donated the materials and labor for our sukkah, Ferdinand and Klara Mezei, the in-laws of Rabbi and Mrs. Kret, as well as many people who are not so well known.

Moshe Zvi Hirsch ben Reb Aryeh Leyb and Chana Sarah bas Reb Shraga Feyvush are among these. Their names are inscribed on an old marble bench which is in the middle of cemetery section. We have not been able to determine these people were and why there is a modest memorial to their memory. This is our first mystery.

The second mystery and the one that has truly captured my imagination is the one that surrounds that lonely tombstone of Leo Hand. All that we know about poor Leo we know from his stone. He died on August 3, 1926 at age 10. The death of a child is always a tragedy, which one can still feel eighty-four years later. This sadness is compounded by the physical remoteness of Leo's grave. His matzevah stands alone on the eastern side of our section of the cemetery the next nearest tombstone (in our section) is not less than fifteen feet away. It is all so strange and distant, and yet the grave remains, year after year, each time we visit.

But is Leo  really so alone? If one walks thirty feet or so due west, clear into the neighboring section, "Family Section Number 6," one comes across the graves of Isidor and Fannie Hand (Yitzchak and Feigie) who died in 1967 and 1973 respectively. They seem to have been the right age to have been Leo's parents. Indeed, the man's name in Hebrew was Yitzchak, which is listed as the name of Leo's father on Leo's tombstone. Moreover, how common could the name "Hand" be? Could it be a coincidence that they are so close to Leo's grave if they are not related? Finally, if they are Leo's parents, why weren't they buried next to Leo in the Old Broadway section? Was it possible that they wished to be buried in the Old Broadway Synagogue section but were no longer members and therefore not entitled to burial plots? I hope to contact the staff at the Riverside Cemetery to see if they know the answers to any of these questions.

The saddest part of visiting the Riverside Cemetery, at least for me, is neither the Old Broadway Synagogue section, nor the Phoeniz Association section, where my great-grandparents are buried, but the Ansche Chesed section. There, my friend Isaac Meyers lays at rest, after died as a result of a tragic traffic accident three years ago. We visited his grave today, placed some rocks on the tombstone, and recited the 23rd Psalm. We also tried to tell a few jokes, because, he would want it that way. They were not very good. We will have to do better next time.

Our annual visit has been sponsored and organized by Dale Brown, the grand-daughter of Davis Brown and the head of our Cemetery Committee. Dale has generous sponsored our congregational outings to the cemetery for the last decade or so and had been tending to the Old Broadway section of the Riverside Cemetery by herself for many years before that. Each year, Dale provides a sumptuous breakfast for all who come and for the last two years, Daniel Fridman, our talented teacher, has conducted his weekly shiur at the breakfast at the cemetery. I am grateful to Dale for giving us this great opportunity to perform a chesed shel emes, a true kindness, by tending to the graves of our deceased congregants. I also believe, or at least like to think, that those members of our shul who are buried at the Riverside Cemetery see that we remember them, and perhaps also intercede for us with Hashem if need be. Finally, I like to believe that in the merit of our caring for those who are no longer with us, that when our time comes, and we will be buried in the ground, that the next generation will visit our graves, pull some weeds, and remember for a moment who we once were.

Photos from this year's visit to the Riverside Cemetery

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Cholent Review - Parashas Naso

I think I am getting close to making a decent vegetarian cholent, or I should say, my son Binyamin and I are getting close. This past Shabbos we made a tasty cholent with most of the usual ingredients: a potato, a sweet potato, carrots, barley, beans and shiitake mushrooms. This cholent differed from my previous vegetarian cholents in a number of ways. First, I put only one large potato in rather than two. I also made sure there was more water than I have in the past. As with my other cholents, I added olive oil, but in this cholent, in addition to salt and pepper, I also added soy sauce. I did not add it once, but twice, first, I added it with the rest of the seasoning before I put the pot on the fire, but then after tasting the cooked cholent before serving it, I added a but more, maybe two tablespoons (for a three quart cholent). It was savory and delicious. The only problem is that since the Hamilton Beach Stay&Go Slow Cooker doesn't cook at a high temperature (I always use the low setting - I would not recommend using the high setting), dry beans often are not thoroughly cooked. For next week, I hope to soak the beans ahead of time. Shavua tov to all!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Amstislavski Bris: Philippe and Tashia discuss their son's name.

