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Welcome to the Social Hall!

Here we will be social. We will share memories and experiences. We do not come here to vent or bash- just to schmooze…and enjoy the cookie parade.

Content will be uploaded regularly and reader submissions will be enjoyed.

All the Best!

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Two Things to Investigate…

Gertrude Hirschler (Photo taken from the Tidesociety.blogspot.com) translated many of the Hirsch works into English. Her bio here.

 

The above mentioned bio says she removed her name from the Hirsch siddur over a conflict with the editor pertaining to the final draft. This should be investigated. Was something omitted? {After this was posted I was told by Proffesor M.Miller, that Dr. Bondi told him, that the editing went beyond her vision of the final product, but did not amount to a significant change.)

 

Secondly, in Steven Lowenstien’s “Frankfurt on the Hudson” he quotes from an unpublished manuscript of her’s titled, “Washington Heights; The Rise and decline of an Inner-City Jewish Community”. I imagine she didnt publish this out of sensitivity to the community that remains. But, people! We need to see this!

 

After a quick look, the librarian at YU did not locate it among the Hirschler papers stored there, though someone who could spend an afternoon there might come up with it.

 

Anyone looking to collaborate? (It is very hard to reach Dr. Lowenstien.)

We Were So Racist

 

In the video I’ve just posted we will focus on two small shuls in the lower neighborhood of the 160s and below. Ahavath Torah and Tikvoh Chadoshoh were vibrant religious centers for German Jews, some who identified as  “Traditional” and some who identified as Orthodox.

Many of the children of these congregations attended Public School and did talmud torah as an after-school program.

Predictably, as seen across the American Jewish landscape, whether these children would remain traditional or join the likes of the liberal Jewish Community was up in the air.

In the movie ” We Were So Beloved”, Manfred Kirchheimer revisits his childhood in the early 1980s (released in 1985) and recounts with his parents, his friends, and their parents- the horrors of fleeing Germany, surviving, and arriving in the United States. He touches on many issues along the way including, righteous Gentiles, American inaction, survivor’s disillusion with both societies, and the power of charismatic leaders and mob-mentality.

Manfred also admits that he once tried to join the Orthodox men of the daily minyan, but the lifestyle did not last. He and his three friends featured entered the heart of the Liberal Arts world- with he and Walter in motion-pictures, Max Frankel sporting an obnoxious cigar in the Times editorial room, and a zany anarchist academic weighing in with a sob-story about his rearing.

Towards the end of the film Manfred takes his carefully guided introspection somewhere very dark. He elicits the fear and the skepticism his parents’ friends had for the newer immigrants in the neighborhood, namely the Hispanic and the Russian arrivals. The interviewees express some indignation over the fact that US policy had changed over time and immigrants were accepted without affidavits and with immediate access to public support. They also feel sidelined by the seeming disinterest of the new arrivals to learn the language.  

Simultaneously, Kirchheimer introduces a dark episode in the career of his Rabbi in which his congregants either mis-judged or, as suggested,overreacted to a report about the rabbi.  

Without a great deal of discretion he prods the rebetzin in to saying that the congregation’s group-think was analogous to the behavior of the German people under Hitler. Even if this was the rebetzin’s own formulation out of reliving the stressful episode, including it in his “introspective” documentary was cheap fodder for where he was going next.

Continuing the line of moral relativism- the religion he picked up when he left Orthodoxy, Manfred in his closing segment defecates in public by showing the mild xenophobia of his parents’ generation as analogous to the attitudes of the Nazis and their sympathizers and certainly well below the idealism of the Gentiles who took risks on behalf of the Jews.  

Now, I will not jump on the moral-relativism, because I consider it an outlook on the spectrum of opinion (though it often yields a good chuckle e.g. “Palestinian-BDS Pride March”, yeah, try hosting that in Ramalah), but I call out the superficiality of comparing mild-xenophobia to the complicite united effort of the “ordinary men” who killed 6 Million Jews, mercilessly, including one million children (!) and another million political rivals, Gypsies and other marginalized peoples, though in a less coordinated way.  

