Bat Mitzvah Girl: Rita Horwitz

ritahorwitz_blogphoto_2.gifRita Horwitz shares memories of her adult Bat Mitzvah at age 66.

1930s – 1940s
My sisters and I began Hebrew School (Cheder) when we were quite young. However, I was not always so eager to go to Cheder. Classes began after public school except on Friday. Not many girls went to Hebrew School. During these years, girls did not have a Bat Mitzvah.

1998
I have been a member of Shaare Emeth Congregation since 1974. Classes will begin soon for all members who would like to participate in Adult B’Nai Mitzvah Program. (Men and Women.) A program of Discussion and Discovery. A Bar/ Bat Mitzvah Service. Reading from the Torah.

Very honestly, it has been a thorn in my side that I had so many years of Hebrew and never had a Bat Mitzvah. The thorn became increasingly more uncomfortable as I got older.

A recently retired operating room nurse, I decided to take the plunge and enroll in the class. I could still read Hebrew but very, very slowly.

Our classes were informative and interesting. We had an excellent instructor and Rabbis were awe inspiring. I was on a high road to a spiritual journey. We were all adults. No parent for direction or to push us to study. As small classes go, we developed some lasting friendships. We learned a lot and laughed a lot.

The year flew by. We had a few hurdles. Sickness, surgery, too many responsibilities. We were there for each other as coaches with pep talks. “You can do it.”

May 14, 1999
Nine adult women excited and proud to participate in a celebration of Adult B’Not Mitzvah at Congregation Shaare Emeth, hugged, laughed, cried, prayed and sang. We lead the Congregation in worship. My father would be so proud.

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With my Bat Mitzvah, I had come full circle. The thorn was gone. When you are 13 years old, you expect parties and family celebrationsbut when you are older (I was 66 years old), I had celebrations with family and friends. A celebration Friendships and Memories completed my fabulous Bat Mitzvah weekend to perfection. Many friends and family came from out of town. I was fortunate to share this celebration with my sisters, childhood friends, my roommate from nursing school and many friends and family in St. Louis.

Each Bat Mitzvah Girl made some personal remarks about their decision to have a Bat Mitzvah. Remarks filled with passion and energy.

Personal Memories at my Bat Mitzvah:
With these Hebrew classes came many memories for me—cherished memories of long ago. My father was determined to give his girls a Jewish education. I was the oldest and began Hebrew School (Cheder) before I was 5 years old.

My mother kept a kosher home. Therefore, she was not too thrilled when I came home and asked, “What’s bacon, what does it look like, what does it taste like? I’m the only kid in the whole school that doesn’t know what bacon is.”

I knew I would taste bacon. Which I did at a friend’s house. On the way home, I heard people talking about someone who was pretending the world was coming to an end. I didn’t feel so “good.” “Oh, my! It’s all my fault. I eat bacon and the world comes to an end…and everyone’s going to be mad at me.”

In high school, at one point, I had a job at a large drocery downtown. It was not a very glamorous job and I told my parents I wanted to quit. They asked if the work was too hard or if anyone was mean to me. “Everything’s OK. I just don’t like it.” My father told me I couldn’t quit just because I didn’t like it. The job wasn’t forever. This was an important lesson for me.

As I remember these wonderful memories of childhood, I know this Bat Mitzvah will be a tribute to my parents. They gave me this need for learning, for education. I’m always in a class, continuing with education. I never knew any other way.

My parents gave me a work ethic and taught me not to give up. Not only at the grocery, but with health, mergings and downsizing. They gave me the strength, the stamina to sustain me. To stand up for my rights and…Win.

My Bat Mitzvah was a tribute in memory of my parents, Sophie and Meyer Horwitz.

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South Broadway Neighborhood

I was born in 1939 in St. Louis and lived on Broadway and Soulard in the South Broadway neighborhood. My family owned a men’s and boy’s clothing store (Louis Clothiers). My family lived above the store. There were many Jewish families who were store owners and some lived above their stores. There was a synagogue which we attended (Bnai Zion) on Third and Lafayette. There is more information on this neighborhood in Dr. Walter Ehrlich’s book Zion In The Valley Volume II. The South Broadway neighborhood was from Chouteau on the north to Sidney on the south. 

– Roslyn Kaskowitz Glaser

My Journey of Faith

If you would have told the 16-year old boy being confirmed that he was going to become a major participant in his Temple one day, he would have said you were mistaken.