Our community celebrated the bris of Benjamin Amstislavski this past Sunday (May 9, 2010). We are thrilled to welcome Benjamin into our kehilah and we congratulated him on his wise choice of parents. This was a particular auspicious day. Not only was it Mother's Day, but as Igor pointed out, V-E Day (commemorating the victory of the allies over Germany in WWII). Benjamin was named after Phillipe's uncle, Viniamin, who was a Soviet veteran of the war and lived to be nearly 100. While we hope that Benjamin's life will be easier that that of his namesake, we wish his long life and the love and respect his great, great uncle enjoyed.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Flowers on Old Broadway

One of the customs of Shavuos, a late spring holiday, is decorating the synagogue with greenery. In advance of the holiday, and to help beautify our synagogue, our long time member Dale Brown brought in dirt, planters and dozens of plants and set up a new garden in the back courtyard of the synagogue. Considering that this space has been the home to dirt, broken concrete and an occasion piece of trash (and, for a week a year, our sukkah), Dale's addition is a tremendous improvement. The plants include holly bushes, impatiens, ivy and others. In the middle of Manhattan, in West Harlem, we sometimes have to take extra efforts to be aware of the natural world (although the Hudson River is just a few blocks west of the shul). We are grateful to Dale for giving us another aspect of life for which we can praise Hashem.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

For a Refuah Shelemah

Dear Friends,

Please add Malka bas Beyle in your prayers for a refuah shelemah. She will be having surgery tomorrow (4/12/10).

Thank you,

Paul Radensky

Cholent Review - Parashas Shemini

This past Shabbos Hashem blessed me with success with two cholents. The first cholent was my regular meat cholent, whose recipe I have discussed on this blog before. The second cholent (assembled by my son, Binyamin) was a version of the North African hamin called Dafina. For various reasons that cannot be discussed here, I could not follow the recipe precisely as I found it on the Internet, but I think what I did do was a good approximation and was even acknowledged as such by one the Sephardic members of the congregation. I used our other six-quart Hamilton Beach slow cooker and threw in a large cup of barley (pssst - not traditional - real Sephardim use rice in cheese cloth) and three cups (or so) of chickpeas (after having been soaked overnight), two baking potatoes and a sweet potato. I also added two large teaspoons of black pepper, two large teaspoons of salt, some paprika (maybe a teaspoon), a small amount of cayenne pepper, a quarter cup of olive oil, raw eggs (in the shells) and the coup de grace, two large teaspoons of ground cumin. I did not add any meat since I used the parve slow cooker. I put the pot on the heat at about 7:15pm and took it off at about 12:30pm the next day. It was spicy and delicious, and had an excellent consistency! The eggs, which were boiled in their shells, came out brown! I hope that I will have another opportunity to make this great cholent again soon.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Songs of Songs

Among my fondest memories of Rabbi Kret, z"tzl, was the way he would chant the megilos on the holidays. His chanting of Koheles for Sukkos was so moving and so sad, that it would be hard not to weep. The way he chanted the Song of Songs was also incredibly beautiful. For him, Shir ha-Shirim really was a love song between God and Israel and to hear him leyn with such passion was in itself a deeply religious experience.

This past Shabbos we were treated to another amazing rendition of Shir ha-Shirim. Unfortunately, Rabbi Kret is no longer with us, so Gabriel Wasserman, a rabbinical student from YU walked down from Washington Heights and leyned for us the megilah. Gabriel is a brilliant and talented young man who is an excellent and meduyak (precise) baal koreh and also a trained sofer (he also writes his own blog under the name Mar Gavriel). When I wrote that he leyned the megilah, he really did. He wrote his own Megilas Shir ha-Shirim and after reciting the berakhos, read it beautifully and with passion. He is of course, quite different than Rabbi Kret. Rabbi Kret brought with him the experience of prewar Poland, and to some degree the Holocaust, in all that he did, and Gabriel is a young man who was raised here in America. Nevertheless, despite the differences, the religious fire was similar and it was an awesome experience to hear this amazing book be read.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cholent Review - Parashas Tzav/Shabbos Ha-Gadol

The cholent that I made for this past Shabbos came out very well. I am now putting the carrots at bottom followed by the beans, the potatoes, the meat, and finally the barley, the spices the olive oil and the water. The layering seems to allow everything to get cooked properly. It is true that I have to stir the ingredients, after we take the cholent off of the heat source, but this is a small price to pay for good comfort food.

I would like to take this opportunity to share, regrettably, a cholent disaster that befell me on Shabbos Parashas Vakhel-Pekudei. I made two cholents, meat and vegetarian (actually, my son prepared the vegetarian cholent under my strict supervision). I have felt that the vegetarian cholents in the past have been undercooked, so I put set out Hamilton Beach parve cholent pot to high, and, to my chagrin, the vegetarian cholent was burned. True, it wasn't totally carbonized, but it had the burnt flavor, and funny, nobody ate any, even Michael B. I look forward to having another opportunity, of making a vegetarian cholent, and I hope that this next one will be blessed with the crown of success

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Passover Message from the Shul President

Nissan 5770
March 2010

Dear Friends,

The core idea of Passover is, of course, God’s liberation of the Jewish people from Egyptian servitude. On Passover however, the theme of redemption includes other dimensions as well. Isaiah’s famous prophecy of “A wolf will dwell with a sheep and a leopard will lie down with a kid…,” which is the haftorah for the eighth day of Passover, envisions a universal peace that includes all of creation. On Shabbos chol ha-moed, the haftorah describes Ezekiel’s startling vision of the dry bones, in which God resurrects the dead of Israel bone by bone and sinew by sinew. Redemption here is physical and real, nevertheless, these are apocalyptic visions. Must we wait for the end of days for redemption?

