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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Sam and Dora Ratner and the Old Broadway Synagogue Sukkah

Four years ago, in 2010, we rebuilt our fixed sukkah in the back courtyard on foundation of the sukkah that was donated to the synagogue by Sam and Dora Ratner back in in 1954. Since this year is the sixtieth anniversary of that sukkah, it is appropriate to reflect on the Ratners and their contribution to the synagogue.

Before I go further, I should say that it was much that the Ratners donated the sukkah, they most likely donated the materials, but moreover, Sam built the sukkah with his own hands. And a great job he did at that since the sukkah was in operation until 2009 when the heavily reinforced roof flaps started pulling the walls apart.

Dorothy and Dora Ratner, middle to late 1940s.
According to Sam's grandson, Ken Ratner, Sam was born in 1897 in Zelva, Byelorussia, and came to the United States via Ellis Island. The origin of the name "Ratner" is shrouded in mystery, since the family's original name was "Bublatzky." One theory has it that the name was the maiden name of a woman who married into the family. Another theory is that the orignal name was changed at Ellis Island (I myself am usually suspicious of such stories, and on the Ellis Island site, one can find both names on the lists of arriving passengers). In any event, it seems to have been changed by Sam's father, Eliahu (Bublatzky) Ratner. Please click here for further notes on the Ratner family genealogy.

Sam opened a dry good store in lower Manhattan and later another one on White Plains Road in the Bronx, but lost these stores in the Depression. Later, he moved to Harlem and opened another dry goods store.

Ken and David Ratner and Abraham Klein, 1966
In 1921, Sam married Dora Sackinsky in Brooklyn. Sam and Dora son, Herbert, married Dorothy Rogoff in the late 1940s and had sons Robert, Ken and David. Herbert and Dorothy, their children and Dorothy's mother, Esther (Kiki) Rogoff,  lived at 160 Claremont, and then moved briefly into the Manhattanville Houses when they opened in 1961. After a few years, the family moved into 180 Claremont (where the Krets, the Rubinsteins, the Feigenblatts and the Libermans lived, among others). When Sam died in 1958 (four years after building the sukkah), Dora married member of the Old Broadway Synagogue, Abraham Klein Sometime in the 1970s, the Kleins moved to Florida, where Abraham died in 1979 and Dora died in 1996.
Esther Rogoff, 1985
Robert Ratner Bar Mitzvah Photo, 1963

When we decided the the sukkah built by Sam Ratner was no longer safe, we considered a couple different options. One would be to demolish the old sukkah and just put up a nylon sukkah, as many people in the suburbs have. The second option would be to recreate our original sukkah as best we could. In light of the fact that the old sukkah had served us well, and also because it was built in an old European style which included moveable roof flaps (compare with the images of the sukkos that appear in the extraordinary sukkah decoration was created by R. Aryeh Steinberger and hangs in the first floor of the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan), we decided to recreate the sukkah that Sam Ratner built. We had to raise the money from a number of contributors to build the new sukkah, and because none of us had Sam Ratner's expertise, we hired Alex Myftarago, the contractor who rebuilt the roof, to build the new sukkah. As was noted above, the new sukkah was built upon the foundation of the old sukkah and largely along the same lines. To express our continuing thanks to the Ratners for nearly 50 years of the sukkah, we installed the old sukkah plaque next to the new one, which thanks our recent generous donors. Let's hope the new sukkah will last as long as the one it replaced!

Plaque thanking the Ratners on the left, and plaque thanking the contributors to the new sukkah on the right, 2010.