Thursday, September 30, 2010

Conference: "Jews & the American City: Planning, Developing, and Imagining Urban Space and Jewish Space,"

Conference: "Jews & the American City: Planning, Developing, and Imagining Urban Space and Jewish Space," Temple University, November 11, 2010

New York, NY. The former Froward Building,one of the first "Jewish" skyscrapers.
Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2005.

In the past half century American Jewish planners, architects and real estate developers have helped to transform American cities - often far outside traditional "Jewish space." A conference in Philadelphia addresses the causes, effects and significance of the Jewish contribution - or should it just be the "contribution by individual Jews" - to the modern American urbanism.

Conference Announcement:
Jews & the American City: Planning, Developing, and Imagining Urban Space and Jewish Space
Sponsored by Temple University's Feinstein Center for American Jewish History

Thursday, November 11, 2010
Edward H. Rosen Hillel Center, Temple University

An all day conference sponsored by Temple University's Feinstein Center for American Jewish History, the History Department at Temple University, the Center for Humanities at Temple, and the Foundation for Jewish Culture will explore the relationship between Jews and American urbanism. What role have Jews and Jewish ideals played in the redevelopment of urban space, especially over the last three decades? Practitioners in and scholars of the fields of urban development, urban planning and architecture, and urban politics will consider how we can understand American cityscapes in light of Jews' investment in the creation, destruction and re-creation of urban spaces and ideals. Among the individuals joining us in this discussion are Lizabeth Cohen, Deborah Dash Moore, Robert Fishman, Paul Levy, Max Page, Wendell Pritchett, Inga Saffron, and Tom Sugrue. A full program and information about attending the conference is available at

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Conference on Merchants Jews in the New World 1800-1900

I pass on information about an interesting upcoming conference to be held in early November. The Gomez House in Marlboro, New York, is one of only a few secular structures associated with early American merchant Jews, but it was these very Jews who funded the building of the first synagogues, including the famed Touro synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. In the 19th century, the focus of this conference, merchant Jews - large scale and small - helped pave the expansion of America west. Some were peddlers (like my great-grandfather in Texas), and some operated large markets and stores. All helped supply farmers, miners, artisans and townsmen in cities and towns in nearly every state.

Conference on Merchants Jews in
the New World 1800-1900

Focus on Jewish Contributions to Economic Expansion of Retail, Industry and Finance in 19th century America


Contact: Dr. Ruth Abrahams (212) 294-8329

New York, NY (September 29, 2010) The lesser-known aspects of the Jewish contribution to economic expansion in the United States during the 19th century will be the focus of a conference to be held at the Center for Jewish History on Sunday, November 7, 2010.

Called "Merchants Jews in the New World: 1800-1900," it is being sponsored by The Gomez Foundation for Mill House. It is part of their lead-up to the 300th anniversary of the construction of the Mill House, situated on the upper Hudson River, which was built by one of the earliest Jewish merchants in this country. Sessions will include a panel of presentation on 19th Century developments in three key areas: retail, industry and finance.

Gene Dattel, author of the recently published Cotton and Race in the Making of America: The Human Costs of Economic Power, will deliver the keynote address. He will be followed by a series of roundtable discussions, roundtable summaries, moderated discussions and more.

Participants will include Andrée Aelion Brooks, Jewish historian, journalist and author; Gene Dattel, financial historian and author; Kenneth Libo, Adjunct Professor of History, Hunter College; Bonnie S. Wasserman, Lecturer, Fordham University; Ainsley Henriques, historian; Kate Myslinski, genealogy researcher and writer and Ruth Abrahams, executive director of the Gomez Foundation.

The conference is the second of three to explore the theme of Jewish Merchants in the New World. Ruth Abrahams, executive director of the Gomez Foundation said, "We hope to encourage further dialogue on the topic of Jewish contributions to the founding and development of America." The prior year's conference, she noted, covered the early period, 1500-1800, and the 2011 conference will focus upon 1900-present.

The Center for Jewish History is located at 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011. A kosher continental breakfast and buffet lunch will be served. General registration costs $75. Seniors 60 and over, and students under 21, will be offered discount tickets at $65, along with members of the Center for Jewish History, their affiliates and Channel Thirteen. For more information email: To register, click here.