The Haggadah tells us that in every generation there are those who stand up to destroy us. Hearing the hatred spewed by Ahmadinejad and by Hamas, we realize just how accurate the Haggadah is. We are also taught that each person is obliged to view him or herself as having gone out of Egypt. We are to identify with the Jews who left Egypt, but we should also view this as an acknowledgment that God continues to protect us and look after us, not only as a people, but as individuals as well. In these difficult times, we should be remember that God is still with us, and use Passover as an opportunity for renewal.

I am pleased to report that our Shabbos minyonim have been holding steady as has our Sunday morning shiur with Daniel Fridman, an outstanding rabbinical student at Yeshiva University. Each week we have been examining a different midrashic or halakhic topic, such as rabbinic perspectives on Yishmael or the exploring from a halakhic perspective women’s obligation to read or listen to the megilah. We are delighted that the shul continues to be a mokom Torah providing high quality learning.

I am sad to report that we lost one of our long time congregants, Mr. Yisrael Liberman, in February. Mr. Liberman’s association with the shul dates back to the 1950s, shortly after he arrived here from Europe. We will miss him.

I am happy to report that we two of our congregants, Jason Caplan and Michal Sharabi, married earlier this month in the shul. Their wedding was moving and beautiful. We wish them much success and happiness as they build a bayit ne’eman b’israel – a faithful Jewish home.

In December, we had a lively Chanukah party with clarinetist Margot Leverett and tsimbalist Pete Rushefsky. A few weeks ago, we had a warm Purim party with accordionist Aron Gershman. On the following morning, we had a record turnout for our daytime megilah reading, which was followed by breakfast and a shiur given by Daniel Fridman. We are now preparing for our sixth annual community Passover Seder. We are pleased to announce that thanks to a generous gift from an anonymous donor, we are able to offer a significant discount for the Seder to whoever needs it.

Thanks to the dedication and vision of the Rubinstein, Walfish and Moskovitz families, we now have a new memorial board dedicated to the memory of our late member, Hillel Rubinstein, z”l. If you are interested in purchasing a yahrzeit plaque in memory of a loved one, please contact me at or leave a message for me on the shul telephone, 212 662-9767.

Our website, originally created by Kayla Garelick in 1999, went offline in October 2009 when Yahoo closed its Geocities platform. In order to reestablish our web presence, I created a blog with basic shul information, as well as a yahrzeit calendar, photographs from shul functions, articles about shul history and about important figures such as Rabbi Kret and Isidor Thornschein. Please feel free to visit the blog at and if you have comments or suggestions, please let me know. Please also visit our original blog, created by Seth Chalmer and Jason Caplan, at

Thanks to your on-going assistance, the Old Broadway Synagogue continues to thrive as a beacon of Torah in Harlem, Morningside Heights and the Upper West Side. Your contributions have funded our weekly kiddushes, shul programs, and building maintenance as well as enabled us to fulfill our on-going commitment to provide for Mrs. Kret. Please continue to support our shul so that we will be able to continue Rabbi Kret’s work in providing a warm and welcoming center of Yiddishkeyt for many years to come.

Warm wishes for a sweet and kosher Pesach.

Dr. Paul Radensky

Monday, March 1, 2010

At Old Broadway's Purim Celebration, 2003

Here is a photo of some of the older members of our congregation. From the left, Mrs. Sylvia Fields, Mr. Chaim Feigenblatt z"l, Mrs. Chana Kret, Rabbi Jacob Kret ztz"l, Mr. Gustav Freud z"l, Mrs. Zelda Rubinstein, Mr. Hillel Rubinstein, z"l. Hershl Rubinstein (standing).

A Few Random Thoughts About Purim...

While Purim is still on our minds (and before we are overwhelmed by Pesach), I would to share a few thoughts about the Book of Esther (the Megilah). Many have noted that it is funny, ironic, replete with twists and turns of plot and full of seemingly stock characters such as the foolish drunken king, his wicked advisor, the beautiful new queen, and the sagacious wiseman. All of these things are there, but there are deeper truths that the book can teach us.

It is, first of all, a book about Jewish life in exile. Most of the other books of the Bible take place in the land of Israel, which is the land of patriarchs and matriarchs, the land of Kings David and Solomon, and the home of Bais Ha-Mikdash, our holy Temple. The setting for Esther is far from the Land of Israel, in Persia, where Jews are a minority. As opposed to the Land of Israel, where God's presence is readily felt, in Susa, the Persian capital God's whereabouts are less clear, to the extent that God is not even mentioned in the Megilah.

God isn't the only one Who hides in the diaspora. To so degree, the Jews must do so as well, or at least try to blend in. How else can we understand Mordechai's instruction to Esther that she may not reveal the people to whom she belongs?

