Julius I. Kahn, 1892-1986
Researched and recalled by Judith R. Greenwald
In the annals of Kane Street Synagogue’s 157-year history the name of member Julius I. Kahn occurs more frequently than any other. Fond recollections of him are vivid still, 27 years after his death on June 23, 1986 at the age of 94.
Julius was born in December 1892 (or thereabouts), the oldest of eight children of Adolph and Emma Kahn. When he was 16, his family became members of the Synagogue through its 1908 merger with Talmud Torah Anshei Emes, to which they belonged. After Adolph died in 1916 Julius became head of “Adolph Kahn and Son,” a “Painting and Decorating” company located at 238 Harrison Street, next door to the Synagogue.
By the time of the Synagogue’s “Sixtieth Anniversary Grand Bazaar” in 1916, Julius had become a member of the Building Committee and served on the Bazaar’s “Booth and Decoration” and “Custodian of Property” subcommittees. This was the start of Julius’ 70-year relationship of service. Down through the years Julius always eschewed the position of President, but he served in all other capacities, including Treasurer, Secretary, and Chairman of the Finance, Building, Sunday School, Dinner Dance, Journal, and Cemetery Committees.
In 1928 the interior of the Sanctuary was repainted under the supervision of Julius Kahn according to a trompe l’oeil design then popular. The effect was impressive. The walls were painted to look like Jerusalem stone, the columns to look like marble. Julius designed the soaring gold leaf scroll and leaf arch over the ark, which has been preserved to this day.
When Julius retired from business in 1960, he drove from his home in Midwood to the Synagogue to devote four hours a day, four days a week, to his role as Synagogue Treasurer. He expanded this office to include taking tender loving care of every aspect of the Synagogue’s life at that time. Scrupulousness and kindness as much as aesthetic sense were the hallmarks of his tenure during the next 26 years.
Julius was a careful employer. Before she was hired, warm and loving Esther Kaplowitz, the Synagogue’s longtime secretary, had to pass a stenography and typing exam given by Julius.
Julius never paid a bill that was not backed up by a voucher signed by him and countersigned by another officer. Julius earmarked special purpose funds, keeping them in separate savings accounts. He never commingled them for general purposes unless the Synagogue was desperate and the Board voted approval. He cared deeply for preserving the Synagogue’s records and tried unsuccessfully to persuade secretaries to keep minutes in bound books. His concern was well placed. Bound minute books of the Synagogue from its earliest days through the 1940s are now archived in the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary; the assemblage of unbound minutes of the next 70 years is proving to be a most difficult task. Historic facts about members are easily referenced through Julius’ bound books of account, written in secretary Esther Kaplowitz’s beautiful script.
Julius was a strict quartermaster. He would drive to the ends of Brooklyn to purchase at the lowest wholesale price the freshest jars of Rokeach gefilte fish for kiddush. He never hired a workman for a repair job he himself could perform as well. There were many such jobs. If an ark needed refurbishing, Julius would acquire material and sheets of poster board or plywood, which he upholstered with the fabric and then set in place within the ark. Julius’ favorite decorating material was gold leaf. When appropriate, he used the thin sheets of this precious metal for hand-lettered Synagogue signage and display.
Julius was in constant contact with Synagogue members old and new. He telephoned them frequently to make sure they were well and to let them know how the Synagogue was doing. Julius made sure that personal letters of thanks or congratulations or condolence were sent to mark the contribution or the life of every member.
During the early years of neighborhood gentrification, Julius enlisted, coached and encouraged the new members of the Young Couples Club to lead the congregation. He greeted them warmly as they attended Shabbat services. He encouraged them to participate. Julius regularly dined with Arthur Lichtman, the first President elected from these ranks, to teach him the ropes. He trained Judy Greenwald to run an anniversary dinner-dance and to publish an anniversary journal. In acknowledging Julius’ tutelage she compared it to “dancing with Fred Astaire.”
Julius remained active up to the end, except that he no longer attended evening Trustees’ meetings. As he said “I’ve heard it all before” and he had.