Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Commemorative Booklets and Community Blue Books

By Ann Rabinowitz

Recently, I was sorting through old items and found a commemorative booklet entitled “Beth Emeth Journal, 1963, for the synagogue that my family was a founding member of in the 1950’s.  The synagogue was Beth Emeth in North Miami, FL, a small store front congregation located initially on N.W. 7th Avenue and 117th Street, where folding chairs were de rigueur for services.  As the congregation grew, it was later able to move to its own concrete block building at 12250 NW. 2nd Avenue.  It joined forces with another small synagogue, Yehuda Moshe, and then it morphed with yet another, North Dade Jewish Center, until its final permutation into Beth Moshe, 2222 N.E. 121st Street, also in North Miami, FL.
   
Beth Moshe Congregation, North Miami, FL, 2009
The commemorative booklet is the only reminder of that synagogue which served a small congregation in the post-World War II era in what was then a mostly non-Jewish area in Dade County, FL.  The Memorial or yahrheit lists, the children’s lists and membership lists enable a researcher to compile a whole family tree, while the adverts provide a glimpse of the businesses that the congregation members were involved in and where they were located.  If one were to compare the families in the original Beth Emeth booklet with those members of the Beth Moshe of today, you would find familiar names such as Dunn, Lelchuck, Linden, and Weissman.    

The use of commemorative booklets for genealogical research has not been generally significant as many of these booklets are not easily available or have not been saved for posterity.  Where they have, such as at the Judaica Collection at Florida Atlantic University; volunteers from the local Jewish Genealogical Society of Palm Beach County, Inc., such as Sylvia Furshman Nusinov, have helped to index these wonderful and rare resources.

Lately, something quite significant has occurred in regard to the preservation of these booklets that is well worth looking into.  Ancestry.com is taking a new direction in regard to publishing Jewish records by scanning, for instance, “The Eightieth Birthday and Tenth New Building Anniversary Celebration of the Congregation B’nai Abraham, Newark, NJ (1855-1935)”.  This commemorative booklet can now be accessed online by clicking here.
The booklet is an amazing resource for both the history of the synagogue and those who belonged and participated in its activities and made their mark in the city.  The booklet has lists of all sorts and adverts from local businesses.

The first permanent Jewish settlers in Newark were said to be Bavarian-born Louis and Charlotte Trier.  They came in 1844, although there others, Sephardic Jews, who were thought to have come earlier.  Unfortunately, these earlier settlers left no enduring record of their presence.  The Triers subsequently had their son Abraham Trier in 1845.  He was the first Jewish child born in Newark and he was followed by his five siblings, Robert, Pauline, Isaac, Aaron and Emanuel. 

The city grew apace from that point, but it was not until 1848 that Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, the first Jewish congregation in New Jersey was founded.  These early Jews were primarily from Alsace-Lorraine and Germany.  Following that, there came an influx of Polish Jews.  To accommodate the now diverse Jewish community, which numbered about 200, Congregation B’nai Abraham was incorporated October 20, 1855. 

One of the individuals mentioned in the booklet was Rabbi Julius Silberfeld.  As it turns out, he is the second cousin, one removed, of Alfred “Al” M. Silberfeld, Founder and President Emeritus Life Member of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Palm Beach County, Inc.  Whilst Al had loads of information on his relative, this was one resource he had not seen previously.

Rabbi Julius Silberfeld

Another Newark-related Jewish item which Ancestry.com has digitized and put on-line is the Jewish Community Blue Book of Newark, 1924. The Blue Book is also noted at the Jewish Historical Society of MetroWest, see here
The Blue Book concept provided a compilation of historical information on the community as well as detailed information on all of the Jewish institutions, organizations and clubs usually with membership or officers’ listings along with addresses.  The Newark Blue Book was no different and provides a wealth of information which cannot be found elsewhere. 

An additional on-line blue book resource is the Chicago Jewish Community Blue Book, 1918.  An example of what one can find in this helpful book is a discussion of the B.M.Z. Orthodox Jewish Home for the Aged which includes a photo of the first matron Mrs. Benjamin Davis and one of the actual institution.

