The Bride Ate Chocolate: A Genealogical Mystery

The Bride Ate Chocolate: A Genealogical Mystery

A couple of weeks ago I alluded to the fact that one of my great uncles had a cafe in Vienna, which will give me an excuse to add Viennese pastry to this blog’s meat-oriented menu. I also promised to reveal the family link to Barton’s chocolate.

Rabbi Nuchim Kornmehl and Rose Klein Kornmehl

A Bit of Background

My interest was piqued by an email from one of my new-found relatives, the indefatigable family historian Jill Leibman Kornmehl. She offhandedly mentioned a genealogical family mystery that she had helped solve, one involving a roll of 16 mm film found in the basement of a building in Jerusalem and an unidentified bride.

As I pressed for more information, Jill revealed our family’s connection with Barton’s chocolate.

I knew I had to write about it.

But the more I tried to unravel the details of a tale that winds through Vienna, New York (city, Long Island, and upstate), Miami, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and New Jersey over the course of 80 years, the more confused I got.

And forget about trying to turn it into a coherent narrative.

Luckily, we are in the midst of an unfolding sex scandal involving a large and confusing cast of characters and countries. I was therefore inspired to do what many journalists have done with the David Petraeus/Paula Broadwell/etc. story: Create a timeline. Mine is not strictly chronological; it was easier to divide it geographically, in units of time. But I think it clarifies things.

At least for me.

Note: Much of the history of Barton’s chocolate, including details of the link to the Kornmehl family, comes from On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao by Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz. You can find additional information on Barton’s in a two-part series on the company’s closing in The Atlantic Magazine: “A Seder Different from All Other Seders” and “The Kosher Chocolate Wars,” both of which take you beyond the scope of my timeline, which ends when my family’s connection with Barton’s ends. Incidentally, the second part of The Atlantic series gets at least one detail wrong: It calls the chocolate-blessing rabbi a “family friend” rather than correctly identifying him as the founder’s brother-in-law.

Vienna

early 1930s: Stephen Klein, an orthodox Jew, becomes one of the city’s largest commercial suppliers of chocolate.

1934: Rabbi Nuchim Kornmehl — whose great grandfather David Kornmehl is my great great grandfather — marries Rose Klein , Stephen Klein’s sister.

1937: Rose Klein Kornmehl gives birth to the couple’s first child, Joan. Three more daughters — Martha, Esther and Paula — eventually follow.

1938: The day after the Anschluss, a Nazi competitor takes over control of Stephen Klein’s chocolate company. Knowing he is in danger, Klein flees to New York via Belgium, bringing his family over a few months later.

1939: Rabbi Nuchim, Rose and Joan Kornmehl leave Vienna for America, likely helped by Rose’s brother, Stephen Klein.

New York City/Albany/Long Island

Barton’s Chocolate Factory, Brooklyn

1939: Rabbi Nuchim moves to Albany where he becomes the rabbi of the Agudas Achim synagogue.

Early 1940s: Stephen Klein and 10 members of his family sell the chocolate that comes to be known as Barton’s Bonbonniere or Barton’s Candy from pushcarts.

1950s: The heyday of Barton’s. Three kosher manufacturing plants are established in Brooklyn, with a main plant at 80 DeKalb Avenue. (See the Brooklyn Public Library’s collection of photographs depicting the daily factory production. Shades of Lucille Ball on the assembly line!)

1960: Rabbi Kornmehl’s daughter Martha gets married in New York in an orthodox Jewish ceremony to Rabbi William Kotkes of Kew Gardens, Long Island.  As often happens at weddings, movies and still photos are taken.

1963: The Kornmehl family move to Cedarhurst, Long Island, where Rabbi Kornmehl helps establish Young Israel of Lawrence-Cedarhurst.

1940s to 1960s: Rabbi Kornmehl not only serves as the rabbinical authority who certifies that his brother-in-law’s chocolate is kosher; he also creates a method of making kosher gelatin so that Barton’s candies can include marshmallows.

1978: The Klein family sells the Barton chocolate company.

Miami Beach

The Fountainbleu Miami Beach. What better spot for a Jewish genealogical search to start?

1987: Dr. Jill Leibman Kornmehl is  sitting on a chaise at the Fountainbleu Hotel in Miami Beach, reading a medical journal, when she discovers a scholarly article by Dr. Peretz Kornmehl of Israel. Wondering if he is a relative of her husband (he is), she contacts him and discovers that he has two sons,  Daniel and Ariel.

Jill begins building connections with the far-flung Kornmehl family.

Jerusalem

May or June 2011: During the cleanup of the basement of his building, a man discovers boxes containing 16mm film and many still photos of a wedding. He takes the film to the Jerusalem Cinematheque/Israeli Film Archive to view. He discovers that it shows an orthodox Jewish wedding in the U.S. of a woman named Martha Kornmehl to a man with the last name of Kotkes.