Jewish Merchants in the New World:1500-1800, is sponsored by The Gomez Foundation for Mill House, a not-for-profit organization registered in the State of New York and established to support the preservation, conservation and public programs of the Gomez Mill House Historic Site and Museum in Orange County, New York, the oldest Jewish dwelling in America. The Gomez Mill House was founded in 1714, by Colonial American Jewish merchant and pioneer, Luis Moses Gomez, and was home to Revolutionary patriot Wolfert Acker, gentleman farmer William Henry Armstrong, Arts and Crafts paper artisan Dard Hunter, and social activist Martha Gruening. The Mill House is on the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

USA: Sukkahs for New York

Sukkahs for New York

Earlier in the summer I wrote in The Forward about the great Sukkah competition in New York called Sukkah City. The contest proved wildly popular with architects and artists from around the world and approximately 600 entries were received by the organizers. I’m not sure who was able to evaluate these for their faithfulness to halacha. Certainly the twelve chosen winners are imaginative designs but some may off the mark for religious observance. Maybe that should be so, since these winners were erected earlier this week on public land in Union Square, and I for one am always squeamish whenever I see any semblance of religious practice impinge on secular and pluralistic space. mJust as in America we must protect the right of religious practice; we must be equally clear about the separation of church (or synagogue or mosque) and state. Still, in Lower Manhattan, churchyards have always been seen as public open green spaces, offering respite from claustrophobia, so I think it OK if sukkahs occupy Union Square for forty-eight hours. What the radicals who used to demonstrate in Union Square would think I do not know, but the harvest holiday huts do seem in keeping with the new agrarian nature of the place, since the park is surrounded by what is now the city's best known farmer's market.

The panel of judges had no rabbis or Jewish scholars, but did include Pritzker prize-winning architect Thom Mayne, The New Yorker’s architecture critic, Paul Goldberger, NYU Environmental Health Clinic Director Natalie Jeremijenko, and designer Ron Arad. The winners were selected in a blind review, and include the Brooklyn-based firms Matter Architecture Practice; Bittertang, winners of the 2010 Architectural League Prize; and Solid Objectives – Idenburg Liu, winner of the 2010 MoMA/P.S.1 Young Architects Program.

One structure, the "Fractured Bubble" designed by Babak Bryan and Henry Grosman
was voted on by New Yorkers to stand throughout the week-long festival of Sukkot as the “People’s Choice Sukkah.” Selected entries are also being displayed in an exhibit at the Center for Architecture in New York City during the month of September. The process and results of the competition, along with construction documentation and critical essays, will be published in the forthcoming book "Sukkah City: Radically Temporary Architecture for the Next Three Thousand Years."

The twelve winning designs and a much larger selection of entries can be seen here and is worth the browsing time. I have not had a chance to look at the carefully yet, but when I do I'll have some additional comments on some of the most common design trends and some of my personal favorites.

Monday, September 20, 2010

USA: Forgotten Jewish Cemeteries

This blogger revealing forgotten gravestone fragments (ca. 1910) hidden by woods in Syracuse University.

USA: Forgotten Jewish Cemeteries
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) Sue Fishkoff of JTA has written an important reminder of the continuing state of neglect and decay of so many Jewish cemeteries in the United States. This is not a new problem, its been recognized for at least twenty years, but the solutions have been slow to develop. A few states like Massachusetts and Texas have innovative, cooperative and successful programs but their example still needs to be adopted nationwide.Some solutions are relatively easy and involve more will and time than big bucks. Much can be done to maintain small cemeteries on an occasional basis by volunteers from congregations and civic groups. Big old cemeteries, however need lots of money, and until living Jews are willing to tax themselves to help care for the dead, this problem will not go away. Some sort of cooperative fee or tax contributed by congregations, cemeteries and funeral homes would go a long way toward funding needed work. Unlike Poland and Ukraine, for example, where the needs far outstrip the resources of the existing Jews, this is not the case in the United States. Here there is no good excuse, just a different list of priorities.