On the face of it, Persia is a state governed by law. When Achashverosh realizes that he has a problem with Vashti, he consults with the nobles of Persia and Media, a sort of advisory senate. And over and over again, the Megilah reminds us that everything is done "according to law." We want to think of law as something that will ensure a just society, but law is only as strong as the authority that enforces it. In Persia, the source of authority is Achashverosh, a self-serving immoral opportunist. Such a leader is open to a powerful Jewish courtier such as Mordechai, but he is also open to a powerful antisemite such as Haman.

These lessons from Megilat Esther continue to resound for us today. We still live in exile, including arguably, those people who live in the State of Israel. God's presence is often not apparent. Moreover, with antisemitism on the rise, many Jews will try to blend in. In our day, we rely on law, and in the places were most Jews live, the law is relatively just, but just 65 years ago, the Nazis took over Germany and essentially made genocide legal, so the law still is only as good as the authority which stands behind it. We speak about the United States as a medinas chesed, a state based on kindness. But outside the United States and certainly within it, there are those leaders who are self-serving opportunists.

Which means we must continue to be vigilant and be strong in our faith, so that those who wish to destroy us in every generation will fail, and so that we may have "light, joy, happiness and respect" as did our ancestors in Persia so many generations ago.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Remembering Isaac...

Tomorrow, the 10th of Adar, is Isaac Meyers' second yahrzeit.Isaac was a doctoral candidate in Classics in Harvard. He had grown up on the Upper West Side, attended the Heschel School, and was a regular at Ansche Chesed with his parents Bill and Nahma, and his sister, Hannah. Then something happened, and somehow he made his way to Old Broadway, which he attended for a year or two, and then made his way to England and them to Harvard. Nevertheless, he often visited home and when he did he could be counted on to make the minyan and, if we were really desperate, to come back to minchah. He was both sweet and funny and always lifted everyone's spirits.

When he was still attending regularly, Isaac did something that some of us of found disturbing. He proposed that we include the traditional prayer, the misheberakh, on behalf of the welfare of the President and Vice President of the United States. Some thought that the services were already too long and that adding this short prayer would make things worse. Others felt that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were not worthy of our prayers. Others undoubtedly thought that we were adding something new and accordingly were opposed. Nevertheless, we had a process in that the officers discussed the proposal and ultimately decided to include the passage. By the time that we reached this decision, I believe that Isaac had already moved to Harvard, so I did not get a chance to see what he thought now that his proposal was accepted.

Over time, the objections to the prayer fell. No one really noticed the extra minute it took to read the prayer. And those who didn't want to pray on President Bush's behalf had their dreams answered. As for tradition, it is funny how time makes even new things seem like they have been here for ever.

Whenever I recite the misheberakh for the President and Vice President, I think of Isaac, and I miss having the opportunity to discuss with him how his proposal has fared at shul. I am glad that I have a frequent opportunity to recall him, and as I say the prayer for our political leaders, I hope that Isaac looks down upon us from heaven and gives us one of those mischievous smiles that we remember him for.
The photograph of Isaac was taken from

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Who was Isidor Thornschein? (Part II)

Since my first post about Isidor Thorschein on January 30, 2010, I had the good fortune to be contacted by a couple of his distant relatives, Bobbi Stern and Phillip Walker. Based on their information, the story that emerges about Mr. Thornschein's life is bittersweet. He apparently moved to the United States with his family in the early 20th century. He then moved back to Europe, but returned to the States (with his older daughter Anna) by the late 1920s. He appeared to be man of means (in addition to being a painter) and was involved in various investments, as evidenced by the airplane patent noted in the previous post.

Phillip Walker sent me a fascinating clipping which describes the vagaries of another project with which Mr. Thornschein was associated. Appearing in the Los Angeles Times on December 25, 1929 and entitled "Secret Worth Million: Chemist Who Ca Make Fuel at a $1 a Ton Faces Bleak, Penniless Christmas," the article tells the story of Heinrich Weber, an Austrian chemist from Lemberg (perhaps the L.A.Times did not recognize Poland's claim to East Galica?) was brought over to the United States by Moses Rosenthal and Isidore Thornschein, who had saved Weber from having to serve in the military during World War I. Weber claimed to know a way of mixing water with coal dust that would generate fuel for $1 a ton. He apparently did a demonstration for a couple of coal companies, which told him that they would be interested if he patented his invention. Weber refused to do so, afraid that his idea would be stolen, but offered (generously, of course) to sell the formula outright for $1,000,000. The Times doesn't say why, but no one took Mr. Weber up on his offer. Rosenthal and Thornschein were able to obtain a court order preventing Weber from leaving the country or from divulging the secret to anyone but his erstwhile sponsors.

Mr.Thornschein's wife, Honora, and younger daughter, Dora, stayed in Europe. We don't know if they were separated, or if Mr. Thornschein traveled back and forth. In any event, according to a report submitted by Mrs. Thornschein's grandnephew, Yosef Rum, to Yad Vashem, his great aunt and her daughter were killed in Transnistria, an area of Ukraine that was held by the Romanian army, and which carried out mass murder against the Jews who were concentrated there. As I noted in my first posting about Mr. Thornschein, as his obituary in the New York Times notes, he was searching for his relatives in Europe when he died. He probably never learned what happened to them. Perhaps it was better that way.

