I’ve saved the story of this genealogical mystery, which holds clues to the interactions of the entire Vienna Kornmehl family, until today because it involves a megillah, a scroll of the biblical Book of Esther, and today is Purim, which celebrates the events told in that story. It takes place in Persia and involves a clueless (sometimes drunken) king, two queens, two courtiers, and a threat to the Jews that is averted; you can get the details, as traditionally told, here.
I know that story — or thought I did; more on which in a bit — but became interested in the derivation of the phrase “the whole megillah,” which refers to a protracted, usually convoluted story. I was under the impression that the Book of Esther was not especially long. I was right, and if you’re interested too, here’s The Whole Megillah About Purim.
Back to the Kornmehls
For this portion of the family history writing challenge, I’ve been focusing on Viktor Kornmehl (now that I think about it, his story is a whole megillah, told in fits and starts). What I haven’t mentioned yet is that a great deal of information about Viktor comes from his son, Hillel Koren, who has many family documents and artifacts in his possession, some identified, others not.
One of them in the “not” category is a megillah that came in a case with a mailing label. The label indicates it was sent by someone from Vereinssynagoge in Wien II, Malzgasse 16, to Siegmund Kornmehl, Wien IX, Berggasse 19.
Siegmund Kornmehl is my great uncle, who had a butcher shop in 19 Berggasse, where Sigmund Freud lived and practiced.
The fact that Viktor’s son has the scroll in his possession would suggest a closer relationship between the two Vienna family branches than I had previously suspected. When I think about it, this makes sense. Their families both ended up in Palestine., where Siegmund died in the early 1940s.
The synagogue at Malzgasse 16 was mostly destroyed in 1938 , but you can see the facade today.
The Megillah Mystery
Naturally, I have a few questions. Although Passover is the holiday known for its question asking, today I ask four on Purim:
- What is the origin of the scroll?
- Who sent the scroll to Siegmund?
- When was the scroll sent and under what circumstances?
- Why was it sent to the butcher shop and not to his home address?
My Hebrew name is Esther, by the way. But that may be neither here nor there.
More about Purim and Hamentaschen
Regular readers of this blog will know that I am not observant — except when it comes to food traditions. And the filled dough pockets known as hamenstaschen that are associated with Purim are among my favorites holiday foods.
I became slightly obsessed with the variations of hamentaschen that I’ve seen on Jewish food sites, including ones drizzled with frosting and others using challah dough; I even found some incorporating pizza filling. I’ve posted many of them on Freud’s Butcher’s Facebook page. (If you haven’t “liked” Freud’s Butcher yet and are reading this, just go over to the sidebar on the right and click on the “like” Facebook button. Easy peasy. Then you can join all the food discussions.)
Anyhow… I’m a hamentaschen purist, poppy seed filling all the way, though prune and apricot are marginally acceptable. Turns out, I was historically accurate in my preferences without knowing it. Hamentaschen are not, as I thought, representative of the tri-corner hat of Hamen, the villain of the Purim story but, rather, fertility symbols. Read all about it at Lilith’s From Prehistoric Cave Art to Your Cookie Pan. And while you’re there, if you’re interested in the views of (far more observant than I am) Jewish feminists about the holiday, read Our [Meaning Women's] Book of Esther Problem.
Wow. That’s upsetting. Now I really need some hamentaschen. Wonder if I can find some in Tucson…?
This is Day 23 of the Family History Writing Challenge. Finishing the challenge is going to be a piece of cake — or, should I say, hamentasch.