The man would like to return the film to the family but doesn’t know who they are. Perhaps the search for Kotkes proves fruitless; in any case, he succeeds in finding someone with the name Kornmehl in….

Tel Aviv

June 6, 2011: Ariel Kornmehl receives a phone call from a stranger, who tells him a story about a wedding film featuring a bride named Martha Kornmehl. Ariel cannot identify her but sends an email out to the extensive network of relatives that Jill Leibman Kornmehl has by now established, asking if anyone can identify the bride.

New Jersey

June 6, 2011: Jill receives the email from Ariel Kornmehl.

Later that day, Jill gets another email from a relative named Joan, who lives outside Boston. It reads:

I hope u receive this.

That’s my sister Martha. She was married in 59 or 60 I think.

She is now widowed and remarried and living in Jerusalem along with all of her children and grandchildren.

Her name is now Martl Leah Lanel.

 

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22 Responses to The Bride Ate Chocolate: A Genealogical Mystery

  1. Wow, so glad you created a timeline instead of a flowchart. That would have had my head spinning.

    Just imagine doing all this in the days of writing letters by hand and without a computer.
    Pamela | Something Wagging This Way Comes recently posted..This is the Best Gift to Give AnyoneMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      You’re welcome. My head was already spinning and I kind of knew the cast of characters. And no I can’t imagine…or with difficulty.

  2. Darn! I was hoping that you had inherited a chocolate factory. Oh well, impressive research, anyhow. With all the food in your family, I can see why you’re a food writer. It’s genetic.

  3. Kristine says:

    Wow, it’s amazing what comes out after you start looking!
    Kristine recently posted..Things People Said To Me While I Walked My DogMy Profile

  4. Jill says:

    As usual, great work putting together the pieces. Fitting together chocolate, a mysterious bride, a family rabbi, a host of international relatives and a vacation in a fancy hotel was quite challenging. As evident in your blog, you never know what to expect with the Kornmehl family. Stay tuned…

  5. Clare says:

    Since I am a westerner and visited NY only to see you, I’m not familiar with Barton’s, but great saga, fun reading.

    But as a child of the early t.v. era, I have to admit that I am tickled pink by the photo of the line production of candy: just like Lucy and Ethel!!

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Although most of the retail stores were on the east coast, Barton’s became a national wholesale brand for a while, even distributed to and sold in drug stores. And rumor has it you were seen in New York when I wasn’t there (though I won’t accuse you of eating Barton’s candy on that occasion…).

      Glad you enjoyed the post. And yes, that chocolate assembly line is an icon!

  6. Rorey Cathcart says:

    Stories like this are why I do genealogy. I just love puzzling this stuff out. Thanks for a great read.

  7. Hi Edie

    I just had to tell you that in the 50′s on the upper west side where I lived and went to school Bartons was between 86 and 87th Street on the west side of the stret and, my other great love, Bariccini, Italian, of course, perhaps also Jewish, was between 84th and 83rd also on the west side of the street. You could say that my endless childhoon fascination with these two shops, one on each side of my house, was an augury of my whole life to come.

    Love your blog!

    Christine

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Thanks for coming by, Christine, and for confirming the importance of Barton’s in many lives. Barracini was kosher too, and the great rival of Barton’s.

      You must have sensed my thought vibrations, all the way in Italy. I’m just contemplating the best way to tell your Viennese story.

  8. PS Did I mention that the street was none other than Broadway?

  9. [...] already introduced Rabbi Nuchim Zvi Kornmehl, who blessed Barton’s chocolate — in addition to his other rabbinical duties in the U.S., where the Nazis forced him and his [...]

  10. [...] Indeed, there’s a strong tradition of sweets in the Viennese branch of the Kornmehl family: a chocolate-blessing rabbi, the owner of a cafe and — here’s a sneak preview of next year –  a man [...]

  11. [...] Vienna. Thanks to information provided by Jill Leibman Kornmehl, I’ve already written about Rabbi Nuchim Kornmehl, blesser of Barton’s chocolate. Now Jill’s tireless research has led me to Viktor and Ezriel Kornmehl, two doctors who, like [...]

  12. Jessica Klein Levenbrown says:

    My head is spinning. I am a niece of Stephen Klein and Rabbi Nuchum and Rosa Kornmehl. My father Saul was Stephen’s brother. Martha and Joan are my first cousins. I’m a tv writer and producer. What else would you like to know about our family? Thank you for bringing a bit of our remarkable story to light.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Jessica, that’s amazing! I will email you and we can discuss what you can contribute. I’d love to know more.

  13. [...] — as in Barton’s? Was this another piece of my family’s foodie heritage (see The Bride Ate Chocolate)? And how could chocolate not be a [...]

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