If you’ve ever been on one of my behind-the-scenes collections tours, or read my blog posts, you may recall that one of my very favorite artifacts in the collections is what I call the “Goblet of Fire,” named, of course for the Harry Potter novel. Well, I found out more information about it! See previous posts Selecting Collections and The Goblet of Fire.
In the event that you’ve missed it, our “Goblet of Fire” is the gold-colored vessel that the Rogers Avenue Synagogue used to hold the ashes when they burned their mortgage back in 1975. Knowing that Harry Potter references aren’t exactly the preferred lexicon, in my catalog record I described the artifact as a “compote dish.” And it turns out I wasn’t too far off the mark.
A few weeks I was talking to Irwin Cohen, about the Chanukah House that his family created in the 1980s on Park Heights Avenue. Irwin’s father, Morris, had already donated some photographs and newspaper clippings about the festive home bedecked with colorful lights and oversized dreidels. I was interested in collecting some more personal items, such as notes, or cards, or stories that visitors shared with the Cohen family expressing what an impact this one-of-a-kind house had on people—both Jewish and non-Jewish.
The Chanukah House, as it was named by the Baltimore Sun. Photo by Stuart Zolotorow, 2001.
According to Irwin, he didn’t set out on a mission to create “the Chanukah House” when he picked up nine shiny knights at a shop in Williamsburg in July, 1988. He just thought they would make a really great menorah—and he had five months to build it. The first year, the decorations were pretty sparse –just the giant menorah and some lights.
The original menorah created by Irwin Cohen. The idea for the menorah began back in July 1988. Photo by Stuart Zolotorow, 2001.
Little by little, the family added to the display. The decorations were a combination of Chanukah symbols –dreidels, menorah—pop culture references such as Adam Sandler (“singing” the Chanukah song via CD player), Elmo from Sesame Street, teddy bears, Fiddlers on Rooves and general kitsch.
There was even a Chanukah Barbie scandal. Apparently the 3 ½ foot tall Barbie’s sleeveless evening dress was offensive to one particular woman, who thought she should be more modestly dressed in keeping with Orthodox customs. To mollify the woman, Irwin added a mink fur stole to cover her bare shoulders.
The JMM has Frum clothing for dolls in its collection.
Pretty soon people were driving past this Park Heights house to behold the spectacle Chanukah cards were sold featuring a photograph of the house in its splendor! In later years, there is a community-wide menorah lighting ceremony.
Children with their candles (or perhaps Harry Potter wands) gather in the Cohen’s front yard for the menorah lighting ceremony.
Many elected officials attended the event and got to light a candle, too. Irwin told me a story of how the Cohen family was enjoying dinner when they thought they saw Governor O’Malley with his young son (and two body-guards in tow) in front of the house. When Anne and Morris Cohen invited the Governor inside O’Malley said “Chanukah wouldn’t be Chanukah if I didn’t stop by the Chanukah House.”
Rikki Spector, Stephanie Rawlings Blake, Mayor Martin O’Malley, and Sheila Dixon attend the menorah lighting in 2007. Anne Cohen is in the background. Photo by Stuart Zolotorow, 2001.
I enjoyed “celebrating” Chanukah in July with Mr. Cohen.
Morris and Anne Cohen
A few minutes after we hung up, my phone rang again. It’s Irwin. He has another story for me. He had seen my blog post and had the answer to my question How Was this Bowl Chosen? In 1974 his grandmother passed away. The family received a number of fruit baskets during shiva including one in a gold-footed bowl from Raimondi’s. It was an attractive bowl, so they decided to save it.
A year later, Morris was looking for something to burn the mortgage in. Irwin, home from college, informed his dad he knew the perfect thing to use. He went downstairs and found the fruit bowl. The rest, as they say, is history!
A blog post by Senior Collections Manager and Registrar Jobi Zink. To read other posts by Jobi, click here.