Here is Sue's article. On a positive note she documents several cases where creative and energetic individuals are doing their part - with some success:

Shouldering the burden of forgotten cemeteries
By Sue Fishkoff
September 20, 2010

The old Jewish cemetery in Eufaula, Ala., hasn’t been used in years.

“The monuments are just crumbling,” said Sara Hamm.

She and her family are the last Jews living in this once-booming cotton and railway town on the banks of the Chattahoochee River.

The Jewish cemetery’s first burial dates from 1845, when German Jews began arriving as merchants and dry goods salesmen. They bought a synagogue in 1873, but sold it in the early 1900s when their numbers dwindled to several dozen. The cemetery, with its 84 burial plots, fell into disrepair.

In the mid-1980s Hamm’s grandmother Jennie Rudderman began restoring it, righting headstones and clearing away brush. After she died in 1999, Hamm took over as volunteer caretaker. But the job is wearing her down.

“It’s been left to its own accord now, like everything else in small-town America,” she said.

Similar stories repeat across the land, from the rust belt of western Pennsylvania to the Bible Belt in the South. As factories closed down and populations shifted westward, once-thriving Jewish communities declined and synagogues shut their doors. The only thing left behind, in many cases, were the cemeteries -- with no one, or almost no one, to take care of them.

“The Jewish community knows there is a problem of abandoned cemeteries, but they feel it’s someone else’s problem, or the problem of the descendants of those buried there,” said Gary Katz, president of the 4-year-old Community Association for Jewish At-Risk Cemeteries, or CAJAC, which spearheads efforts to clean and maintain distressed cemeteries in New York City. “But throughout Jewish history, cemeteries have been a communal responsibility.”

The Jewish Cemetery Project of the International Association of Jewish Genealogy Societies lists 1,375 Jewish cemeteries in the United States and 72 in Canada, but project coordinator Ellen Renck says more may exist.

Read the entire article here.

Exhibition: Looking Back, Jewish Life in Morocco

Meknes, Morocco. Bet Ha-Knesset Rabbi Y'hoshua Berdugo, built 1927. Photo: Isaiah Wyner (Isaiah Wyner/WMF 1989)

Looking Back: Jewish Life in Morocco

An exhibition: "Looking Back: Jewish Life in Morocco," will have its Opening Program and Reception on October 14, 2010 at the Center for Jewish History in New York City. Produced by the American Sephardi Federation, the exhibition will focus on the history of the Jewish people and Jewish life, as it once was in Morocco. The event will launch a year-long series of programs on "2,000 Years of Jewish Life in Morocco: An Epic Journey" including an international Symposium, a concert, and individual lectures. Dr. Norman A. Stillman, the Schusterman-Josey Professor and Chair of Judaic History at the University of Oklahoma, will present the keynote address.

For more information contact: exhibition curator Shelomo Alfassa at 001 917-606-8262

Jews have lived in what is today Morocco for millenia, and Jewish culture has been influenced by the Berbers, the Spanish, the Arabs and the French. This exhibition will provide an overview demonstrating the presence and flourishing of Jews in the ancient and modern Kingdom of Morocco.

According to the organizers: "The exhibition will be presented through the implementation of artistically designed textual displays, documents, pull quotes, non-photo images (e.g. lithographs and engravings), historic photos, captions, replications of historic documents, and other visuals which demonstrate the life of the Jews living throughout this North African country."

ASF holds the photo archive of the documentary expedition carried out in 1990 for the World Monuments Fund by Joel Zack and Isaiah Wyner. I remember fondly the great assistance given to that project by the late Prof. Yedida Stillman, wife of Norman Stillman. I hope that the exhibition is imbued with Yedida's joyous spirit.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

USA: 1952 Sale of Orthodox Synagogue to Black Church Provides Lessons of Religious Respect and Tolerance

USA: 1952 Sale of Orthodox Synagogue to Black Church Provides Lessons of Religious Respect and Tolerance
by Samuel D. Gruber

Former Congregation Tifereth Israel, Portland Oregon.Photo: Oregon Historical Society published in S. Lowenstein, The Jews of Oregon.
The recent misguided hysteria over the proposed creation of a mosque and Islamic Cultural Center in Lower Manhattan (on the model of a Jewish JCC) was in my mind when I was struck by a remarkable passage in a seemingly unrelated book I was reading last week – Steven Lowenstein's The Jews of Oregon 1850-1950 (Portland, OR: Jewish Historical Society of Oregon, 1987).

