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Objets d’heart

Jewish Heritage Fair showcases family heirlooms

NEW MILFORD – Jewish history is often expressed through objects. Some, like candlesticks and kiddush cups, are predictable storytellers, as is a concentration camp uniform jacket. Trumpets, gold bracelets, and pots and pans are a bit less obviously so. Yet all of these items, and others — including Tiffany flatware, fine tea sets, scraps of cloth, and bits of paper — told myriad Jewish histories of area residents at a Jewish Heritage Fair Feb. 7 at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County here. More than ’00 people packed the school’s resource room to view such family heirlooms gathered by fifth-graders.


Debbie Tiecholtz Geudalia and her daughter display the siddurim that traveled around the world. photo by jeanette Friedman

Consisting of more than 61 items from around the world, objects ranged in age from the mid-19th century to ‘003. The room was buzzing with the history of Jewish families who had found their way to Bergen County by ‘006 as students and their parents and grandparents examined each other’s contributions.

Items from the mid-1800s included the Krauthamer brass candlesticks from Poland; the Fruchtman family’s Tiffany flatware that had been sent to the family in Romania as a gift, then found its way back with the family to the greater metropolitan area. There was a Passover prayer book and Selichot printed in 1867 in Vilna, Lithuania, brought to the fair by Gili Naftalovich, and a family tree created for the Gorovici family three years ago.

Among the turn-of-the-century oddities were a giant kashrut certificate from the Rubin family’s butcher shop in Flatbush and a number of weirdly shaped pots and pans from around the world. Material came from Israel, Moroco, Poland, Hungary, America, Argentina, Ecuador, France, Germany, England, Ukraine, Japan, Moldova, China, and Russia. Some items were the expected kiddush cups and candlesticks, chanukiot, and other ritual objects. Many were documents, particularly identity cards and immigration papers. Also included were jewelry, pipes, and even a trumpet played by Marc Honig’s grandfather, a Marine bandleader during the Korean War on the aircraft carrier USS Coral Sea.

Items that survived the Holocaust included a jacket from Dachau, worn by Elie Levinson’s grandfather when he was taken prisoner by the Nazis. The Geudalia family’s heirloom prayer books traveled with Shira Geudalia’s maternal grandmother from Hungary to Holland, thence to Austria and Canada, and on to New York City. They now rest in peace, at least for a while, in the family home in Bergen County. Debbie Teicholtz-Geudalia, pointing out a photograph of a Bukharan family, brought in by Elana Naimi, as well the jacket from Dachau, said, "People create their own heirlooms — and those of us who don’t have any because our families came to America with nothing have created new ones, our own."

Karen Legman Segal explained that heirlooms can be the wedding veil passed down from sister to sister or a bar mitzvah gift that is handed down; any number of items contain a family’s story.

Last year’s Jewish Heritage Fair, the school’s first, grew out of a field trip the fifth graders took to the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in downtown New York.

"The visit to the museum allowed the children to see first – hand what goes into creating a museum of artifacts," said Legman Segal. "With the guidance of gallery educators, students were led through the museum. They examined samples and learned how they are organized and displayed. Then students recorded their objective and subjective observations on an ‘Every Object Tells a Story’ form. They later shared their findings with their peers."

Before the students went to the museum, they and their parents were asked to talk with one another about some of the family’s "artifacts," including old photos, giving the families a chance to discuss their own histories. Students were also encouraged to talk with other older relatives. Grandparents, great-aunts, and uncles are often treasure troves of stories, Legman Segal said.

Students were asked to choose an item to display in the Living Museum at the Heritage Fair, which was organized by Berel Bresgi, the head librarian, and Sharon Charish, the general studies curriculum coordinator, who worked with Joan Hofman, Joanne Miller, Cheryl Berger, Batia Nutovits, and Yitzchak Cohen.

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