31 May 2009

Connecticut: Making bagels the Lender way

I am indebted to Chris Dunham's The Genealogue for this pointer to a New Haven Independent storyon the history of a local family.

Harry Lender's story of bringing the bagel to America - and its iconic status as a mass-produced, frozen essential, is in a new book published by the Jewish Historical Society of Greater New Haven. Volume IX, the ninth in the series, is a continuation of the fact- and anecdote-filled books tracing Jews and Jewish institutions which prospered throughout the 20th century, despite their immigrant origins.

The volume offers hundreds of pages and dozens of entries. Some provide facts about synagogues and burial or Torah-study groups, written for the historical record. One chapter in the new edition deals with the White Street shul (now a church) - the last of the early 20th century synagogues to survive urban renewal and the suburban flight of Jews.

The stories tell how they pursued their dreams, how they adapted to a diverse culture while trying to retain their traditions from close-knit European shtetls, and how they kept New Haven’s Jewish community together.

Edited by David S. Fischer with a team of 20 volunteers, the latest book in the series was celebrated with a luncheon at the Jewish Community Center today (Sunday, May 31). If your family roots are in New Haven, order a book. The price is $28+$3 mailing; send to JHS, POB 3251, New Haven CT 06515.

From Lublin, Poland to New Haven's Baldwin Street to America, the story's secret recipe is old-world family values mixed with new-world ingenuity. The Lender family story, by Andy Horowitz, is very detailed.

"Marvin was a light sleeper and his bed was only a few feet away from mine. Half asleep he would peer over at me, and I would jokingly ask the same dumb question, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ Whether groggy or wide awake, Marvin invariably would answer, ‘A bagel baker.’ Marvin was really saying that he wanted to be just like his father.”
The sons of Harry Lender inherited a work ethic, a devotion to family and community, and a garage-turned bagel factory on Baldwin Street. The family would change culinary history in America, help develop the frozen food industry, and make a simple ethnic specialty into an American staple.

They contributed to the rebirth of New Haven's Jewish community, a new generation of leaders and also made their mark on world Jewry.
“Who could have imagined,” Murray mused, “that bagels, a bagel bakery or a bagel-baking family would make such dramatic strides! If Harry Lender were alive, he would echo words said many times before and still pertinent today… ‘Only in America!’”
The Lender family, originally from Chelm, is described in detail. Read about how Harry (the son of Chaim Ber and Leah, and husband of Rose Braiter) hid his own son Hymie in a vat of bagel dough, the words describing Harry's mother "bubbe" Leah - a true balabusta.
Leah amazed her family with her industriousness: she raised potatoes, onions, beets, and a goat to feed the family. She kept a small apple, pear, and cherry orchard in Chelm, and stayed up nights armed with a pole to guard the fruit from would-be thieves. Her grandson Hymie credits her with being “the original creator of sun-dried fruit,” for her use of any apples that fell from the trees.

She worked as a chicken flicker, removing feathers from chickens as part of the koshering process, and then using the feathers for pillows - nothing, not the fallen apples or the chicken feathers, could go to waste. She worked in the mikvah, helping Jewish women with their traditional baths. She grew her own wheat, which she put to use in the bakery she leased, producing her own farfel and dough, and baking her specialty,
pletzlach.
The story describes the long hours of a baker's life, the children's schooling and anti-Semitism. He arrived in New York in 1927, made his way to New Haven after a series of other jobs, and sent for his family:
Taking a train from Lublin to Warsaw, and another from Warsaw to Danzig, then a small ship through the North Sea from Danzig to Liverpool, and the larger ship Franconia from Liverpool, wracked by horrible seasickness, Rose, Hymie, Sam, and Anna Lender arrived at Pier 42 in New York on December 30, 1929.
There's quite a bit about the immigrant years in New Haven, which tripled in size over 50 years, swelled by immigrants from Russia and other Eastern European locales, Italy and the American South. In 1880, there were only 1,000 Jews; in 1887, 3,200; in 1900, 5,500; and in 1930, 25,000 - one in six city residents were Jewish.

Learn about the bagel baking business, and how Harry made friends with a dozen bagels sent judiciously.

The story ends, as it begins, with family values:
They are Jewish values refined by being brought to bear on a polyglot block of Baldwin Street in New Haven. “I guess I go back again to ancestry,” Sam reflected once. “We all learned something and it never left us.”
Read the complete chapter online at the link above.

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