My exposure to Judaism growing up was a place I had to go on Sundays until I was confirmed.  I sat through the 2 hour sessions on Sunday morning for 12 years, and I don’t remember one time where the subject matter inspired me.  About the only interesting thing was the co-ed classrooms after 5th grade or so, in that I went to an all boys school during the week.

Therefore, the fact that:

I became the music man for the Temple I joined as an adult, serving roles from playing the guitar for the kids during Sunday School to accompanist on Shabbat,

I served 12 years in Temple administration, eventually rising to the position of President of the congregation

I taught classes and volunteered for everything from cooking meals to clean up duty to membership chairman

I served on more committees than I can remember, and created some unique programs in our congregation

I began attending Shabbat services almost every Friday night

I have been attending Hebrew classes and will become a Bar Mitzvah in May of 2008

would not have made a lot of sense to that 16-year old boy being confirmed.

Why the transition?  Did I have a moment of religious enlightenment, a trip to Israel or some other epiphany?

No, it was actually a non-Jew that caused the “conversion”.  When I married my non-Jewish spouse, she made it clear that our children were going to be raised with some sort of religious background and if I didn’t want to be responsible for them getting a Jewish education, she would take responsibility for getting them a Christian education.

That was all the motivation I needed.  We researched Temples and religious schools and I jumped in.  The program and religious school director at our Temple, Ellyn Polsky, taught me all I needed to know about Hebrew and Judaism so that I could be an effective teacher and music man.  The Rabbi, Joe Rosenbloom, gave me enough reasons to have faith that I became a motivated Jew.

It all started with a choice to raise my boys in the Jewish faith.  They identify themselves as Jews and are proud of their religion and I know a major part of that pride comes from watching their father learn at the same time.  I was there every Sunday morning, and they didn’t have the same apathetic attitude toward their Jewish education, as a result.  As Jewish parents and role models, we need to teach our children by example and that doesn’t mean dropping them off on Sunday and showing up twice/year.  That means being active, involved participants in our congregational life. 

We also need to embrace our inter-faith families and let the multiplier effect work for us.  One Jew can create multiple new Jews, if our congregations accept and encourage them to actively pursue their Judaism.

Ken Cohen

Holocaust Survivor Guenter Goldsmith

guentergoldsmith2.jpgA Passion with a Purpose
Holocaust survivor Guenter Goldsmith trades his career for a calling

He arrived from Germany by himself in August 1941. After landing in St. Louis, he lived with an uncle for six months. But when it was time for his mother’s brother to move to Arkansas for work, Guenter Goldsmith stayed behind. A family he had never met took him in and accepted him as one of their own. He was barely 15 years old.
 
Four weeks before he set foot in St. Louis, Goldsmith’s mother had packed up her only child and situated him firmly in the unknown. Providence had reserved the boy a spot aboard the last children’s transport bound for the United States.
 
Goldsmith’s father had died of pneumonia in 1938, after being arrested and sent to a concentration camp where he was forced to stand outside–all night–in bone-chilling rain. Goldsmith and his mother had to move several times during the next three years.

Suddenly, only four months after his arrival to the states, Goldsmith stopped receiving letters postmarked from his mother and several other relatives who were still living in Germany in December 1941, when German authorities took the remaining Jews to concentration camps.

Goldsmith lost his entire family during the Holocaust. He discovered, years later, that his mother had been killed in a concentration camp in 1944.

Yet, somehow,  Goldsmith never felt lost.

“Only a year ago, I realized I was an orphan and never knew it,” the 81-year-old says. “I missed my mother. I wish things had been different and she could have been here with me. Aside from that, I guess I accepted everything the way it was.”
 
Goldsmith lived with his surrogate family until shortly after his high school graduation, when he was drafted into the Army as a paratrooper. He joined the 17th Airborne Division at the height of the Battle of the Bulge, eventually becoming one of the first American soldiers to fight on German soil. After the war, he came back to St. Louis where he settled in with yet another family and attended St. Louis College of Pharmacy on the G.I. Bill.

Once an immigrant struggling to speak English, Goldsmith poured the courage that helped him persevere in most areas of life into his business career. After graduating from the College in 1951, he began working as a pharmacist at a drug store on Forsyth Boulevard. A year later, he and a partner bought the store and founded Medical West. The company was successful, but the partners ultimately split 28 years later.

