He would have been 189 years old this week. His name was Mottel Cohen and 76 years ago, at 114, he was the patriarch of Beth Israel Home for the Aged on the West Side.
With end of 2022 fast approaching, we opted to see what was going on at the tail end of 1946 for this week’s dig into the archives.
Front page news on December 26, 1946: “Community Invited to Open House at New Home for Aged.” The new facility, located at 17th and Meade, would be part of the existing Beth Israel Hospital infrastructure. The new home featured a kosher kitchen, Talmudic library, “lovely little synagogue” and recreation facilities.
Why was the new home necessary?
“Modern medicine has lengthened the life span of the individual to an average of 65 years. Thus, there are MORE old people to care for.
“Why do Jewish old people need the home?” the article’s Q&A continues. Answer: “Our Jewish grandmothers and grandfathers at the new home can find congenial companionship, humane care, Kosher food, pleasant surroundings and living conditions which enable them to live out their last years in self-respect.”
Back to Mottel Cohen. He would surely have made use of the new home’s offerings. According to the IJN, “the unbelievable Mr. Cohen retains amazing vitality for his age, reads the Yiddish Forward without glasses, never misses Mincha and Maarev services in the Home synagogue, puffs a pipe, sits outside for hours on sunny days, and maintains and interest in world and local events.” (Anyone else wish they had known Mr. Cohen? Even better, if anyone reading did know him, please get in touch!)
Digging back just a bit further, the February 7, 1946 IJN revealed a guest at the home’s cornerstone laying ceremony whose name today would raise brows: Mayor Benjamin Stapleton who today is remembered for being a Klan member more than anything. Whether he was a Klansman due to deep-seated racial beliefs or realpolitik has always been a question of debate. By 1946, Stapleton’s association with the Klan was long over, having been banished from the group in 1925 and declaring himself an independent. At the 1946 cornerstone laying, the mayor had this to say: “Not only do the Jewish people care for their own, but they contribute generously in time, effort and money to all humanitarian causes. I appreciate your work as an individual and as a mayor.”
This online feature explores the IJN’s new digital archive, discovering the news of the week, years ago.