There is no connection between the attitudes of his parents and the German conspirators. Because only merciless hate can bring to the atrocities of Nazi brutality and German indifference -and hate was not present in the voices of his interviewees.

He glazes over the weekly reports of muggings, push-in robberies and auto-theft that plagued this neighbirhood during those years and instilled bitter fear in his parents. You see, Manfred had been occupying an “Ivory Tower” pre-war apartment in the low 100s since the mid 1960s. One of the neighborhoods famous for strong and united vocal opposition to the inclusion of low income housing or homeless shelters.

 

The towers of the uppity west and east sides of New York are just high enough for flinging stones at people who live, love and coexist with recent immigrants…even if they sometimes sigh at the hardships sharing a neighborhood often brings.

Two more points that went over Kirchheimer’s white- mane- and- moccasin debonairism:

  1. xenophobia is good. When one has a phobia, which is usually associated with an involuntary reaction, the person is on the alert. Always testing the waters and re-aligning his defenses. If you think all immigrants/others are bad, then you are in for a lesson in the holiness and humanity within each human. If you think all immigrants are good, then you are in for a lesson in the “dog-eat-dog” nature of the inner city. But if you live in an ivory tower and engage with humanity on your own terms…well then you protest the homeless shelter.  
  2. The Torah has many intricate laws that don’t seem to create better people. These laws permeate the life of an Orthodox Jew. The laws do not automatically shield him from the human folly that lurks behind the corners of life and its moral tests. But the laws fine tune the person, so that should that person be a thinking introspect, he will not stop his brain at the first opportunistic opportunity and he will not allow superficial analogies to satisfy him. He is used to corroborating his ideas with the tenets of justice and love, and as he knows his G-d you can’t have one without the other. He won’t call his parents Nazis to satisfy his friends.  

I don’t fault Manfred. He espoused what he was taught to think, and alot of good has come out of people like him. I see in him the lost generation south of the bridge, but because I have a fondness for those people and an innate respect for the faithful, I detest the disparagement he shed upon the friends of his parents.  

Men of the Minyan

My Uncle Asher Hirsch Z’L was a very special person. Too special for a short blog post. After his childhood was wrapped up and put on a Kindertransport, he grew up a child survivor in Atlanta, Georgia. He worried and cared for his siblings that survived with him. He saw them assimilate into American society, and he knew how much this would pain his deceased parents. (One brother, Ben, returned to his roots and raised a vibrantly religious family).

 

Asher returned to Germany as a soldier with the occupying American forces- only to find nothing remained of his previous life.

 

Marrying my aunt Hennie in Switzerland, they returned and he held positions as the leader of congregations in New York’s Astoria Queens and the Bronx. There, too, he worried. He worried that the services would be attended and run properly. He worried for his congregants and their life cycle events. And he worried for the education of their children.

 

His oldest son, Naftoli must have taken this to heart, and while he was not a Rabbi, he took his experience with him everywhere he went.

 

It wasn’t long after he and his wife Ruthie moved to Washington Heights that he would have the keys to the Breuer’s shul as the gatekeeper of the Hashkomo minyan. He stuggled and worried to keep this minyan vibrant and viable- even when members complained about the need to have a hashkomo minyan at all.

 

He soon became an active leader of another underdog minyan- the Mincha Gedola at the Agudas Yisroel of Upper Manhattan. Uncle Asher always preferred davening the Mincha Gedola (midday) and I remember walking him to the Agudah many Shabbosim when it was at its ancient location on 178th Street and Audobon.

 

The theme here is obvious. Daven Shacharis the first chance you have, daven Mincha the first chance you have. In his Yad Vashem testimonial Uncle Asher recounts that as a young boy, not yet Bar Mitzvahed he would ride his bicycle to the Hashkama minyon in Frankfurt’s Khal Adath Jeschurun.

 

And long into retirement, Uncle Asher would host the early mincha of Shabbos in his living room with his own Torah scroll.