The story does not stop there. Mr. Thornschein continued to take an active role in the Old Broadway Synagogue and published a congratulatory message in our 35th Anniversary Dinner Journal on June 19, 1946. By April 15, 1947, he was dead. I have not been able to find cause of death, but a broken heart was undoubtedly a contributing factor. At a memorial service given May 18, 1947, William Joachim, the then president of the shul, wrote that Mr. Thornschein was a "dynamic personality, a good man, a righteous soul, a noble Jew and a loyal American..." Mr. Joachim continued that Mr. Thornschein had revitalized the synagogue in many ways including installing a modern steam heating system (I heard that there had been a potbellied coal stove originally), that the pulpit be re-carpeted, that new menorah lights be installed on the podium, that the Torahs be dressed in new mantels and that a new parochet be hung, that the building be redecorated, that the facade be sandblasted (I guess they didn't follow the halakhos then of historic preservation), that a recreation lounge be constructed on the lower floor, and finally that the membership be raised from 38 to 70 (we are still working on that one!).

These are all tremendous accomplishments, and when one recalls the personal suffering that Mr. Thornschein was going through at this time, they are all the more impressive. I dare say that without Mr. Thornschein's efforts our shul and our community would not be functioning today. His effort should continue to inspire us, and in this way Isidor Thornschein's memory will continue to be for a blessing.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Cholent Review - Parashas Terumah

I haven't posted a cholent review in a few weeks because I really had nothing new to add. I did a few things differently for my cholent this past Shabbos so I would like to share my experiences with my cholent making colleagues out there. I have mentioned before that my Hamilton Beach slow cooker is not as hot as the old Rival Crock Pot was, however, I have larger been able to compensate by the way I layered the ingredients as they are placed in the pot. The most important ingredient in this regard is the chopped carrots. I put all of them at the very bottom yesterday afternoon, and they all were cooked perfectly. Another ingredient that needs to be placed with care is the barley (this past Shabbos I mixed it with wheat kernels - yummy!). The barley (and wheat) are the last dry ingredients before the spices to go in. After I pour these grains in, I shake the pot so that they fall between the the meat and cut vegetables. This way, they will also be fully cooked. The last point that I want to share is also an important one. After Igor brought the pot up from the basement during kiddush, I stirred my cooked confection to make sure everything was well mixed. And so it was. For anyone out there following my reviews and making your own cholent, Ess gezunterheyt!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

In Memory Yisrael Liberman...

This past Friday, we lost yet another of our old timers at the Old Broadway Synagogue, Yisrael Liberman. I must have originally met Mr. Liberman while walking north to Old Broadway while he was heading south to Ramath Orah, but I only got to know him about ten years ago. At the time, our rabbi, Abe Weschler was courting Mr. Liberman and trying to win him back to Old Broadway. Some time before I began attending Old Broadway in 1993, Mr. Liberman had finally had it with Old Broadway (I heard that he did not approve of the dovish politics of another member who was given the opportunity to speak from the bimah) and left to attend Ramath Orah, another local synagogue. In 1999, Rabbi Weschler was doing his best to bring Mr. Liberman back to our flock. He and his wife Tirtza would often have Mr. Liberman over for Shabbos dinner. It was at such a dinner that I finally got to know Mr. Liberman. I recall that he was boasting of his strength - that he could easily do 50 push-ups, and would gladly do so on the spot. I declined his generous offer, but this would forever prove to me that Mr. Liberman was a shtarker - a strong man. Before Rabbi Weschler left Old Broadway (to join the Air Force), Mr. Liberman did come once - vindicating, perhaps, Rabbi Weschler's efforts. Fast foward a couple of years. Mr. Liberman, unfortunately suffered a severe stroke. Amazing, he largely recovered. With the help of his young roommate, Michael, and his friend, Doug, Mr. Liberman now returned to Old Broadway, which was quite a bit closer than Ramath Orah. We did not talk about whatever issues had caused him to leave Old Broadway in the first place, and we were glad to have him back. I think he was glad to be back to. When he felt up to it, and if we would ask him several times, he would agree to lead musaf in the Shabbos morning service. He had a beautiful voice and sung the prayers in a sweet, Polish-Ashkenazic Hebrew. He would say "Burkhi es hashem hamvurekh" as opposed to "Barkhu et hashem hamevorakh," and so on.

Only after his death did I learn a few biographical details of his life. He grew up in Lodz, Poland, where his family were Gerer Chasidim and his father Fischel, was an important community leader. When the Nazis invaded in 1939, his father was murdered soon after. Mr. Liberman was in the ghetto until the great deportation in 1944, when he and his mother were sent to Auschwitz. Miraculously, both survived. A heard a story that during the death march out of Auschwitz in late 1944, sick and starving, he collapsed as was put on to a pile of corpses. Somebody saw his mouth moving - he was apparently davenning Shacharis - and realized his was alive and rescued him. Ultimately, Mr. Liberman came to the United States and rebuilt his life. He worked as administrator for the Bialystoker Home for the Aged, married, and had three children, Fischel, Fay and Chaim.