Long before Harry Potter’s name blew out of the Goblet of Fire on a burning piece of parchment (but roughly the same time that the Chamber of Secrets was open for the first time), the Rogers Avenue Synagogue had its own Goblet of Fire.
All of Hogwarts watched intently as the Goblet of Fire spews a fourth (and unexpected) time.
The “Rogers Avenue Synagogue” was formed in 1950 when two existing congregations– Ohr Knesseth Israel and Anshe Sphard Congregations — merged. In 1951 they broke ground for their new building in the Upper Park Heights neighborhood on, you guessed it, Rogers Avenue. In 1958 they expanded the building, nearly doubling its capacity. By 1975 the congregation was ready to pay off their mortgage in entirety. (In pure coincidence, Archivist Jennifer Vess will be talking about the Rogers Avenue Synagogue manuscript collection in her next post, so you can find out more about the congregation history from her.)
Although highly uncommon in the early 21st century mortgage burning parties were popular events for synagogues, churches* and even families just a few decades ago. I’m sure a few of our readers can remember when Archie Bunker burned the mortgage on All in the Family.
Approximately 2:00 into the clip below for the famous line “don’t set fire to the house:”
Invitation to the mortgage burning, JMM 1995.165.001b
The mortgage burning at Rogers Avenue Synagogue was talked about with the same amount of excitement as the Tri-Wizard tournament!
Paying off the mortgage is no small feat. It shows the dedication and commitment of the Congregation members, as well as their fiscal responsibility. It was a moment of great celebration and pride for the congregation, as this tremendous financial burden was lifted!.
Program for the mortgage burning, JMM 1993.052.287
At the Rogers Avenue Synagogue, the day’s program combined the mortgage burning with the re-dedication of the building. Cantors Herbert Grossman and Irving Grossman entered the sanctuary singing Matovu, and Rabbi Joshua Shapiro offered the Invocation. Congregational highlights were presented and individuals were recognized. Rabbi Shapiro gave a prelude to the Mortgage Burning and the actual mortgage burning was done by Mr. and Mrs. Albert Trepolsky, Mr. Morris Cohen, Mrs. Ruby Eberlin and Mrs. Stuart Weinberg.
The mortgage is held above the Havdallah candle by Morris Cohen.
Mr. and Mrs. Albert Trepolsky show the burning mortgage to the congregation.
Cantor Grossman and Rabbi Shapiro sing in the liturgical songfest.
Last December the mortgage burning bowl used by the Rogers Avenue Synagogue was donated to the JMM. The collections staff was positively giddy! We already had the documents from the mortgage burning, we had photos from the event, and now we have the actual object that was used. It even has residue of the ash still in its bowl. This is a true piece of Maryland Jewish History!
Ash from the mortgage, JMM 2010.073.001
Now what I want to know is: how was this bowl chosen? It’s gold in color, but not overly shiny and ornate. There are no overt Jewish symbols on the footed compote bowl; it has a petal design.
The shape, however, is perfect for the purposes of burning the mortgage. The sides are tall enough to protect the person holding it, but short enough for congregation members sitting in the back to see the flames!
And it still measures up to our expectations!
The Goblet of Fire illustrated by Mary Grandpre in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Indiana Jones knew that he was looking for a plain cup, created by a carpenter.
Donovan, the villain in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (and later Ilsa) were attracted to the precious gemstones and gleaming gold. They chose poorly.
*Red Church Doors?
Many church doors are painted red. According to some lore, this indicated that the church has paid off its mortgage, but I could find no concrete proof of this. Anglican (Episcopal) churches boast red doors for theological reasons. This goes back to the Middle Ages, when the north, south and east doors were painted red, symbolizing the Blood of Christ, to indicate that churches were designated Sanctuary, where anyone was safe from danger. Some other mainline Protestant churches, such as Lutheran churches, have red doors as Wittenberg Cathedral, where Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses, had red doors, and by tradition, this marks such churches as Reformed churches. Another school of thought holds that church doors are painted red to indicate the mortgage has been paid off!