 

Davening early, and faithfully consistent to they minyan was the connection between Uncle Asher and Cousin Naftali.

 

When Uncle Asher led his congregations he never allowed any song from the amud that would involve repeating words of davening. One Shabbos as they sang the Zemiros at their Shabbos table, young Naftoli remarked that the Zemiros tunes had repetition of words. Now, one could draw a distinction. But for the sake of consistency Uncle Asher took the criticism seriously and altered all of the family Zemiros tunes to avoid repetition.

 

The name Naftali comes from the words of our mother Rachel, “Naftuli Elokim Niftalti”- I have waged a spiritual struggle. It also seems to have the word Tefillah in it. Uncle Asher and Cousin Naftali took the struggle of properly attending to and worrying for the neglected services in Hashem’s houses of devoted prayer.

 

Yehi Zichrom Boruch

Three Videos on Tisha B’av

These appear on my lesser known channel for minhag and nussach, Legacy Hirsch.

The first is with Dovid Roth of the National Library in Jerusalem explaining some unheard of minhagim in therecitalof Kinos that he documents from 18th century Italian sources, but were clearly the minhag of the “Kalir” as well. See here.

The second is me singing the kinah Amarer Bivchi which is sung every year by our shamash Victor S. IT is not perfect, but I wanted to record it.

The Third is embedded here, and contains 3 versions of Elie Tziyon, including Japhet’s which we don’t use…ironically. But I think we might use it among the kinos.

 

Guide to my Videos of General Interest

I was asked to publish a page that provides a menu to the videos on my YouTube channel by topic.

 

It is important when viewing the channel to click on the button that says “videos” which brings you to the entire collection. Here I will provide links to the videos that are of interest to the general public, not just locals from Washington Heights. By clicking on the hyperlinks you will access each video as described.

 

1) The story of the former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s boyhood in Fuerth and Washington Heights. Click HERE.

 

2) The History of Congregation Sharei Hatikvah, the first German-Jewish shul to form in Washington Heights. Part 1: Click HERE. The story of the first Rabbi, Sigmund Hanover, the Shul’s roots in Wurzburg, the amazing artifact from Germany that is embedded in the walls and the difference in lifestyle between the Jews of the countryside and their ability to coexist with the liberal Jews in their communities because of the simpler size and lifestyle of these hamlets.

 

 

Part 2: Click HERE. . The story of the shul’s Hebrew school and the memorable Walter Hes  and the HISTORY OF THE WURZBURG SEMINARY!

 

 

Part 3: Click HERE.The story of the second Rabbi, the memorable Abraham Krauss how he was suited to both the immigrant generation and the first American-born Orthodox generation of “baby-boomers”

 

Part 4: Click HERE. The story of the previous Rabbi Abraham Gross and (may he live long) the current Rabbi Abraham Hoffman- but chiefly an emotional tribute to the shul and its struggle to hang by a thread. A tribute to the simple and devoted German Jews who graced the halls of this synagogue.

 

The story of the founder of modern German Orthodoxy in Frankfurt, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch. It is a bio, but ends with questions whether American Orthodox Jews NEED his philosophy of Tora im Derekh Erets (meaning the synthesis of Torah and living in the modern milieu) – or if it is outmoded by modern streams of Talmud learning and spirituality (Hasidic thought). Click HERE.

 

The story of how the youth of Washington Heights continued the Frankfurt tradition of Talmud study while pursuing college degrees, mostly in the trades and professions. The irony that many of these youth were later employed in Wall Street trading houses started by German-Jewish bankers. Click HERE.

The emotional story of the destruction of the IRG Shul in Frankfurt (Friedberger Anlage) on Kristallnacht. Click HERE.

I intend to write a menu to include cultural videos such as choir renditions and cantorial chants in the future.