B.M.Z. Orthodox Jewish Home for the Aged, Chicago Blue Book, 1918

Yet a further blue book on Ancestry.com is one for Detroit, MI, 1923.  One of the many interesting adverts is for the Eastwood Inn, located at Eight Mile Road and Gratiot, and operated by Joseph P. Weyer, formerly manager of the Phoenix Club.  The Inn was noted as Detroit’s Family Road House and “famous for its Frog, Fish and Chicken Dinners”.  It had entertainment by Anderson’s Syncopated Singers. 

The Phoenix Club, a well-known Jewish club, is also noted in the Blue Book as being founded in 1872 with 70 members which quickly grew to 200 members.  Later it grew to 250 members which had to be accommodated with new quarters.  It was advertised as offering “an outlet for the social gayety of the community.”

Apart from the Ancestry.com offerings, many of these commemorative booklets or blue books can only be obtained and accessed in Archives and University Libraries.  Others are located in the libraries of the congregations for which they were written.  Yet others can be found on-line such the one entitled:  “A Brief History of Beth El” edited by Stanley J. Serxner, MA, which discusses the Norfolk, VA, synagogue.  

This particular history includes mention of the Seldner family, early settlers of Norfolk, VA, who had a thriving dry goods business.  Their son, Isaac Seldner, enlisted as a private in the Confederate Army on April 19, 1861, and he was promoted several times and reached the rank of Full 1st Sergeant.  He is buried in the Hebrew Confederate Cemetery in Richmond, VA (see prior posting on the Blog), with the following touching words from his family recorded on the monument there:   “Erected by his brothers to the memory of Isaac Seldner, of the 6th Virg. Inf. Reg., born December 23, 1837, killed at the battle of Chancellorsville, VA., May 3, 1863.  None knew him but to love him.”

For those individuals who don’t have a subscription to Ancestry.com for these various resources, this site provides CDs of several of them. These CDs can be purchased for a nominal cost.

CONCLUSION:

Utilizing community-based commemorative booklets, blue books, or other such resources can enable the researcher to gain a firm grasp on the places where their families settled and prospered.  Very often, the details of where one’s ancestors worshipped, what businesses the family was engaged in, or what organizations or clubs they belonged to are not readily passed down to descendants.  These books provide that information and more.

It is important that organizations such as Ancestry.com, which have taken the first steps towards preserving these booklets, should be made aware that these resources are critical research tools and should be digitized on an on-going basis. 

For those of us who have such booklets in our possession, it is important that they be donated to libraries or archives which support such collections or agree to digitize them.  In this way, many researchers will be able to take advantage of this resource. 

3 comments:

  1. thanks for reaffirming my instinct to save the commemmorative booklets from San Diego's Tifereth Israel Synagogue. They are somewhere in my garage...dating to the 1960's and 1970's.

    Related idea: Many Sisterhood Cookbooks were popular fundraising tools. Recipe authors are noted, and sometimes comments were included about how 'Aunt Fannie's kugel originated in Austria' or whatever.

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  2. Shirley, you are absolutely correct about saving these booklets and cookbooks as well which you may want to donate to your Jewish Genealogy Society's library or another larger institution.

    Recently, I donated much of my Jewish cookbook collection to the University's Judaica collection.

    Another thing is that the institutions you donate to need to ensure that researchers can easily find the reference to these things in their collections. Otherwise, they could end up in archive limbo.

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  3. Hi Ann,

    Wow! I was seeing if there was anything on the Internet about Beth Emeth and Beth Moshe - there was your blog from April!

    I remember the storefront on 7th Avenue. My family joined Beth Emeth when we moved to 127th Street & 12th Avenue in 1955. When the temple moved to 2nd Avenue location, my father built the flagpole there.

    I had my Bar Mitzvah in 1963 at Beth Moshe.

    The reason I went searching about Beth Emeth & Beth Moshe is that my son, David, just had his Bar Mitzvah this past Saturday here in Syracuse, New York.

    I guess it made want to track down any information that might still exist to show my son. I do have my Bar Mitzvah pictures, however nothing from the synagogue.

    I would be curious to see anything from the book you have.

    Thanks for stirring up some great memories! I remember in 1958, my Dad and Mom bringing home a brand new Emerson TV for selling the most ads in one of those commemorative booklets...

    Regards,
    Steve Becker

    steve@premierpromo.com

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