With the assistance of Michael and Doug, Mr. Liberman became a regular at Old Broadway. I gave him an aliyah whenever I could, and he gave us his idiosyncratic personality which was often impatient, but was still warm and accepting. Like the other old timers, Mr. Liberman was a link to the past which enabled us to understand who we are as a community, so that we can flourish in the future.

Since Mr. Liberman was born into the Chasidic world, it was perhaps appropriate that he left this world through Chasidim as well. His daughter Fay, herself part of the Gerer Chasidic community, arranged for his funeral in Boro Park. The coffin was wheeled through a room full of Chasidim who were bedecked in their Shabbos kapotes and shtreimels. We - the Old Broadway people and they - the Chasidim - followed the coffin on the way to car. From there, Mr. Liberman's body was flown to Israel, where is was greeted by Chaim and buried in the Har Menuchot cemetery outside of Jerusalem. A fitting sendoff for a very special human being. We will miss Mr. Liberman. May his memory be for a blessing.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Woman of Valor, Who Can Find?

Traditional orthodox synagogues are usually not well known for women's empowerment, but a glance at the history of the Old Broadway Synagogue shows that women's participation and traditional Judaism are not mutually exclusive either. I have in mind, of course, our Ladies Auxiliary, which seemed to be active in the shul from the 1920s through the 1950s and maybe even for longer. I should state right off the top that the women's empowerment that existed at Old Broadway was not egalitarianism and would not satisfy those for whom nothing else measures up (indeed the reason the women's group in the shul was called "Ladies Auxiliary" was that the primary members were the men), but if we want to talk about women playing a central role in a traditional synagogue community, this is it (Ladies Auxilary group photo below from the 1959 48th Anniverary Journal). I have not yet had a chance to study the minute books of the congregation, so what I am going to say comes from what is visible around the shul. First of all, there are the two photographs in the Kiddush Room, both from the late 1940s or early 1950s. In one, members of the Ladies Auxiliary stand around a primitive electrocardiograph machine that was purchased and donated to Israel. Another similar photograph shows the women behind a obstetrics table that they bought and were sending to Israel. I think it is fair to say that most of the women in the photograph have that solid Eastern European Jewish look that says, "don't mess with me or you will be doing the dishes for the rest of your life!" Another object that testifies to the importance of the Ladies Auxiliary is a pewter gavel that was inscribed for the Ladies Auxiliary and dates to 1927 (we have not found anything similar for the male membership). The real thing that is the clincher for me is perhaps the most surprising: the inscription over the ark.
In most synagogues, the inscription reads, Da lifnei me atah omed (Know before Whom you stand) or Shiviti hashem le-negdi tamid (I will place God before me always) or something which elevates the congregants thoughts towards heaven. Our inscription reads (and here I will transliterate from the original Hebrew/Yiddish characters From Ladies Egzelery oyf Ch.T.T.A.M. Let from translate: "From the Ladies Auxiliary of the Chevra Talmud Torah Anshei Marovi." So here is our dirty little secret: out inscription is in English (but written with Yiddish characters). And to make matters worse, what should the men be thinking about when they daven and look towards the ark? The Ladies Auxiliary (which was made up of their wives)! Just in case the men forgot who was really in control! These bits of evidence suggest a women's group that was dynamic and able to accomplish a tremendous amount. In a time when a family could have a middle class life on a single income and women whose children were grown were able to devote themselves to volunteer work, these women gave their time and talent to our shul and to the Jewish community. We were lucky! I dare say that without them, our shul wouldn't be here.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Cholent Review - Parashas Yisro

This weeks cholent was good, but not my best. I did not over stuff the pot but some of the carrots were not as cooked as I would have liked. I put in less pepper this time but the person who complained in the past that there was too much pepper didn't come. I have been out of wheat berries for a few weeks but hope to add them to Parashas Mishpatim's cholent. I am wondering if I should cook the cholent on high...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Rabbi Kret's Third Yahrzeit and "Wasilkower Broyt"

Since tonight (19th of Shevat) marks the third yahrzeit of Rabbi Kret's passing, I would like to note it by recalling an aspect of life in the Bialystoker yeshiva that Rabbi Kret shared with us. It is hard for us to imagine the poverty of that some of the yeshivas endured in the 1930s, and by extension, what the bochrim (students) who studied in these yeshivas endured as well. For Rabbi Kret this was epitomized by the bread that was given to the students in Bialystok.

