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This caught my eye because it’s just weird to print a newspaper by lithography from a handwritten original. So I went a-searching, and discovered that this was the first Yiddish-language newspaper produced in America. Now the lithography makes much more sense; to produce a Yiddish newspaper you need a newspaper press and a set of Yiddish type. I think Yiddish books were being printed in New York at the time (based on a sort of general impression of an existing and literate community), but not periodicals, so it would make sense that the producer just didn’t have access to a newspaper press which could set Yiddish type.

They were also backed by Tammany Hall, which at this period was a rather unpleasant organisation controlling local politics, heavily Irish-immigrant, with violence and corruption, so perhaps Yiddish printers (in a nascent immigrant community) didn’t want to get involved?

Here are some sources from the internets:

The first entry in what would become a crowd of Yiddish newspapers in America, Di Yidishe Tsaytung first appeared on March 1, 1870, a self-described “weekly paper of politics, religion, history, science and art” with the English title, “The New York Hebrew Times,” emblazoned above the Yiddish logotype. Its publisher was I. K. Buchner, like so many of the first Yiddish editors a Lithuanian Jew devoted to the subjects of the New Enlightenment. It took its editorial material from German and other European Jewish periodicals, and was quickly scorned by English-language Jewish publications. The uptown Jewish Times said, “Buchner’s Yidishe Tsaytung is a weekly publication written in the Jewish and German-Polish jargon, and its contents are as laughable as its language. It provides reading material entirely suited to the recently imported Russian Jews, and is a shining example of Middle Ages superstitions and naivete.” The paper, produced by lithography, cost six cents, and loyally followed the party line of Tammany Hall. It finally expired in 1877.

–from Live and be Well, Richard F. Shepard, page 186.

The first Yiddish periodical published in America, Di yidishe tsaytung, was founded in 1870 by J.K. Buchner. He generally published his paper, which was subsidized by Tammany Hall, prior to election time or when a sensational story promised high sales…Its masthead identified it variously as a monthly and a weekly, but as few as fifteen issues appeared in a period of seven years; at most three issues are recorded extant today. The first commercially viable Yiddish dailies were published in the 1890s and in 1917 New York City alone had five dailies with a combined circulation of 600,000.

From the Jewish Theological Seminary’s exhibition catalogue People of Faith, Land of Promise.

And that bit about “three issues are recorded extant today”…this is one of the perks of doing volunteer work in a rare book room…

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Drawer 9 has a lot of pretty things like this:

Image copyright Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Used with permission. Click to see bigger.

They’re mostly in Italian or Latin, and they have the most lovely illuminated borders, with coats of arms of cardinals.

What they are are testimonials. When you supplied things such as furniture to cardinals’ households in seventeenth-century Rome, they might give you a testimonial, which you could use to secure business from other households. JTS has lots of these from a family named Ambron, who were merchants supplying a lot of things to a lot of people.

The testimonial might also give the holder permissions and privileges for other things. You might be allowed to be treated as a member of the cardinal’s household (“don’t mess with this person or I the cardinal will mess with you”), or to live in a fancy district outside the Jewish ghetto, or to travel freely and trade within the Holy Roman Empire. All things that regular Jews couldn’t necessarily expect. The Ambrons supplied the Vatican’s army, as well as the cardinals at home and abroad, so after a time they were guaranteed a market as well.

I admit that my eye was caught mostly by the prettiness of these, but they are also very interesting. This family, the Ambrons, eventually built up a whole network of merchant trading across Europe, part of the Jew-as-trader narrative.

I don’t know what happened to them eventually. There’s one testimonial issued in 1804 “during the Napoleonic occupation of Tuscany,” saying that they have the job of supplying the military there. I suppose that when Napoleon broke the power of the Pope and emancipated everyone including the Jews, Jews who relied on papal preference didn’t fare too well. And then when the papacy’s power came back I suppose they were much more anti-Jew than before, even if the Ambrons had been in a position to supply them with stuff, but war doesn’t always treat networks of merchants kindly.

Other pretty elements from various testimonials, which I’d like to adopt into calligraphy pieces sometime or other:

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I thought this picture looked familiar when I saw it in the drawer. It’s the inside of the Great Synagogue at Stockholm, which still has organ at its Shabbat services, and is most particular about employing a non-Jewish organist to play.

So what is this? An old-school Reform confirmation certificate, from 1939. (Click image at left to see bigger.)

First it has space for the name and birth-date of the confirmand, and it goes on, in Swedish, “has been confirmed with official religious studies according to Mosaic law on [date]”

Then a bunch of pesukim. First couple of lines of the Shema, you shall love your neighbour as yourself, do justice love mercy and walk humbly from Micah, and a slightly random bit from Kohelet: the dust shall return to the earth it came from, yet the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

And a space for the signature of “rabbi of the Mosaic community”

It’s also endorsed along the side saying “only valid as proof of confirmation”. I wonder what else they thought people might try to use it for. Proof of Jewishness, for marriage?

With the date as 1939 I wondered if they might be worried about Nazis; I knew Sweden was neutral in the war, but apparently they weren’t clear on to what extent they’d be able to maintain that, and according to Wikipedia Sweden let the Germans use their rail network. They also ended up taking in lots of Jewish refugees, including all the Jews of Denmark–I had no idea about that. But thinking about it, I don’t suppose the Nazis cared especially if you had a confirmation certificate or not. I don’t know. Anyone have information on that one?