Kiddush of Abraham Katz

The kiddush that is associated with our Chazan Frankel is not the well known Lewendowski piece, but a lesser-known piece by Cantor Abraham Katz of Amsterdam (pictured above- photo from chazzanut.com). A quick Google search will lead you to the website devoted to Chazanus of the Netherlands called chazzanut.com

 

Amsterdam Chazanut seems to have been an influence in Chazan Frankel’s unique style. I am told that he owned a collection of records by the late Hans Bloemendal. Chazan Bloemendal seems to be the most widely published Chazan of the German tradition, and some of his work has been released on CD and can be purchased on Amazon. 

(His bio from Geni.com: Hans Bloemendal, born in 1923, was a scientist and a chazzan. He started in Fulda, Germany, as a chazzan and composer, and painted as a hobby. In 1937 he fled with his sister to Amsterdam. During the war he was hidden by a Dutch family in the Uitwaardenstraat in Amsterdam. He survived the war, but his parents and only sister did not.

He became a professor, teaching biochemical research at the Radboud University in Nijmegen, specializing in the eye lens and also functioned as chazzan in the Jacob Obrechtplein synagogue in Amsterdam. His chazzanut has been recorded on several CD’s. At the age of 65 he received the honorary title of main cantor.)

Abraham Katz’s bio and book of compositions is available on the above website.

 

The particular kiddush- which I posted last night to the YouTube channel has been in use in the Netherlands in various forms as the moderator there records. In Breuers the thing to do was to sing along the word “Zecher” as Chazan Frankel climbed that little progression with the gentleness of ice cubes clinking in a whiskey glass (sorry I am not great at analogies). And that is just one of our things…

How I was Rejected from YU

 

 

The year was 1991. My best friend and I were looking for a Yeshiva to attend after high school. The trend at the time was a year in Israel and return home for college. We all heard wild stories about the fun time American youth were having in Israel. The Rova. Ben Yehudah Street. Geulah on Erev Shabbos.
But we were afraid of going to Israel because we had made friends in America and were nervous about leaving them. The local Yeshivahs weren’t fit for two 17 year olds that were not cut out of Yeshivish stock. So we applied to YU.
We took the faher with Rabbi Bronspiegel, and after he spoke favorably about our prospects in YU he told us that we could not attend as full-time Yeshiva students without any college coursework because there was no such provision in the university. You can only attend the Yeshivah program if you were taking college classes. The only way to learn exclusively in YU would be to attend BMT in Jerusalem.
We told the rabbi that the following year we would enrol in the college. No go. We offered to pay tuition equal to matriculating college students. No go. There was no provision for what we wanted to do.
Flashback to the mid 1980s and I have a vague childhood memory of a senior faculty member at YU stating that there is no Yeshiva without college at YU, and even if Rabbi Moshe Feinstein would apply to the Yeshiva he could only be accepted if he enrolled in the college. I might be fabricating this, but it rings so familiar that I think it happened, and I think the irreverence of the hyperboly was protested at the time.
So YU and Modern-Orthodoxy could have had me as their own. But it wasn’t meant to be. Sometimes institutions are dogmatic.
Were they wrong? No. Firstly, because they don’t need me. They were created to absorb MO youth and not to create new ones. And more importantly, and this is my point: Sometimes an institution needs to be dogmatic to maintain its identity, even if that policy might occasionally backfire.
Our Kehilla (Breuers) rejected the work of an “outsider” who made a significant contribution to the world of piyutim. Piyutim are important to us. But maintaining some oversight of what and who can add to the canon of literature that comprises our legacy is something that we treasure too.
The author is an impeccable Talmid Chochom. Nevertheless, he is the student of a strain of Orthodox wissenschaft, that is, while important and unique, strange to our mesorah, and was even considered suspect in the eyes of Hirsch.
Furthermore, in the hallowed halls of the institution that espouses what is perhaps the most notable example of organized Orthodox Wissenschaft today, there roam several personalities that are anathema to our ideals.We can reserve the right to be dogmatic too. Even if our Kehilla doesn’t boast giant towers on Amsterdam Avenue or depleted hedge-funds.