Again, Goldsmith set out on his own. He launched Goldsmith Pharmacy Co. and started traveling throughout Missouri, renting out transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) units to physical therapists, clinics, and hospitals. By the early 1990s, Goldsmith and his son Steven collaborated to form Goldsmith Medical Co.

The company has established a reputation as a supplier of rehabilitation equipment and supplies for both clinical and home use. With Steven now at the helm, Goldsmith is semi-retired. “He still lets me come in two days a week,” he quips. “I have a regular schedule!”

For more than six decades, Goldsmith hadn’t uttered a word about the Holocaust. Then four years ago, after one of his grandsons made a video interviewing him about his experience during the Holocaust, Goldsmith became involved with the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center.

“It took a long time, but that’s what started me talking about the Holocaust,” he recalls. “It got me out of the closet. Many Holocaust survivors don’t talk about it, just like a lot of us don’t talk about what happened during the war. And I think it’s time to talk.”

Since then, he has begun speaking at the museum about his experiences, and has been appointed to one of nine public slots by Gov. Matt Blunt to the newly created Holocaust Education and Awareness Commission.

“Being a Holocaust survivor, I think I add a little something to the commission,” Goldsmith says. “I hope we can get young people especially to remember what happened and hopefully prevent things like that from happening again.”

The commission is made up of 12 members, including the president of the University of Missouri, the commissioner of elementary and secondary education, and the commissioner of higher education. The group hopes to use the Holocaust as a lesson to teach tolerance in elementary schools and high schools. It was a lesson Goldsmith achingly wished the friends of his youth would have learned.

Most of his childhood was spent in Borgentreich, a small farming community where bigotry was as yet unheard. “We were all just Germans,” he describes of the early years of Hitler’s reign, before the beginnings of anti-Semitism propaganda. “There were Jewish people, but the only difference was our religious beliefs. When I started school, I made friends with most of the boys and we played games together.

“But things changed when all of my friends had to join the Hitler Youth Corps. Naturally, that was the end of playing with them. After that, I was an outcast. There were many, many afternoons when I had to run all the way home after school, to avoid being beaten by my former friends.”
 
Goldsmith says he has seen Holocaust awareness grow over the years, but stresses the importance of continuing that growth. “I have a mission now,” he says. “I especially like to talk to kids because they really respond. And when I do, I talk about growing up as a young Jewish boy in Germany during that time, and I can relate to the children.”

During one of his recent presentations at the museum, Goldsmith received a poignant revelation from the teacher of a local school group. The educator duly noted, “Your mother sacrificed her life for you.”

“You know, I never thought of it that way before,” Goldsmith evenly answered. “But I guess she did.”

To be sure, Goldsmith is a survivor. Sixty-six years after he waved goodbye to his mother through a dusty train window, he shrugs off any lingering hold the Holocaust has on him. “It didn’t change my way of life. I still would have been the same person. I just had to learn very fast. I didn’t have a choice.”

-Story originally published in the spring 2007 issue of Script, St. Louis College of Pharmacy’s alumni magazine.  www.stlcop.edu
Editor: Sheila Haar Siegel, Photographer: Mark Gilliland

First Jewish Temple in St. Louis

I am a member of the Old Cathedral which is located on the riverfront and I have heard this story numerous times and would presume it to be true.  In the early days of the city when the Jewish population was quite small the Bishop of the newly built Cathedral had provided the use of the church on Saturday’s to the Jewish community as Temple because they had no place to worship.  So the Old Cathedral was essentially the first Temple for the Jewish community in St. Louis.  In respect for the Jewish community the Old Cathedral has Jewish letters on the pediment over the front doors of the church.  I understand them to read either “God” or imply “The House of God” in Hebrew.

-George Hoeffner 

From St. Louis to the Milton Berle Orchestra

My great Uncle (Grandma’s brother) was something of a musical prodigy. His parents’ were poor–they lived down on Carr or Biddle street (I can’t remember.) My Great Grandma recognized my Uncle Al’s talent. She could barely speak English but she wanted better for her children. She worked as a seamstress to pay for music lessons.

He became Alan Roth, leader of the Milton Berle orchestra. Every week Uncle Milty showed Uncle Al on TV so Mama could see him.

Jodi, St. Louis