March 29, 2007
Did you know? Little-known facts about Passover and Judaism to share at the seder table
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Officers called upon to speak not only praised the contribution of the Jews to America, but wished the Jewish people well as they worked toward creating a Jewish state. The seder ended with Yellen singing "Hatikvah" and the "Star-Spangled Banner."
His triumph as seder "producer" was such a hit that by July he was promoted to supervise Jewish Welfare Board field representatives across the country. Before he left New Mexico, however, he wrote the song "We're Coming From Cody," which became the official anthem of the 34th division.
Yellen, in collaboration with longtime partner Morton Ager, went on to write such American classics as "Ain't She Sweet" and "Happy Days Are Here Again." His Jewish classic "Yiddishe Mama" sold more than 1 million copies in 1925. Yellen also wrote for Judy Garland, Shirley Temple, Carmen Miranda, Rudy Valley, Bing Crosby and many others.
"Those Jews, they take care of their own"
"'It is because of what the Lord did for me when I went out of Egypt' (Exodus 13:8). For me but not for him -- had he been there, he would not have been redeemed."
When the wicked son asks "What is the purpose of this work to you?" it is clear that he excludes himself from the community.
Involvement in the needs of the community is one of the most powerful defining ideas of what it means to be a good Jew. A century ago, the non-Jewish world was in awe of Jewish philanthropic organizations as well as wealthy families and individuals dedicated to improving the lives of impoverished and uneducated Jews. This spirit of giving was best exemplified by the Baron and Baroness de Hirsch.
In 1888, the German Jewish industrialist gave a gift of $10 million to aid in the education of poor Russian Jews. The world was amazed. Headlines all over America reported the Baron's gift, which was deposited for safekeeping in a London bank. It was called "the second-largest private act of charity in the history of the world."
After he died, his wife Clara continued his legacy. In 1896, she came to another place of dire poverty and gave an equally generous gift of $10 million to help another group of desperate Jews. That place was New York's Lower East Side.
It's the Real Thing [TM]
The Wise Son, what does he say? According to the famous medieval scholar, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki (Rashi), the wise son is wise because he is one who knows how to ask wisely." In the spirit of the wise son, Rabbi Tobias Geffen of Atlanta was a man who knew how to ask wisely.
The formula for Coca-Cola ranks up there among such great American secrets as Area 51 and the Manhattan Project. Geffen, an Orthodox rabbi who served Atlanta Jewry from 1910 until his death in 1970 at the age of 99, is responsible for Coke being kosher.
Born in Kovno, Lithuania, in 1870 he immigrated to America and became rabbi of a congregation in Canton, Ohio, in 1903. Seven years later he became rabbi of congregation Shearith Israel in Atlanta.
Being a respected rabbi in Atlanta, headquarters of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co., he was asked by rabbis from around the country whether or not Coca-Cola was kosher. In the 1930s, it seems, tastes among Jewish youth were changing. The seltzer that pleased the parents no longer satisfied the children. The rabbi contacted the company to ask for a list of Coke's ingredients.
The year was 1935. At that time, Geffen did not know that Coca-Cola's formula with such a closely guarded secret. Only a few highly placed individuals in the company knew the list of ingredients. After learning more about Geffen, Coca-Cola made a corporate decision to allow him access to the list. He was required to give them his word to never reveal the secret to anyone else. The rabbi agreed.
After investigating a list of ingredients, Geffen determined that one, glycerin, made from animal tallow, was not kosher. Eventually, the company found a vegetable-based substitute.
The formula, however still included traces of grain alcohol. Since anything derived from grains is potentially chametz, Coca-Cola could not be certified kosher for Passover even after the formula was changed to include vegetable glycerin. Eventually, Coke's chemists experimented and found that, during the Passover season, they could substitute sweeteners produced from beet and cane sugar without compromising Coke's taste. They agreed to start manufacturing Coke with the new sugars several weeks before Passover each year. This comes to us as Coke in bottles with yellow caps.
From the Tobias Geffen papers of the American Jewish Historical Society.
Rafael Guber is a professional genealogist, curator and author who divides his time between New York and Los Angeles. He is a featured expert on the PBS series "Ancestors" and co-creator of "Finding Our Families, Finding Ourselves" at the Museum of Tolerance. ::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
Machine matzah? Tour the Aviv matzah factory in B'Nai Brak, Israel.
Matzah -- it's what's for dinner, and lunch, and breakfast, and dinner, and lunch...
1 | 2