“My Dear Kid”: Or, Why Can’t We Have A Nice Blog Post About a Happy Milestone in a Young Man’s Life Without Some G_ddamn Neo-Nazis Butting In?

The Rosenbach Museum & LibraryOur magisterial current exhibition, Chosen: Philadelphia’s Great Hebraica, closes in a couple of weeks. I recently stumbled across the letter above. In honor of the exhibition, I thought I’d post it here. Click on the image above Morris Rosenbach as a young man, perhaps around the time of his own bar mitzvah.  2006.1521.  The Rosenbach Museum & Library.and read it. It was written by Morris Rosenbach (pictured left) to his younger brother A.S.W. (a.k.a. Kid, a.k.a. Abie) on the occasion of A.S.W.’s bar mitzvah. There’s some great stuff in this one, including Morris’s recollections of brother Philip’s bar mitzvah.

This tattered letter with its numerous typos relates more directly to the Rosenbach Family Hebraica on display in our Library, I suppose, than it does to the great Hebrew books in the exhibition gallery. One of the books in the exhibition does contain what is thought to be the earliest known illustration of a bar mitzvah (from 1738), though, so there’s that connection. And this letter gives you a sense of how bar mitzvahs were celebrated in the nineteenth-century so you can gather some more data on bar mitzvahs through the centuries. (No bat mitzvahs at the time Morris wrote to Abie, by the way, though apparently young Jewish women did receive embroidered fans when they turned eighteen. Doesn’t seem quite right, does it, compared to the food and new suits and gifts Morris writes about the young men in the family receiving? I’m glad Jewish girls, starting with Judith Kaplan in 1922, stood up and demanded their due in the form of bat mitzvahs (though I understand the Orthodox don’t perform the bat mitzvah. I suppose ancient world religions need not conform to my ideas of fairness and gender equality, though I still think it would be nice if they did.) Anyway, here’s the earliest (perhaps) bar mitzvah illustration from the Rosenbach’s wonderful little Leipnick prayer book:

MS 1055/28. The Rosenbach Musuem & Library
(FYI — a beautiful facsimile of the book is available in our shop. If you can’t visit us to the see the exhibition, check out the show’s catalog, available from the same source.) And now, unfortunately, for the neo-Nazis. If you Google “history of bat mizvah”, you’ll get a link to the venerable American Jewish Historical Society. Most disturbingly, Aryan Nations of Lexington, S.C., has highjacked the URL. Their site, soliciting donations and emblazoned with their motto: “Violence Solves Everything” (seriously) comes up when you click the link. That statement hits the trifecta as one the most frightening, odious, and idiotic things I’ve come across in a long while. These are obviously some disturbed people. (I’ve notified AJHS about the problem. It will, I hope, be fixed by the time you read this.) To attain a little karmic balance, you might want to visit these folks.

That’s a bummer to end on, huh? Well, go back and read Morris’s letter. It should put a smile on your face and put you back in touch with some fundamental human goodness. And then there’s this: the time, probably around the period the letter was written, when Morris and a friend fell asleep in front of camera in a photography studio. It’s a good thing no one had a Sharpie handy, cuz I can imagine some real hijinks issuing from such circumstances.

2006.1525.  The Rosenbach Museum & Library.

1. Morris Rosenbach (1865-?). Typed letter to A.S.W. Rosenbach, Philadelphia, Pa. Beverly Station, Missouri: July 30, 1889.
2. Gilbert & Bacon. Portriat of Morris Rosenbach. Philadelphia, Pa. 2006.1521
3. Joseph ben David, of Leipnick, scribe. Birkat Hamazon and other blessings: manuscript. Darmstadt, 1732. MS 1055/28
4. F.G. Luden. Portrait of Morris Rosenbach and an unknown friend. Jefferson City, Mo. 2006.1525