January 16, 2014

We are the dinosaur bones – Federation’s difficult situation at LIJH

Filed under: Uncategorized — susanwoodland @ 6:04 pm

In June 1999, long after they had both retired from Federation, former PR director Robert Smith wrote a letter to Rabbi Isaac N. Trainin, former director of the Religious Affairs Department and the Commission on Synagogue Relations.  Bob was reminiscing about the “difficult situation” at Long Island Jewish Hospital and the fight over Kashrut that they had lived through almost 50 years earlier, in 1952:

Bob Smith reminiscing to Rabbi Trainin over a difficult situation, 1999

Bob Smith reminiscing to Rabbi Trainin over a difficult situation, 1999

Bob goes on to say, “… only you and I (and perhaps Martha [Selig]) remain who remember that difficult time back in 1952 when you came to Federation and how we had to scramble to deal with such a difficult situation.  Gone are Gene Rosenfeld and Aaron Solomon and Saul Epstein and almost the rest of the LIJH crowd, gone are [Executive Vice-Presidents Joseph] Willen and [Maurice] Hexter, gone are Ben Zion Boxer and Mowshowitz and the other Queens Rabbis.  We and our recollections are all that remain.  I don’t know if you have the same feelings I do – – that we are the dinosaur bones that some anthropologists will dig up some day.”

It is only 15 years since Bob Smith wrote this note to Rabbi Trainin, but we archivists do feel sometimes like anthropologists, or perhaps archeologists, digging up the bones.  Bob was wrong, however, that only recollections remain.  The story of the negotiations and difficulties that took place over the creation of a kosher kitchen at Long Island Jewish Hospital in the 1950s is well-documented both in Rabbi Trainin’s papers in the Department of Religious Affairs and in the papers of other executives and leaders at Federation also involved, particularly Joseph Willen, Executive Vice-President of Federation at the time.  And it was this issue that was in part responsible for the creation of a position on the Federation staff for a Rabbi.

This issue of Kashrut brought about a lot of changes in Federation’s attitude towards agencies’ attention to Jewish tradition, and Federation’s connections with synagogues and Yeshivas became more formalized under Rabbi Trainin’s leadership.  Funding priorities began to shift within the next 20 years as well.  No, Bob, your fight has not been forgotten.


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