Adele Ginzberg’s Sukkah

| Sukkot By :  Shuly Rubin Schwartz Chancellor and Irving Lehrman Research Professor of American Jewish History Posted On Oct 21, 2016 / 5777 | דבר אחר | A Different Perspective | Gender Holidays

Such a luscious array of branches and gourds proudly displayed by Adele Ginzberg—wife of JTS Talmud professor Louis Ginzberg—as she prepared to once again adorn the JTS sukkah!

This photo from The JTS Library evokes for me the loving care with which many early twentieth-century JTS faculty wives cultivated religious spirit and community. Ginzberg, or Mama G. as she was known, inherited the JTS sukkah project from Mathilde Schechter. For decades, she raised funds, shopped, and supervised the sukkah’s decoration with fresh fruits, vegetables, and greenery. Louis Finkelstein, JTS president at the time of the photo, noted that seeing it so adorned was “among the high points of my life during the whole year.” The large JTS sukkah now carries her name, in tribute to this dedication.

Known for her vivacious personality, warmth, and irreverence, Mama G. was a constant presence in the JTS community, attending her husband’s lectures and Shabbat services. She was also known for opening her home to the JTS community, especially to “her boys”—i.e., rabbinical students. After her husband’s death in 1953, she continued to host students for meals until shortly before she died in 1980 at the age of 93.

The younger woman in the photo is undoubtedly someone Mama G. mentored, perhaps someone she taught how to lead with a clear sense of purpose, fearlessness, wholeheartedness, and good humor. I identify with this woman, as I was privileged to be among the last students who fell under Mama G.’s spell. My late husband and I had the honor of walking her to shul weekly as she regaled us with JTS lore., I’ll never forget her homemade apple pie, which she served every Shabbat.

This year, as we enter our sukkot, let’s stop for a moment to recall the outsized impact that so many women have played over the years in nurturing the aesthetic beauty and warmth of the Jewish spirit.