Resisting Assimilation in the 1800s

Thank you for the interesting articles on American Jewish families who managed to defy the odds and resist assimilation (“Unbroken Faith” by Bayla Sheva Brenner [spring 2016]). I have an interesting connection to the Henry P. Cohn family profiled in the issue.

My paternal great-great-grandparents, Jacob Gundersheimer and his wife, Leah Kaufman Gundersheimer, moved from Germany to Richmond, Virginia as a young married couple in the mid-1840s. Several years later, they brought Leah’s sister, Fanny Kaufman, to live with them in Richmond. About one year later, Henry P. Cohn left Germany, moved to Richmond and soon after married his cousin, my great-great-grandmother’s sister, Fanny.

In the 1860s, Henry P. and Fanny moved to Baltimore. In 1870, Jacob Gundersheimer, then president of the Richmond shul Congregation Beth Ahabah, realized that adoption of Reform rites was inevitable and wanted his son, P.W. Gundersheimer, in a more Orthodox environment. Shortly after his bar mitzvah, P.W. was sent to Baltimore to live with his aunt and uncle, Henry P. and Fanny Cohn. Thus, my father’s side of the family settled in Baltimore, and Jacob and Leah followed sometime later.

I remain in Baltimore and am close friends with my distant cousins, Jeffrey Cohn and Nancy Cohn Broth and their families. They are great-grandchildren of Henry P. Cohn and first cousins of Bettie Cohn Mandelbaum, who wrote the article in Jewish Action.

Robert B. Lehman, M.D.
Baltimore, Maryland


The spring edition of Jewish Action was one of the best. I especially liked the article about American families who defied the odds. My parents’ families also came over in the 1800s from Europe, and most of their descendants to this day are still frum. They were friends with several of the families you wrote about, including the Scheinerman, Weberman, Wilhelm, Dicker and Fensterheim families.

My paternal grandmother, Gussie (Chana Golda) Nussbaum, was born and raised in Rochester, New York where her relatives built the first shomer Shabbos department store in the US. She became a buyer for the store and on one of her trips to New York City, she was set up with my paternal grandfather, Izzie Broyde, who lived on the East Side of Manhattan. They married; my grandfather ended up saving the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School from bankruptcy and was a big fundraiser and supporter of the Mir Yeshiva. Many gedolim and meshulachim from Europe stayed in my grandparents’ apartment when they came to New York.

My maternal grandfather, Israel Blau, was known as “Mr. Bikur Cholim” in Boro Park. He and his good friend Max Reisman were among the founders of the Boro Park Bikur Cholim and he was active in what was known as Boro Park’s “Sefardishe Shul” his whole life. My maternal great-grandmother, Fannie Feit, who settled in the US in the 1880s, always wore a sheitel and only drank cholov Yisrael milk. She believed in education and sent all of her eight children to high school and college, which was rare even for secular families at that time.

Leah Broyde Grangewood
Jerusalem, Israel


Engaging with the Non-Orthodox

My understanding of the Orthodox/non-Orthodox divide differs significantly from that of Allen Fagin (“An Open Letter to Michael Steinhardt,” [summer 2016]). Mr. Fagin argues that the Modern Orthodox are uniquely placed to engage with the non-Orthodox. I don’t believe this is true.

I have lived as a proud practitioner in each camp: twenty years as a Jewishly ignorant Reform Jew and then over twenty-five years as an Orthodox Jew after becoming a ba’al teshuvah. In my experience, many OU and other programs that are designed to “engage non-observant Jewish youths” meet formidable barriers. Potentially interested youth face pressure from their uninterested friends and from their Jewishly uneducated, antagonistic parents. The hostility exhibited by many non-Orthodox toward the Orthodox creates a real wall.

Mr. Fagin and the OU’s efforts successfully “ignite the fire of Jewish identity” within teens looking for someone to do so. However, they do not address the antagonistic and even hostile non-Orthodox who are not looking to change. This barrier is real and strong. Unfortunately, we don’t yet know how to pierce that barrier to effectively reach the majority of non-Orthodox Jews.

Irwin (Yirmi) Tyler
Spring Valley, New York


Bringing Guns to Shuls

Regarding “Gun Control in Halachah” by Rabbi Joshua Flug (summer 2016), I have taken the requisite class, undergone a background check and have been issued a Concealed Carry Permit by the State of Colorado. Therefore, whenever I attend shul I carry a concealed, discrete yet effective handgun. I do so because I do not consider “Never Again” to be merely a cliché. We need to avail ourselves of all legal means possible to protect each other.

Ed Gietl
Denver, Colorado

This article was featured in the Fall 2016 issue of Jewish Action.