Wednesday, June 4, 2014

In Memoriam   Lewis Katz 1942-2014


If you live in the Delaware Valley, by now you know that Lewis Katz, who had just last Tuesday had won control of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Daily News and, died in a plane crash in Massachusetts over the weekend. 

Katz was born in Camden and while he went on to make a fortune in the parking business and broadcasting (YES Network) he gave away millions of dollars to charities in Camden and throughout South Jersey. 

On Wednesday, June 4, a memorial service was held at Temple University to honor one of, if not Temple’s most successful alums.  Former President Bill Clinton was there, former Pa. Governor Ed Rendell, who was invited to be on that plane that day was there.  So was Bill Cosby, another famous Temple alum, as well as former Philadelphia Phillie Shane Victorino.  Here is a link to the Philadelphia Inquirer story about the memorial service. 

So, what does this have to do with he Jews of Trenton?   Well, in Cherry Hill, the Jewish Community Center is named the Betty & Milton (His father died when he was one year old) Katz JCC.   Down the shore, in Margate, New Jersey, it’s the  Milton & Betty Katz JCC.  And in Trenton, Betty was again to take the lead billing at the Betty & Milton Katz Jewish Community Center.   It never opened.

On February 1, 2009, Lewis Katz trudged across a muddy field with his four grandchildren in tow and made a 7 minute speech at the groundbreaking for a building that was ultimately built, but opened last year, not under the banner of the JCC, but as the Windsor Athletic Club.  I recorded his speech that day and after I heard about the plane crash, I found the file.   


In his speech, Katz talks about fulfilling the lessons of his Heder teachers.  He talks about teaching his grandchildren about Tzedakah.  He also talked about “sharing the blessings that really aren’t yours, that are given by a higher being to be shared with your community.”

This was a lesson about teaching his grandchildren to know their responsibility “How to respond to people who say “You’ve done this before, What do you think?  And to jump at the opportunity to help, to see it, not for yourself but as a privilege, almost a message from G-d.”

He went on to say, “It won’t just be a building.  It will be a chance for our brothers and sisters to come together.  It’ll be a chance for seniors to be with children.  Not to be walled-off from children...and the reverse for children to be with seniors.  Something our society never really understood.”

Katz closed by humbly thanking a group of people (Richard Kohn, Drew Staffenberg, Ken Mack, and Ron Berman) who had reached out to him and asked him to donate some of his fortune to the JCC campaign.  Imagine!! Thanking people who came to ask you for millions!   It was a simple speech, one that revealed a side of a successful lawyer and businessman that was echoed over and over in the memorial service at Temple University.  My favorite quote of the day was from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, who used Katz’s own words.  "It's never a perfect day unless you help someone who can never hope to repay you."  On that day 5 years ago, Katz talked about bringing his grandchildren to the Betty and Milton Katz JCC.  It’s an opportunity that he never lived to see and unfortunately, it is one that probably won’t happen to us here in Central West Jersey in our lifetimes either.

Thank you Mr. Katz.  That day in 2009 really was a perfect day.  Little did those of us in attendance realize that we truly couldn’t repay you.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Herman "Humpsie" Finkle, 1924-2014

I lost a friend yesterday. Herman "Humpsie" Finkle passed away last night. He had turned 90 less than a month ago. I first met Herm in 2010. He was a good friend of Andy Greener, whose grandson played baseball with my son at Hopewell Valley Central High School. Andy coached baseball at Ewing for many years and had been drafted by the Dodgers in the 40's. Sitting and watching baseball games with Andy was always a pleasure, for his insight and understanding. One night, I told him about the Trenton Jewish Project and he told me about his friend, Herm, who had grown up on Lamberton Street and had worked at Ewing High as a guidance counselor. Andy played golf with Humpsie and two other guys on a regular basis.   He said we should meet. 

On December 20, 2010, I arrived at his apartment and I interviewed him for about an hour. He was thoughtful, funny and just a joy to be around. We met several times after that for lunch. He was an easy person to talk to and he always had a good story to tell.    

