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.