By Hazzan Marlena Fuerstman
It is impossible to attend an event at the sanctuary of BHC without noticing the two stained glass windows placed on both sides of the Ark adorned with the following inscription in Hebrew and English versions, one on each window:
In Memory of
Our Beloved Daughter
Born May 19, 1902
Died May 6, 1928
The Hebrew version adds תנצבה, an acrostic, Tihiye nishmata tzurura betzror hachayim, which means May her Soul be Welcomed into the Source of Life.
Celia’s mystery has haunted me since the first time I came to BHC for the High Holidays in 2002. Who was this lady who passed away at such a young age and was constantly looking down on me as I officiated and whose name I faced during the Amidah prayer? Why did she receive such a prominent, visible honor that stands out in comparison with all other memorials in the sanctuary? What is the connection of her family to BHC? Can we locate some of her descendants? These and many other questions remained unanswered until this past year. On the occasion of BHC Ninetieth anniversary, I became more determined than ever to try and solve some of those questions. The availability of Internet resources that did not exist just a few years ago made my task more feasible but also buried me under a mountain of information whose relevance had to be sorted out in an extremely time-consuming process. However, the first step of the journey was a detour that did not involve the internet.
One morning while davening at Moreshet Yisrael in Jerusalem I heard someone call the name Rabbi Chinitz. After services I approached the gentleman and told him my story of ‘Celia of the Windows.” He told me to contact his cousin Robert (Bobby) Budnitz (one of numerous variations of the name) in Berkeley, CA who acted as the family historian. He answered my email graciously but knew of no connection with Celia even though his family had visited BHC in the 1950s. Mr. Budnitz informed me that a book had been written on the Chinitz family history linking it to Rabbi Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman (1720-1797), known as the Vilna Gaon. As it turns out the Budnitzs lived in Berkeley a few houses down from the house we rented while on sabbatical this past spring. We had a lovely Shabbat dinner at the Budnitz home. Bobby and I scanned the book together but could not find the missing link between his family and our Celia’s family.
Research on the Internet was more fruitful and after a short search it became obvious that Celia’s father, Aaron Chinitz, was a prominent Jew and that his family was actively involved in the Jewish institutional life of NYC. Born in Russia in 1876, Aaron arrived to the USA in 1898. He married Rose and they had four daughters: Augusta (aka Gustave, Gussie) born in Russia c. 1895, Ida E., Russia, 1896-(i.e. months before Aaron’s immigration) died June 17, 1957 in NYC), Celia (1902-1928) and Ruth D. (1910-1992). After the death of Rose, Aaron remarried a woman called Bessie. According to the 1910 US Census, Aaron and his family lived in Manhattan Ward 22, NYC, probably the house where Celia grew up. Celia’s mother, Rose Chinitz was born in 1876 in Russia and died in November of 1935 in NYC. She apparently arrived to the USA after Aaron in 1899 or 1900 with her two oldest daughters.
The Chinitzes were “esteemed members” of Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in NYC and they were closely associated with the Daughters of Jacob institution. Rose was Vice President of the Home and Hospital of Daughters of Jacob and a friend of Rabbi Jacob Joseph School while Aaron was Benefactor and Board member of the Home and Hospital of Daughters of Jacob and Friend of the Women’s League of Palestine. Aaron was a very successful businessman focusing on the restaurant business. In New York City he owned the Tip Toe Inn at 86th and Broadway, the C & L Restaurant between 74th & 75th (now the lot where the Fairway Market is located), the Calvin Apartments at 80th and Broadway, (a lot occupied now by Zabar’s), and the Sherman Cafeteria at 109th and Broadway. At the time when Rosa died in 1935, the Chinitz family lived at 525 West End Ave. Aaron died on April 5, 1945.
Celia Chinitz was born on May 2, 1902, NYC, and died on May 5, 1928 in the same city. She married Samuel Schnapp and they had a son called Robert B. At the time of her death, Celia and her family resided at 600 West End Avenue, NYC. She was a member of the Children’s Welfare League and Daughters of Jacob. After Celia’s premature death, her husband Samuel lived with his in-laws and was a business partner of her father, and also an associate of the Chase Company. Samuel Schnapp died, also relatively young, on August 6, 1935 in Saratoga Springs, NY while on a honeymoon with his second wife of three weeks, Isabelle Levine (daughter of Samuel’s partner in the Chase Company). He seemed to have arrived to the USA on Dec 8, 1908 from Zablotow, then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Immigration records list his age as 25, but I believe that he lied about his age and in fact, he was about 18 years old. His obituary from 1935 lists his age as 43. His residence at time of his death was at 350 Central Park West, i.e. he had moved in the meantime away from the Chinitz residence and his financial situation seemed to have been a comfortable one.
Robert (Bobbie, Bobby) B. Schnapp, Celia’s only son, was born in 1923. After the death of her mother Robert, then five years old, moved to the house of her aunt Ida. On November 30, 1942, he enlisted in the US Army Air Corps and served in World War II as a pilot. Once he was discharged from service, we lose trace of him. His closest relatives, the Tobias family with whom he lived (see below) lost track of him after the war. They believed that he had married and changed his name to something that “didn’t sound so Jewish.” All my efforts to locate Robert (who, if alive, would be today eighty-seven years old) or his descendants are, as of this moment, without result.