Before speaking about this bread, I should say that Rabbi Kret didn't go to Bialystok simply because it was the local yeshiva. Rabbi Kret was raised in a Hasidic family that was associated with the Gerer rebbe. Rabbi Kret decided not to follow this path, but consciously chose to follow the route of Lithuanian yeshiva scholarship. It is interesting that Rabbi Kret chose the Bialystoker yeshiva, since when he was there, it had become the  the flagship of the Musar movement (the yeshiva in Novardok was the first institutional home of the Musar movement, which was founded in the nineteenth century by Rabbi Yisrael Salanter. When Novardok came under the rule of the Soviet Union, the faculty and students fled to Poland and reestablished their yeshiva in Bialystok). When I asked Rabbi Kret about why he studied in Bialystok, if I recall correctly, he told me that he was interested in the learning, and not necessarily the Musar.

But back to the bread. In Bialystok, the bread that was supplied to the students was apparently produced in Wasilkow, a small town about four miles northeast of Bialystok. Rabbi Kret said that when the bread came, it was inedible, and the students had to let it sit for a while. When they did eat it, something in it gave them a burning sensation. Rabbi Kret thought that the flour was stretched by addition of sawdust, which is what gave the burning sensation. Despite the deprivation, Rabbi Kret continued in his studies and was very successful. Rabbi Kret thrived in Bialystok, and became the second in command of the school. (The photo above, from Wikipedia, is of the Great Synagogue in Bialystok, which was destroyed during the Holocaust). He eventually left to return to his hometown of Ostrow Mazowiecka, where he established a branch of the yeshiva.

During the war, Rabbi Kret was arrested by the Soviets and was incarcerated in Siberia. After the war, he taught in or headed the yeshiva in the Zeilsheim DP camp in Frankfurt, Germany. In 1949 or 1950, he came to the United States, and became the rabbi of the Old Broadway Synagogue, and the rest, so they say, is history. The thing which sustained Rabbi Kret in all of these places was his love of Torah. Anyone who spoke with Rabbi Kret could see the fire of Torah as it burned in his eyes. The Torah gave so much nourishment that even the Wasilkower broyt, bad as it was, was tolerable.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Who was Isidor Thornschein?

Isidor Thornschein is not exactly a household name, but it is a name that looms large for us at the Old Broadway Synagogue. The large memorial tablet that was installed in 1947 in the men's section of the sanctuary is dedicated in his memory, as is the "Thornschein Room" as our less than elegant basement is called. Considering he was the only person in the shul who was so honored, I have always wondered who he was. This we know: Sometime in the 1940s (we would have to check the minute books to determine the precise dates), Mr. Thornschein became president of our congregation, and after he left the presidency, Mr. Thornschein became the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. Indeed, he appears (probably in these capacities) in photos from our our shul dinners from 1942 and 1946, although he is overshadowed by his successor, William Joachim. But what else do we know about him, and why was he so highly respected? He was apparently born in 1886 and according to a post on, was married to Honora Ruhm, and had two daughters.
Sometime before the Second World War (most likely in the 1920s), Mr. Thornschein left from Vienna, with one daughter, Anna, and came to the United States. Now we have an unusual turn in the story. When Mr. Thornschein comes to the United States, he makes the acquaintance of an inventor, Isaac Shafran, who files a patent on July 16, 1930 for a kind of airplane and which lists Isidor Thornschein as half the assignee ( I suppose this meant that Mr. Thornschein put up the money for this invention and was due half of whatever profits it would generate. I was surprised to see a patent application for an airplane associated with a synagogue president, but this does suggest that Mr. Thornschein was a very special individual. The next bit of evidence that we have comes from a beautiful painting that hangs in the Kiddush Room in the synagogue. No one knows who the subject of painting is. He appears to be an Eastern European rabbi, wearing traditional rabbinic clothing, in the early nineteenth century. According to the small plaque on the bottom of the painting, the plaque was donated to the synagogue by Isidor Thornschein on September 30, 1940. While we may not know who the subject of the painting is, we can make a reasonable guess as to who painted it - Isidor Thornschein himself. In his obituary in the New York Times on April 15, 1947, it lists that Mr. Thornschein was a portrait painter and was the owner of the Thorncraft Studio on East 12th Street. Among the last bits of information that we have also come from the New York Times obituary. It states that Mr. Thornschein's relatives were caught in Europe during the war and that he was trying to trace them. Were these his (former?) wife, Honora, and his other daughter? The Times also noted that Mr. Thornschein was survived by one daughter, (Anna?). A couple of years ago, I was contacted by some of his distant relatives (including a great niece), originally from Rumania, and who now live in Australia. They didn't know much. I believe that the  person who posted on is Mr. Thornschein's granddaughter-in-law. I hope to find her, and if I do, I hope she will tell me more. For now, however, we are left with more questions than answers. Perhaps one of our readers knows something and can let us know?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cholent Review - Parashas Bo

I thought today's cholent was excellent, however, I received a criticism that there was too much pepper in it. I did put a lot in, but I also think it did not mix well, because some of the cholent was peppery (I admit that my lips did tingle) and some was not. So next week, I will put in a little less. I also put in oyster mushrooms. They didn't seem to make much of a difference. I think I will stick with shiitake mushrooms whenever possible.