In his recounting the history of the Jewish congregations of Portland and their many synagogue buildings - which were often were recycled church buildings – Lowenstein tells of the 1952 sale of a synagogue by the Orthodox Northeast Portland Congregation Tifereth Israel (known as the "Alberta shul" and founded in a former house), which “inadvertently found itself involved in a difficult conflict.” The congregation was moving to a new home, the former Redeemer Lutheran Church at NE Fifteenth and Wygant and sold its former synagogue (through real estate agent Frank McGuire) to a Christian congregation - Mount Sinai Church. Mount Sinai Church was an African-American church, and some neighbors were upset and tried to block the sale. 

The congregation's letter to the real estate agent stated in part: 

At the time said agreement was entered into, this congregation had no knowledge of the purchasers other than their name and that they were a Christian congregation. Later it developed that the members of Mount Sinai Congregation are Negroes and pressures have been put upon us to back out of the deal for no other reason than that the purchasers, though Christian, are also Negro. We regard such pressures as being violative of the principles of Americanism, of Judaism, of Christianity and of common decency. ...Man has no dearer right than the privilege of worshiping God in his own way. To deprive any group of people of the right to meet and to worship merely because God chose to make them a part of the colored majority of mankind is repulsive to Americans who love their country and the great principles of democracy which distinguish our land from the totalitarian states wherein liberty and religion are destroyed. In welcoming our colored brethren to our old synagogue of blessed memory, we are mindful of the quotation from Hebrew scripture, "Have we not all one Father; hath not One God created us?" We hope that they also will find God within its walls and that He will answer their prayers and ours that He teach us "to love one another." In the event you refuse to close the sale, we desire to be released from our listing agreement so that we may ourselves consummate the moral agreement we have entered into.

The Portland Jewish community, and especially the ADL B'nai B'rith, led by its western regional director, David Robinson, unequivocally supported of the congregation. (How very different than ADL's recent waffling about religious rights over the Manhattan mosque).

The neighbors appealed the sale to the City Council, but it refused to block the sale. In November, 1952, the Mount Sinai Church was dedicated. Tifereth Israel remained a small Eastside congregation for seventy-five years, gradually evolving from Orthodox to Traditional. In September, 1986, it merged with Shaarie Torah.

Congregation Tifereth Israel's letter is a text we should remember well. The congregation's stance - hardly predictable in 1952 - should be remembered and emulated in regards to all areas of religious freedom and tolerance. We should be led by our pursuit of justice, not by fear (especially when all local zoning requirements are met).

Though the congregation did not refer to George Washington's famous lines penned to Moses Seixas of Newport, Rhode Island in 1790, that "All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support." To Washington's Constitutional position for religious tolerance, Congregation Tifereth Israel added an appropriate religious basis.

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The church as it appears today (courtesy google.maps)

Another aspect of the Tifereth Israel story is that it gives the lie to the common myth that Orthodox Congregations do not and cannot sell synagogues for use as Christian churches. It is well known that scores of former Orthodox synagogues in America (and elsewhere) are used as churches. There is common belief that a congregation cannot knowingly sell a synagogue for Christian use because Christianity is an idolatrous religion. No matter what some Jews may think, Christianity is not an idolatrous religion, and the Tifereth Israel story tells us clearly what was most often the case, that congregations knew to whom they were selling their synagogues. Congregation Tifereth Israel's letter tells us frankly that they were one congregation, at least, comfortable with the sale.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

USA: New Calendar of American Synagogues

USA: New Calendar of American Synagogues

(ISJM) In time for holiday gift giving...or just getting organized as the school year friend Laszlo Regos has produced a beautiful calendar of American synagogue architecture. American Synagogues is the first calendar of a series featuring architecturally and historically important Synagogues in the United States. The 16-month Jewish and Gregorian Calendar includes 38 photographs of 14 different Synagogues around the country. For more information and to order click here.

