Emory’s an Atlanta Gem

I want to thank you for using Dr. M. Patrick Graham’s article about the haggadah exhibit at the Pitts Library (“Haggadot Come Home to Emory,” March 18). When I met him over a decade ago, before we returned to Israel, I was most impressed by his friendship, his librarianship and his intellectual pursuits, which have made the Pitts Library, with 600,000 volumes, the third-largest theological library in North America.

After a few conversations we had, I made the decision to give him the haggadot I possessed. As the last 10 years have passed, he received a wonderful large collection donated by the collector’s children, and I continued to buy old haggadot in Israel and send them to him. Last year, since I am close friends with the artist David Moss, I decided to purchase a copy of his haggadah and send it to Graham for the library. I believe that now finally this “hidden treasure” (the haggadah collection) has been revealed that the collection will grow to 1,000 volumes — especially because I hope Atlantans and Emory alumni will give Graham their old haggadot.

Passover in Atlanta was celebrated during the Civil War. No real details.

In 1869 the Atlanta Constitution had a nice article about Passover as it was celebrated at The Temple. An early haggadah used in Atlanta was the 1883 edition of the Lieberman Haggadah, which contains the first illustrations drawn by an American, H. Senor. The best-known image is of the four sons, in which the wicked son wearing “Chicago duds” is smoking and raising his hand in strident fashion at the parents and the other three sons.

From the beginning of his rabbinate in December 1910 at the Shearith Israel congregation, Rabbi Tobias Geffen, my grandfather, did the following before Pesach.

He bought people’s chametz, and copies of those lists are to be found at the American Jewish Historical Society. He oversaw milking of cows from farmers around Atlanta so there would be Pesadik milk before any of the Atlanta dairies, starting in the late 1920s or early 1930s, ever produced Pesadik milk under his observation and then hechsher.

On Shabbat HaGadol, just as he had learned at the Slobodka yeshiva in Lithuania, where he studied in the 1890s, he gave a major halachic address that was advertised at Ahavath Achim and at Jewish-owned stores. Even in the difficult Leo Frank years, he spoke on Shabbat HaGadol in 1914 and 1915. Fortunately, he wrote those addresses from the years 1913 to 1917 in a Blue Horse (Montag) notebook. His great-grandson Rabbi Etan Geffen of Tekoa has that notebook.

Lastly, my grandparents were real American patriots. In World War I they held large sederim for soldiers in their home on Hunter Street, and during World War II they invited soldiers, airmen and other personnel to their home on Washington Street for Pesach.

It was at their home on Washington Street in 1946 that I attended my first Atlanta seder. My father, the late Louis Geffen, a judge advocate for 6½ years in the U.S. Army, finally returned from Japan in March 1946.

What a great Jewish city Atlanta is, and Emory adds so very much.

— Rabbi David Geffen, Jerusalem

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