Rabbi Ari Weiss Speaks about Uri L'Tzedek

We were privileged to have Rabbi Ari Weiss, the Director of Uri L'Tzedek, the orthodox social action organization, speak at the shul this past Shabbos. He discussed the work the Uri L'Tzedek is doing such as the Tav Yosher, the certificate that confirms that a particular business treats it employees in an ethical fashion, and how people in general can get involved. This was all interesting enough, but what was fascinating was a discussion that developed about the case against Sholom Rubashkin (the kosher meat producer in Postville, Iowa, who was convicted for many counts of abusing his often undocumented and underage workers). Without naming the parties several important questions were raised: 1) Was the Rubashkin case an example of being singled out (because he is a Jew) or was he one of a number of investigations that the government was conducting of meat producing industry, 2) Rubashkin himself is apparent a big baal tzedekah (a generous donor to Jewish charities). Should the Jewish community support him in his case account and because he is one of ours? Let me add that the person who asked this question is the daughter of two Holocaust survivors. One of the ways that the Nazis and other antisemites thoughout history have done their evil deeds was by having Jews turn against fellow Jews. So Jewish solidarity has to be an important value, but are there not other important values which may trump this one? It is a question worthy of ongoing consideration. We are grateful to Rabbi Weiss for bringing these issues to our attention and encouraging us to think about them.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Thoughts about Haiti and the Plagues

We read this past Shabbos about the first group of plagues that beset Egypt as Moshe and Aharon were negotiating with Pharoah to release the Jewish people. It is hard not to compare those disasters so many years ago with the terrible and deadly disaster that just hit Haiti this past week. Both were literally acts of God and both were exacerbated by human folly - stubbornness and hard-heartedness on one hand, and poverty and an absence of effective building regulations on the other. Nevertheless, the way we understand the biblical account was that God using Egypt to display His might and there is an implication that God is punishing the Egyptians for their mistreatment of the Israelites. But what did the Haitians do to deserve a punishment of "Old Testament" proportions? Nothing that I know of. In that sense, we have to admit that in the face of God's might and power, that He is sometimes inscrutable. All that being said, on some level, this disaster is a test of the rest of world. Will we rise to the occasion? We will help these people that are in such desparate need? I hope the answer is yes. For those who are going to Haiti or are there already, our hearts are with you. For the rest of us, we must give and give generously. This is our moment to act. Let's not waste it.

Cholent Review - Parashas Vaera

I think this week's cholent was one of my best. I did not fill the pot beyond its capacity (well, I did, but less than I have done in the past) and the seasoning was perfect. Three teaspoons of salt, and three teaspoons of pepper.One person felt that the cholent was too peppery, and it did have a certain bit. For me it was perfect! Lesson learned here: cholent made in this pot is better without the garlic.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Cholent Review - Parashas Shemos

The not so secret ingredients in today's cholent were dried shiitake mushroom and fresh cloves of garlic. I used to add garlic to the cholent when I used the old crockpot, but since that one cooked at such a high temperature, the garlic added almost nothing to the cholent. With the new slow cooker, everything still retains some flavor, and the garlic definitely added some spiciness to the mix. The one major problem that I had with the cholent was that I put too many carrots and potatoes in, so much so that they essentially sitting above the pot and were not cooked thoroughly (I used a plastic liner which will hold things in, even if they are more than the pot should hold). So the lesson learned is to fill the pot to the top and not go beyond.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Shabbason on Halakhah and the Land of Israel

Please join us this coming Shabbos (Parashas Shemos), January 8-9, 2010 for a Shabbason with Daniel Fridman on Halakhah and the Land of Israel. During davenning Shabbos morning will speak of Moshe Rabenu's qualifications to lead  the Jewish people. At kiddush, Daniel will speak about the mitzzvah of burial in Israel, and at Shalosh Seudos, Daniel will address the "Three Oaths" which has been used as a Jewish religious argument against Zionism. The Shabbason promises to be thought-provoking and worthwhile and we hope that you will join us!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Cholent Review - Parashas Vayechi

I am still not used to our new Hamilton Beach Stay-n-Go Six-Quart slow cooker. The low setting is not as hot as the low setting was on our Rival Seven-Quart Crockpot, but hopefully the new slow cooker will last longer than the old one did  (the ceramic pot developed cracks throughout and while it never broke into pieces, we stopped using it when it no longer was water-tight). In any event, I am compensating for the lower heat by cutting the potatoes and carrots into smaller pieces and by having fewer carrots and more potatoes (the old pot effaced the carrot flavor, the carrot retain more of the their flavor with the newer pot). I think I have been largely successful. The ingredients are cooked through and with sufficient salt (three large teaspoons) and sufficient ground pepper (three large teaspoons), the flavor was very good. I should also say that I added about half a cup of dry porcini mushrooms, but I did not notice them in the finished product as I usually do with shiitake mushrooms.