Whispers from the past…
A Special Article by Keith Miller
A FedEx commercial, currently on the air, show the different reactions of recipients when they open a FedEx box. My reaction, from the box I received from my brother Ken in San Diego, was heightened curiosity. But first, a little background:
As a child growing up in Deal, in the ‘40’s & ‘50’s, I hardly knew Ken and my sister Kitty, who were 8 and 9 years older. I never met my fraternal Grandparents, but vaguely remember seeing some old, B/W photographs, learning that their names were Simon and Carrie, that he was in the jewelry business in NYC, and she had flaming red hair. I knew my maternal Grandparents, Walter and Elsie Kohn, who were quite active in Temple Beth Miriam first in Long Branch and then in Elberon. Walter was Temple President for 25 years, and Elsie was President of Hadassah, and in charge of music. But I had absolutely no knowledge of Simon and Carrie’s upbringing or Jewish background.
Then comes the box from my brother. It seems that, due to Covid, and with plenty of time on his hands, he was cleaning his attic and found some old, tarnished trophies that were our dad’s, Joseph Miller, and he thought I might like to have them. He didn’t know what they were for and they were tarnished and unreadable, but he would send them to me if I would like to have them.
Yes, they were tarnished but with a little elbow grease they cleaned up. One was a sliver loving cup engraved “Winner, Joseph Miller, 1919, Durland & Co.” That made my Dad 12 years old. A little research showed Durland was the horseback riding stable in New York City Central Park’s upper east side. Next was another loving cup and the engraving was “Winner, Father and Son Tournament, Simon and Joseph Miller, Norwood Country Club (located in West Long Branch – the clubhouse now is the West Long Branch Community Center) -1927”. Now I really understood how meaningful it was when we won the Parent and child tournament at Hollywood in the 70’s.
But there was more; a small velvet-like jewelers box with a catch. It was lined in white satin with the Tiffany & Co logo on the inside lid. Resting on the satin was a gold medal about the size of a half dollar coin. On one side, a large Jewish Star was engraved in the center, surrounded by the inscription Temple Emanu-El, NYC. On the reverse side around the rim was inscribed “The James Seligman Medal” and in the center, engraved, was “Awarded to Joseph Miller – 1922.”
Curiosity. Who was James Seligman? What was the award and what was it for? Google solved the first part – James Seligman was a Trustee and President of Temple Emanu-El in the late 19th and early 20th century. He was one of 8 brothers who founded the financial firm of Seligman & Co in 1846.
The next step in the journey was to Rabbi Stanway who was intrigued and asked if I could send him photos of the medal. He said he would post an inquiry on his Rabbi Facebook Page, but also suggested I contact Temple Emanu-El – maybe someone there could help me.
Again, thanks to Google, I contacted the Temple who forwarded my question and photos to those officers that might help.
The next day, Mr. Warren Klein, curator of the Bernard Museum of Judaica at Temple Emanu-El solved the 2nd part. The Medal was awarded to winners of and essay contest given to members of the Temple’s religious school in the 1920’s and into the 1930’s. I’m now waiting to hear back if they kept my father’s winning essay in their archives, and if not the actual essay, perhaps the subject that was given for the assignment.
So now, in 2020, I’m learning about how and where my Dad grew up, close to 100 years ago, and a little more about his parents – things I never knew. To me, that medal is priceless, not only because it was my dads, but because now I have a better understanding of his devotion to Temple Beth Miriam, his adopted synagogue, and his desire to keep the candle of faith burning in his children.
I know there’s more. I can’t wait to open the next box.