Maxine, his niece, sent out an e-mail last week, saying that Herm would be moving to a nursing home in Pennington. It was right across the street from my office. I looked forward to going over there for lunches with Herm. He never made it there. He took a turn for the worse and passed away last night.
When I started working on a "trailer" for the video that I would like to produce about "Jewtown", Humpsie was an integral part.  His stories were crisp and funny and he was endearing the way he told them.   Here's an earlier post of the TJP with the earliest cuts of the documentary, which I still would like to make one day.   I am posting a number of excerpts here of the interview I did with Herm. This one is about how he would like to be remembered. Rest In Peace, my friend.

Everyone in Trenton in the day had a nickname and Herm was no different.   Many times, the nicknames sounded nefarious, but from what I've come to understand, most came by their monikers innocently enough.   That's the case with Herm, who explains where his came from.

Herm talked about his family and about how he came to Trenton.

One of my favorite parts of the interview was when Herm talked about one of the local restaurants, Benny Hock's.   I had heard stories about the place from Sylvia Schultz and Mark Litowitz, but Herm's description of the place and the man made me wish I was about 20 years older.   I've asked other people about Benny Hock and they all say he was a character.   I'd love to find a picture of him and his restaurant.   This guy sounded like the Seinfeld's Soup Nazi, way before his time.

Herm's niece, Maxine Valunas tells me that the funeral will be tomorrow, on Tuesday, April 8th at 11am  Update--Herman Finkle's funeral will be at Orland's in Ewing on Tuesday at 2pm.   

Rest in Peace, my friend.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The History of the Jews of Trenton and Adath Israel--February 2, 2014--Part 2



This is the third-third of the talk I gave on Febraury 2, 2014 at Adath Israel, looking at the history of the synagogue as we celebrate its 90th Anniversary.

The first-third is already published and available here.  The second-third wasn't recorded, as we were forced out of the building by a smell of something burning.   It's my goal to post something about that period in a future post.  During that portion of my talk, we looked at various documents that I found in two scrapbooks that belonged to the second Rabbi at Har Zion, Rabbi Leon Liebreich, who served from 1927-1945.   My guess is that I will take the slides I showed during that part of the talk and create a voice track.

Thanks to everyone who came to The Adath for this event and to those taking the time to watch this movie.


Monday, February 3, 2014

The History of Adath Israel and the Jews of Trenton--February 2, 2014 Part 1

After a long layoff, we're back.

On Sunday, February 2, 2014, I spoke to an Adult Education session at Adath Israel.  The program focused on the history of Adath Israel, which is celebrating its 90th Anniversary this year and how the History of the Jews of Trenton played into the formation of the synagogue.

I am posting the first third of my talk here and in a few days will post the third-third.

What happened to the second-third?   Well, during my presentation, Adath was evacuated due to a smoky smell in the lobby.  The 50 or so people who were in the sanctuary had to go outside.  Luckily, the weather was beautiful and we relocated to the picnic tables behind the Bridge Academy and spent about 15 or 20 minutes learning al fresco.   Unfortunately, the video camera never made it outside.   It's a shame, because in those 20 minutes, we really covered the beginning of Adath and I presented some fascinating documents from two scrapbooks which have been donated to the synagogue by Joe Liebreich, son of Rabbi Leon Liebreich, the second Rabbi at Adath (1927-1945).

I am researching the possibility of covering this material in what's called a Google Hangout.  A Google hangout is a video call which can be shared live with up to 10 people who have computers with video cameras and can be recorded, archived and later viewed on You Tube.   As I learn about the technical requirements and the feasibility of doing this, I will keep you all updated.   If you have interest in joining me in a Google Hangout in the future, there is one requirement that I know of.   You need to have a g-mail account and upgrade it--for free--to a Google Plus account.   Do that now and you'll be ready when I announce those future plans.   The Google Hangout also gives us a chance to interact as a group in the future, no matter where you are located, so send me your g-mail addresses and we might be able to do some exciting things in the near future.

So, with no further's part one of my talk at Adath.   Thanks to my wife Marlene for operating the camera, Lisa Snyder and Hedda Morton of Adath for allowing me to present.    I apologize for the audio, which is decent throughout, but the microphone was very directional and it dips when I turn my head.

The slides from this presentation are available online here.

Adath Talk1 from Ed Alpern on Vimeo.