[Thanks to Anonymous Friend for translation from Swedish.]

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This is from the wedding of Julius Lorsch and Rebecka Cahn, special call number DR6-R36. A Hochzeits-Hagada, dated 1911, Fulda.

I like the little photos stapled to the top here. Julius has a very traditional German Yekkish käppchen, and Rebecka looks like she has those over-the-ears buns that were in style in the 1920s.

Julius and Rebecka perhaps had a sentimental attachment to Pesach; they have a Wedding Haggadah, which follows the form of the Pesach Haggadah. I assume it featured at the wedding dinner; it’s full of cute little poems about the couple. Maybe written by their friends or family?

The front reads:

das ist
Seder und Erzählung
von der Verliebung, Vehrlobung und Verheyratung
des ehrengeachteten und frommen
Herrn Dr. Julius Lorsch
und der hochachtbaren, fürnehmen und minneglichen Jungfrau
Fräulein Rebecka Cahn

Here’s one of the poems. I chose this one because it shows us that Becki was also Dr. Cahn.

והיא שעמדה
Das alles hat ihm beigestanden
Hat behrümt ihn gemacht bei allen Bekammten
Man hat ihm viele angetragen
Doch keine wollt ihm recht behagen
Denn seit dem grossen Trennungsschmertz
Besas Rebecka allein sein Hertz.
Er macht eine Eingabe an Dr. Cahn
Führt alle seine Dorzüge an,
Auf die gestüsst, er sich getraut,
Verlangen zu dürfen die Becki aus Braut.
All this served him,
Gave him fame among all his acquaintances.
Many have been suggested to him,
But none would be to his liking,
For since the great pain of separation,
Rebecka alone possessed his heart.
He petitions Dr. Cahn,
lists all his advantages,
leaning on which he dares
to ask for Becki as a bride.

Thanks to Phillip Lipman for translation. You see it isn’t Great Poetry or anything, but it’s Telling The Story of The Couple, like the haggada tells the story of the Jews. Which is cute.

For your edification, here are all the pages. All images, as usual, copyright Jewish Theological Seminary of America, used with permission, click through to see larger versions. Anyone with good German who wants to translate the whole story of the couple is more than welcome to share it with the rest of us!

Page 1

Page 2

Page 3

Page 4

Page 5

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Image copyright Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Used with permission. Click to see larger version.

Today’s picture is of someone’s bar mitzvah invitation, from the early 1980s. Note how the invitation is printed with blue stripes and trimmed with fringe trim exactly like the scarfy tallitot beloved of Reform shuls.

Can’t decide if this is sort of cool or dreadfully cheesy.

The point of bringing you this, though, is that this kid is still alive. I googled him, just out of curiosity, and he went on to be something perfectly ordinary, real estate or something I think. And is married and has kids and lives somewhere in New Jersey.

And this is the case for a great many of these dispatches–they are things belonging to people who were once quite ordinary, getting along with their lives, but now they’ve turned into history.

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Images copyright Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Used with permission. Click to see larger version.

DR6-L16 contains two items: a flyer and a wedding invitation.


Dear Brothers and Sisters:
I beg you with great respect. I am a refugee in this country. I have fled from the Iron Curtain (Budapest), where I had my own Beth Hamedrash. Now, I have to marry off my dear daughter very soon. I beg you to help me as much as possible. You should also take part in this Great Mitzvah Hachnosas Kaloh.

In merit of that Mitzvah you should have long life, happiness and luck in every way.

With blessing and best wishes, I am

Very sincerely yours,


Hachnasat kallah is about making sure a bride has what to set up house with and funds to have a wedding. If you move in frum circles you get hit up regularly for money for poor brides like this.

“Marry off my daughter” rubs me up the wrong way, honestly. “I need lots of money so that someone will take my daughter off my hands because they wouldn’t take her free with a pound of tea,” is what I hear. Okay, this has been the way of the world for centuries, or millennia, but it’s still annoying.

It also seems sort of chutzpahdik to say “giving me money is a big mitzvah, you should do it,” but I guess you get good at that if you run a yeshiva.

Anyway, he apparently did pretty well out of it; the daughter got married in due course, and note the fancy invitation with embossing and monogram, and the wedding venue was Gold Manor, apparently a Simcha Palace.

For funsies, I looked up Gold Manor, where the wedding was held. It’s now the site of Black Veterans for Social Justice, but I’m not good enough at American architecture (or Google archaeology) to know whether the building on Google Street View is the one that was there in 1953. But I did find an anecdote about Gold Manor in 1954, from Philip Fishman’s book A Sukkah Is Burning:
…the Tzehlemer Rav was then asked to be the mesader kiddushin (the rabbi responsible for the wedding sacraments). After the wedding ceremony the rav was nowhere to be found. He had left the wedding hall with the ketuba–the traditional wedding document required by Jewish law to be given to the bridge–still in his possession. Apparently, he had not yet been paid for his services. Either my father or my older brother eventually found him outside the wedding hall, wrote him a check, and obtained the ketuba’s release.

I like that.

I couldn’t find anything at all about Yosef Weiss, or E. Miriam his daughter, or Chanandl his son-in-law. Pity. It’s a rather sad reflection on how things went generally; all these scholars who managed to avoid getting killed in the war or trapped by communism, who came to America, where Torah learning was very very different; less of it, for starters, and already-established yeshivot, for another. The lucky ones found money and followers and joined the learning scene, and the unlucky ones sank into obscurity.

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