Monday, July 11, 2011

The Founding of the Chevra Talmud Torah Anshei Marovi in 1911

This posting is less a presentation about the founding of our congregation than a plea to my readers to share whatever information they have about its history. At least for the time being, the specific circumstances about the establishment of the shul are hidden of the mists of time. As Jeffrey Gurock, author of, When Harlem Was Jewish, has shown, Harlem had a large Jewish community numbering in the tens if not the hundreds of thousands before World War I. Those Jews that had been in America longer and were wealthier and in some cases more acculturated settled in central Harlem. There they build Temple Israel, Ohab Zedek and the Institutional Synagogue. The poorer an often immigrant Jews settled in east Harlem. I would argue that the same held true, perhaps to a lesser extent, in the neighborhood where the shul is located (Gurock argues that Manhattanville is technically not part of Harlem, and therefore did include this area in his book. I disagree since I have found many instances in which this neighbor is referred to as part of Harlem). I may be projecting from a later period, but it is my sense that Manhattanville  was always mixed. In the 1940s, it had Jews, Irish, Germans and undoubtedly others. It was, as far as I can tell, a working class neighborhood. The Jews of this area had been born abroad and owned small businesses. The Certificate of  Incorporation was signed on October 30, 1911 and was certified by the County Clerk on November 6, 1911 (I had mistakenly thought the day was June 11, 1911).  The original trustees of the congregation and the signatories to the Certificate of Incorporation were Charles Leischer, Osias Fuhrman, Wold Teitlebaum, Isaac Mittleman, Morris Schiff and Simon Teicher. I have not been in touch with the descendants of any of these individuals with the exception of Morris Schiff. I have been corresponding the Eddie Kahn, Morris and Rachel Schiff's grandson, and also Shirley Kline Bennett, who is their great-granddaughter.Ms. Bennett is also a descendant of the Schwartz family, who provided possibly two presidents, Nathan Schwartz, who is listed as president in the 1918 Jewish Communal Register of New York City and Joseph Schwartz, who was president of the congregation in the 1960s and 1970s. The congregation's Hebrew school, or Talmud Torah, came into being around the same time as the congregation did if not shortly beforehand (the name of the congregation, Chevra Talmud Torah Anshei Marovi suggests that it was organized, in part, to support the Talmud Torah). The early years must have been challenging. Although the United States did not enter World War I until 1917, the Eastern front went through the Poland and Lithuania and exactly the heartland of Jewish Eastern Europe. 1918 also brought the Spanish Influenza, which claimed victims among the members of the shul. Finally, the members of the shul were not wealthy. Nevertheless, after being in existence for 12 years, they built our shul, the Old Broadway Synagogue. Possibly original blueprints show that they intended to build a three story building, but seem to have run out of money and stopped at the second floor. Nevertheless, it was an impressive accomplishment. While it needs some tender loving care, the shul continues to serve us well today - a gift from the founding generation.