Meet Our Newest Cousin, Jessica Klein Levenbrown

Meet Our Newest Cousin, Jessica Klein Levenbrown

This has been quite a week in the world of Kornmehl kin and blogging.

First, I wrote a post in memory of a twice-lost cousin, Gigi Michaels. It drew a lovely response from Gigi’s daughter, Jodi Warshauer, who hadn’t known about this blog before, as well as responses from previously discovered new cousins, who had.

Then yesterday a comment appeared on an earlier post, The Bride Ate Chocolate: A Genealogical Mystery:

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.

It was signed Jessica Klein Levenbrown.

Chocolate historyWhat I wanted to know about our family was pretty much anything Jessica wanted to tell me, especially in her own words. I’d naturally googled her and found this bio:

Jessica Klein Levenbrown is an award-winning television writer and producer. She began her career at Sesame Street, was the head writer of the daytime drama As The World Turns, and with partner Steve Wasserman wrote and produced the television series Beverly Hills, 90210. Jessica created the teen television drama Just Deal, partially based on her own experiences as a Jewish mother, and most recently produced the series Scout’s Safari.

I emailed Jessica and told her I would love to post anything she cared to write about the family, especially their Vienna history. I also asked how she had come across Freud’s Butcher.

She wrote back:

I wasn’t looking for your blog.  My first husband’s cousin sent me the link and said, “Is this woman your cousin?”

She has a son who used to date the daughter of the woman who wrote the book about Jews and chocolate that you mentioned.

First husband’s cousin who has a son who used to date the daughter of the woman who wrote the book about Jews and chocolate (that would be On the Chocolate Trail, by Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz)? It’s a miracle that Jessica ended up here!

But now I know what to use as cousin bait: Chocolate.

Jessica also commented briefly on another post, The Great Gefilte Fish Divide, which discusses the difference between Litvak and Galitzianer Jews and their culinary practices. It provides context for some of the following:

Have you read The Reichmanns: Family, Faith, Fortune, and the Empire of Olympia & York?  It is a fantastic story of the Viennese family that later went on to become Canadian zillionaires.  The Klein family is interrelated and mentioned prominently in the story.  There is a wealth of information about prewar Vienna, including how yeshivish/misnagdim families have Chassidic connections.  Our family was/is proudly yeshivish, but the book says my grandparents Simcha and Yachet Klein (for whom every first born boy and girl in the family are named) were Chassidish.  My father was a big supporter of the Kopitzchenitzer (sp?) Rebbe, from Poland, then Israel.  He was among the rabbis at my parents’ wedding and the sandek [baby holder] at my brother’s bris.  My brother met the current Rebbe, the old man’s grandson, who still presides over followers in Israel.

I was not raised Orthodox, because my Litvak, American-born, non-religious mother divorced my Galitzianer, Viennese, frum father when I was young.  I drifted from observant Judaism, then began to tiptoe back, and now I speak around the country about my journey from Harvard to Hollywood to Chabad.  You can read some of the details at  The Jewish Woman, a terrific website.  Just search my name on the site.  Start with Sailing Lessons.

I like the sweet foods of my father’s side, including sweet gefilte fish.  Forget the stuff in the jar.  Buy a frozen roll of fish–try both the sweet and the not sweet–and bake it in the oven.  Sprinkle it w paprika, and bake uncovered at (I think) 350 for an hour.  It will change your opinion of our ancestral dish.

Here’s what I have done to follow up.

  • I bought The Reichmanns. I have already begun fantasizing that the heirs of the Reichmann family, to whom I am not related at all, as far as I can tell — but who knows? — will want to finance the research and writing of Freud’s Butcher, the book.
  • I googled “Kopitzchenitzer.” Amazingly, Google was stumped. It did not even suggest alternate spellings. Can anyone illuminate me?
  •  I read “Sailing Lessons.” It is a moving story that everyone should read. I also discovered that my friend Judie Fein has 10 articles on the same site, which is indeed terrific. Perhaps if Jessica hadn’t found me through her first husband’s cousin’s son’s former girlfriend’s mother, she would have found me through Judie. It was beshert — meant to be.

As for the gefilte fish, I should explain. I don’t cook. I have inherited a dislike of this activity from my mother, who, sadly, felt compelled to do it anyway. Yes, I am a food writer. That is why I leave the food preparation up to the professionals (do movie critics need to make movies?). Also, I live in the desert. Even if my oven worked, which it doesn’t, I wouldn’t want to turn it on 75% of the year. I’m thinking that microwaving a frozen roll of fish — even if I could find the right kind in Tucson — wouldn’t be a good idea.

Welcome to my world, Jessica. Seriously. Welcome. We all hope to see a lot more of you here.

8 Responses to Meet Our Newest Cousin, Jessica Klein Levenbrown

  1. Lydia Davis says:

    Another discovered cousin–this is very exciting. And what an accomplished person she is–starting off with the many TV programs, some of which either our kids depended on (Sesame Street) or our mothers-in-law (As the World Turns).

    I love hearing about the way the discovery happened–and the fact that she is still in touch with her ex-husband’s first cousin. Very funny. I look forward to hearing more from her about what she remembers of family stories–to fill in the larger story of the Kornmehl clan.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Yes, it’s all quite exciting and unexpected! I’m hoping for more stories too. Jessica wrote me that she is now back to doing a version of As the World Turns on the internet — the place to go these days.

  2. Jill says:

    More chocolate, Vienna and a new contributor~what a wonderful combination! Thanks for sharing for sharing your story, Jessica!

  3. Fantastic! I keep hoping to have something similar happen, but so far, just the cousins I already knew about. I can’t wait to hear more about your new family addition. Congrats!
    Jennifer Alford recently posted..Wordless Wednesday- Engel Family Shoe StoreMy Profile

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      Thanks, Jennifer. Consider chocolate as cousin bait 😉 Seriously, you never know when someone new will turn up, so don’t give up hope.

  4. Lydia Davis says:

    I went back and read Jessica’s “Sailing Lessons”. What a moving story–and a credit to her, really, both that she and her ex-husband continued to have such a good working relationship and that her daughter came away from the tragedy such a strong young person. Thanks for leading us to this and to Jessica for sharing it.

    • Edie Jarolim says:

      I’m glad you read it. It’s powerful in so many ways — the tough decisions that had to be made on the spot, the philosophical struggles after the fact, and yes, the fact that both she and her daughter came away stronger from an incident that could have been devastating.

  5. […] to attract relatives without my having deliberately created a particular type of post – Jessica Klein Levenbrown was only the most recent — and that’s a wonderful […]

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