The oldest of Celia’s sisters, Augusta, married Meyer Paley in 1918 and they had two children, Betty I (b. 1919) and Warren (b. 1922). She died sometime after 1956 for she is still mentioned in the obituary of her husband Meyer in his New York Times obituary dated January 2, 1956 . Celia’s second sister, Ida E. Chinitz, had three husbands, Abraham Tobias, Samuel Lipson, and David Arbuse. She had two children with Abraham, named Seth David Tobias and Joan Francis Tobias. After Celia’s death her son Robert (Bobby) came to live with Ida and Abraham. They announce his bar mitzvah in the NY Times on June 14, 1936. Ida took over her father’s businesses, the Tip Toe Inn and C & L Restaurant. As her parents, Ida was also active in Jewish institutions, serving as Chairman of the Board of the Hebrew Kindergarten and Infants Home and as board member of the Women’s League for Israel.
Celia’s nephew, Seth David Tobias was born in 1919 and died in May 1983. He married Audrey Judith (Judy Landau. He was chairman of the Savitt-Tobias Balk advertising agency, which later merged with Rosenfeld Sirowitz. Seth and Judy had two sons, Stephen Frederic Tobias (b. 1943) who became an anthropologist and later an attorney in Oakland, CA and Andrew (Andy) P. Tobias an economist and extremely successful writer on financial issues. His book The only investment guide you’ll ever need, for example, was published between 1978 and 2005 in twenty-nine editions in three languages.
The youngest of the Chinitz’s sisters, Ruth Chinitz Uris, had a very prominent life that by far outdid that of her father. She was a New York philanthropist and chairwoman of the Uris Brothers Foundation and died in Manhattan in 1992, at the age of 86. After attending Smith College and a short first marriage, she married Harold Uris, a prominent developer, and she continued the couple’s charitable work after his death in 1982. Recipients of multimillion-dollar gifts from the Uris foundation included the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Junior Museum and educational programs, the Columbia University Graduate School of Business, Cornell University, and Lenox Hill Hospital. The foundation also gave grants to projects to better the life of a specific neighborhood and it’s homeless, unemployed and undereducated. Ruth Chinitz Uris had four daughters, Judith Haber of Germantown, N.Y., Susan Halpern of Manhattan, Dr. Linda Sanger of Cambridge, Mass., and Jane Bayard of Manhattan.
After the first stage in the research on the Chinitz family, I contacted their living heirs to search for more detailed information about Celia. The responses were mixed. However, the warmth of the two children of Celia’s nephew, Seth David Tobias, Stephen (who lives in Oakland, CA) and Andy (who lives in NYC) gave me the encouragement needing to continue seeking Celia. Stephen and Andy knew nothing about Celia’s stained glass windows or about any connection between their family and BHC. They did however remember coming to Bethlehem once as children and that their father showed them a place where he had come as a child. The brothers told me that they had heard that their great aunty Celia was always sickly. Moreover, they also had recollections from their father to the effect that when Celia’s son Robert came to live with them there were tensions between him and his cousins.
Stephen and Andy have been most helpful, encouraging, and patient with my preying into their family history. They were very happy to learn of the windows and of our affection for Celia. Stephen sent me photo of his grandmother with whom I am sure Celia bore a resemblance. They also sent me a wonderful photo of Aaron from the Jewish Forward. There is no date on the photo and I am still working on locating this picture in the archive of the Forward. From the torn caption in Yiddish we can decipher that Aaron is drinking water from Saratoga Springs.
We end this article with the most recent and dramatic finding of this year-long research adventure. After looking for the motivations for the placing of Celia’s stained glass windows and the possible relation of her family to Bethlehem, I tried a last bet. With the courteous assistance of Mr. Paul Hudson, historian at the Bethlehem Village Historical Society, we were browsing through the Town Book Ledger that registers all property tax payments. In fact, I was not looking for Chinitz but for Jewish names in general to assert the Jewish presence in the town prior to the formal establishment of BHC. I almost burst into tears when looking into the register for 1927 the name Aaron Chinitz jumped off the page! As it turned out, in 1927 Aaron acquired a property known as the Quakenbush Cottage and another lot belonging to the Noyes family in Bethlehem for $12000 dollars, a considerable sum for that time. Searching back through the history of this property we ascertained that the lot was located in… Strawberry Hill! In 1929 Aaron transferred the property to his wife Rose’s name. The Chinitz family owned the property from 1927 to 1937, i.e. shortly until after Rose died.
Now the pieces of the puzzle started to fall into their proper place. The windows were obviously placed several months (if not more than that) after Celia’s death (May 6, 1928), for as we know now, the synagogue started to operate in the church building perhaps only in the summer of 1929. It is also clear that the windows were part of the renovations carried on to turn the old church into a synagogue. Was Celia ever in Bethlehem? Considering Celia’s poor health (perhaps a respiratory ailment that led to her early death?) and Bethlehem reputation for clean air, it is not far-fetched to assume that her father bought the Bethlehem property partly on behalf of his daughter. Celia died in the spring of 1928, so this leaves only the summer of 1927 as a possibility for her spending a summer in Bethlehem in the house just acquired by her father. However, if this is true we may never know. Nevertheless, I prefer to believe that Celia came to Bethlehem, and that she saw the brand new synagogue building where her parents Aaron and Rose Chinitz would in the coming months place the exquisite stained glass windows in her memory.
So ends another odyssey into the foundations of BHC. Now, when I will look at the windows on either side of the Ark while praying on the bimah I will feel closer to the mysterious young Celia whose life ended too soon. Tihiye zikhra barukh. May her memory be blessed.
Thank you to Chana Pollack, Forward Photo Archieves, Forward Newspaper for her kind assistance with the Aaron Chinitz photo.