You can take a look here:

Sunday, September 5, 2010

USA: Centennial of Syracuse's Temple Concord Cornerstone

USA: Centennial of Syracuse's Temple Concord Cornerstone
by Samuel D. Gruber

(ISJM) This month marks the 100th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of present building of Temple Society of Concord, the oldest Jewish institution in Central New York and one of the oldest existing American congregations. The congregation will kick off this building centennial year (or years) with a brief ceremony and a wine and cheese reception before Shabbat services on Friday, September 10th. Events associated with the Jewish architecture and the building will be taking place all year, culminating with a re-dedication of the historic sanctuary next fall. The International Survey of Jewish Monuments has its office at Temple Concord, and I'll be giving a talk "Temple Concord, Jewish Architecture and City Beautiful" on April 11, 2011.

To take you back 100 years here is the story from the Syracuse Post-Standard from September 19, 1910 about the cornerstone laying ceremony. The full text of congregation president Gates Thalheimer is given. Thalheimer's remarks are indicative of American Reform sentiments at the time. I've written an article about these, and the role played by classical style architecture in promoting these sentiments and ideals, that should be out sometime in 2011.

The Post-Standard, Syracuse, N.Y., September 19, 2010

(transcribed by Samuel Gruber)

Corner Stone of Temple set with Trowel of Gold

Impressive Services Are Held by Society of Concord

Rev. Dr. Guttman, Assisted by Two Rabbis Conducts Services.

Prominent Hebrews of City Congratulate Church Upon Progress

The corner stone of the $85,000 house of worship bring erected at University avenue and Madison street by the Temple Society of Concord was set yesterday afternoon with a gold trowel presented by the Building Committee to the president of the society, Gates Thalheimer. Despite the unfavorable weather there was a large congregation at the impressive ceremonies which marked an important epoch in the growth of the society.

The corner stone contains a copper box in which was placed the customary documents, and on one side is this inscription: “Society of Concord, 1910.” The building, it is expected, will be dedicated in June next year.

Rev. Adolph Guttman, rabbi of the society, was assisted in conducting the services by Rabbis Jacob Kohn and J. H. Stolz. Besides Dr. Guttman and Mr. Thalheimer addresses were made by Dr. Nathan Jacobson, Dr. Henry L. Einer and Henry Danziger, chairman of the Building Committee. Dr. Guttman made an appeal for Godliness, declaring that no enterprise can succeed without the spirit of God. Dr. Jacobson said he regarded the ceremony as an important event in Jewish history in Syracuse and vicinity, and referred to it as the first evidence of expansion. “There are only two conditions in this world,” said Dr. Jacobson, “namely, growth and decay. We are showing growth. What we want inside of these cold walls is a spirit that will give life and sympathy and the development of religious thoughts and principle. Such an institution will bid welcome to all who seek admission.”

Dr. Eisner believed the influence of the Temple Society of Concord in its new building would be far-reaching. He spoke of the value of culture and good influence.

The trowel was presented to Mr. Thalheimer by Henry Danziger. It is engraved as follows: “With this trowel was set the corner stone of the Temple Society of Concord in 1910. Presented to Gates Thalheimer, president, by the members of the Building Committee.

Mr. Thalmeimer made a short address which was cordially received. In part he said:

The laying of this corner stone is an event, toward which many of us have looked for a long time. When the thought of building a new Temple first arose among us there were many problems to settle. First among these was the matter of location. I am sure that now we will all agree that this problem was settled right. Many of our people have worshiped in the old Temple at State and Harrison streets. That Temple has had a noble history. There are many tender associations there, which we shall not forget. But changes of population have been great since our old Temple was built. We have chosen, therefore, this place on this hill, surrounded by a fine neighborhood of beautiful homes, close to the campus of a great university. It does seem a most appropriate place for us to locate and build. We shall cherish the memories of the old house of God, but our faces are turned towards the future and we are planning for the years to come. We are thinking of our children, and of our children’s children. We are carrying out a programme which ought to increase the usefulness and influence of our society.

What we are doing now ought to forecast a new epoch of prosperity and provide a permanent home for our people for generations to come.

