Little did I realize when working On the Chocolate Trail, how eerie the connections between Jews and chocolate might become. My choco-dar (internal radar for chocolate experiences) led me to a hauntingly personal story.
In 2009, a very kind scholar, learning of my chocolate interests, mentioned a Dutch archival collection of a Jewish scholar who had researched chocolate. I deferred tracking it then because plenty of material in English in American archives and libraries inundated me. The thought of yet another archive, in Jerusalem no less, and worse, in Dutch almost pushed me to forgo chocolate forever. Though I longed to sample the tidbits hidden there I expected that at some point that I would contend with the collection. I resigned myself that On the Chocolate Trail would not capture every story. This would just have to be an add-on to the trail.
Finally, with the On the Chocolate Trail about to be sent off to the printer, I could begin to explore more, especially since we were to be in Jerusalem anyway in 2012. I quickly scanned the online listing at The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People and found that the researcher’s name was Isak Prins, the Dutch variant of my last name. Our family tree does not yet include Holland and maybe it will. As I glanced at the substantial list of the Prins holdings, I speculated about whether this would be rewarding venture or not. Soon, Mark and I were trekking down a windy, hillside pathway, to a barely marked caravan, on an isolated corner of the Givat Ram campus of the Hebrew University (Jerusalem) to survey the Isak Prins collection of Joden en chocola, Jews and chocolate.
There we examined the Prins collection of chocolate wrappers, publications, photos and notes obsessively scratched on slips of paper. Deep in those 141 boxes we read that Prins wrote the following: “the present writer has written a book on ‘Jews and Chocolate – Explorations in Cultural History in the Diaspora’ and a history of Israel chocolate making is in preparation as the second part of the work.” (The Jerusalem Post of March 1, 1957). The flush I felt was a mix of surprise, disappointment, embarrassment, and jealousy that On the Chocolate Trail may not have been the first book about Jews and chocolate, as I had thought. And, happily, it also meant that there could be more stories to explore.
So began a hunt for the book. Since Prins had written to Brill Publishers, I contacted them. No, the acquisitions editor politely replied, they had no record of publishing such a book. I checked on line. Nothing. I queried libraries in America, Holland and Israel, including the HUC-JIR, the Bibliotheca Rosenthaliana, the Special Collections at the University of Amsterdam, and the National Library of Israel. No record of a book or a manuscript.
Then this past April my blog registered a comment from a distant cousin of Prins, a man named Henry Joshua, who confided that as a child he and his mother visited Prins at his home in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Bayit Vegan in 1958. Henry recalled that Prins mentioned the book he was writing about chocolate. Joshua clarified, “Prins died in 1968 without finishing his book.” Also in April, I contacted Prins’ grandsons, David and Daniel. They were completely unaware of their grandfather’s research about Jews and chocolate and knew nothing of his book.
Not only do Isak Prins and I share a name, an interest in chocolate and Jews, oddly, we also claim the same birthdate, February 24. (He was born in 1887 in the Netherlands and moved to Israel in 1948.) My choco-dar had led me to a scholar with my surname, my interests, and my astrological sign. Mysteries remain: Is Prins related to me? Did he actually write the book? If so where is it? What did he really discover about Jews and chocolate? Is there a manuscript somewhere?
From Prins to Prinz, the chocolate trail of Jews and chocolate broadens.
(Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz is the author of On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao, published by Jewish Lights. She speaks frequently on the subject of chocolate and religions around the country at scholar-in-residence or lecture opportunities. Currently located in New York City, Rabbi Prinz serves the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) as Director of Program and Member Services and Director of the Joint Commission on Rabbinic Mentoring. She blogs at Jews on the Chocolate Trail.)