Our business now is to complete this Temple, equip it, pay for it and do our best to make it a worthy monument to the living vitality of the faith of Israel. So much in a business way.

I am not your pastor. I would be out of place preaching to you, or exhorting you. I certainly have no desire to pose as a religious leader. But there are thoughts that crowd the mind of a plain business man at such a time as this. There are associations with our temple building which stir ancient and noble memories. There are interests here greater than those of brick and stone and builder’s accounts.

We who are members of this temple Society of Concord are also members of the household of Israel. We ought to be proud of this fact. We ought to be glad that we are Israelistes. It is the best thing in all that we inherit form the past that we were born among that ancient people whose history is older than the throne of Caesar’s or the ideas of Plato.

To-day we are far from the home where our fathers lived. The land they loved is in ruins. The temple they built is no more. Some among our people dream of a time when they will return to Palestine and rebuilt her waste places. Perhaps that time may come. Possibly some future age may see Zion restored to her ancient beauty. But that is not for us who are settled here in this new world. We are a remnant of the people of God, but we have learned to love this great Republic. We are among its citizens. Its duties and its right are ours.

This brings me to my final word and to the thought which is behind all I have so far said. This land of ours is a great workshop. Its looms and wheels turn fast. The opportunities for education, wealth and power are marvelous. The temptations are also great. We are drawn into the whirlpool of this vast tumult. This is no time nor place for ancient superstitions or outgrown fables.

But it is a time to recall the one thing which has made Israel immortal. We are to be modern up to date men and women. We are to be Americans. But it will be a miserable mistake if we forget that we are also of that people who made that ancient covenant with Jehovah. With malice toward none and with love toward all we are building this Temple because we are sharers in Israel’s hope. That hope which from Abraham until now has never failed our race.

The very thing we can do for ourselves, four our children, and for our country, is to renew our vows to the God of our fathers that in our day and generation we will serve Him. This Temple is to be our pledge that Israel’s faith is one, and that though we are divided by continents and seas and languages, yet our hope is one.

Several hymns were sung by the quartet choir of the Temple Society of Concord under the direction of George K. Van Deusen.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Philanthropy: Rothschild Foundation (Europe) Accepting Proposals for Jewish Heritage

Philanthropy: Rothschild Foundation (Europe) Accepting Proposals for Jewish Heritage Grants

The Rothschild Found (Europe) has for much of the past decade been the quiet support of Jewish heritage projects in Europe. Foundation grants have been critical in all many of ways, but especially as catalyst money for new initiatives in Jewish heritage and in Jewish academic studies. Rothschild was a major supporter of conferences in Prague (2004) and Bratislava (2009) in which I was involved, and it has supported scores of projects to help museums, archives and historic sites - especially those managed by struggling Jewish communities.

Now the Foundation has reorganized - moving from London back to its origins at the Rothschild estate in Waddesdon. There has been staff turnover in the move, but the primary mission has not changed. The heritage mission has, in fact, been strengthened. The foundation is now more public and for the first time has launched a website with a public call for applications. It is a two-part process and those seeking grants now need to get in a first inquiry by September 13th.

Go to the website for eligibility requirements and information on applying for project support.

This tgext comes form the website:

Rothschild Foundation

The Rothschild family has a long tradition of philanthropy, starting with Mayer Amschel Rothschild (1744-1812) and his five sons. From the very beginning their philanthropy was concerned with ensuring equal opportunities for disadvantaged groups across Europe. Other areas of support have included health care, housing and education. The Rothschild Foundation (Europe) continues this philanthropic tradition under the Chairmanship of Lord Rothschild and during the last ten years, we have supported a range of educational, cultural, heritage and community-based initiatives in over 40 European countries. From September 2010, we will be focusing our activities in academic Jewish studies and Jewish heritage

Honouring, celebrating and learning about the history and culture of Jews throughout Europe can be done in so many ways. Our Jewish Heritage programme focuses on the archives, museums and historic buildings reflecting Jewish life in order to help create and sustain an active interest in the Jewish heritage of Europe. Specialist support for archives and museums is offered and communities are encouraged to apply for research and educational projects that use Jewish heritage as a means of engaging a broad spectrum of people in discovering more about Jewish life.