The following remarks were presented by Jerry Jacobs at the Shavuot Torah Dedication on Sunday, May 20, 2018.
Dear Friends: On behalf of the entire Jacobs family, greetings on this first day of Shavuot. We are thankful to all of you for sharing this very special occasion with us. This year, Laura and I are celebrating 50 years of membership in this congregation. In that time, there have been only two Torah dedications at our shul, and the last one occurred some 40 years ago. We felt it was “chai” time to fulfill one of the shul’s longstanding needs by commissioning a newly scribed Torah to add to the Aron.
We honor today my mother’s father, Mayer Quain, Meir ben Simantov HaCohen, who died in 1944 when I was one year old. I never really knew my grandfather, but my mother told me many stories about him, and I will relate some of them today. He was “true” Sephardic—that is, of Spanish/Portuguese ancestry (my mother called that “true” Sephardic)—and was born in Bulgaria in 1883, when it was part of the Ottoman Empire. Mayer’s father was a Ko-hen, pronounced Quain in Ladino, hence his English name, Quain.
Mayer sailed to New York as an unaccompanied teenager around 1900 and became a successful business entrepreneur, culminating in his 1935 purchase of an exclusive boutique hotel in midtown Manhattan called the Hotel Elysee. The Hotel, still in business today, also had a well-known nightclub called The Monkey Bar, and remained in our family for 80 years.
Over the years, many celebrities stayed at or lived in the Hotel, including Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Tallulah Bankhead, Ava Gardner, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Harold Robbins, and perhaps most famously, Tennessee Williams, only because he lived and died there.
My grandfather took the Kahuna priesthood seriously, and he was also a 32nd degree Mason and a Shriner, as were his two sons. Indeed, Mayer was a kind of Sephardic “godfather,” dispensing advice, loans, gifts, and even some jobs to his Sephardic friends, acquaintances, and relatives Monday mornings when they visited him at home — which he believed to be part of his priestly and Masonic responsibilities. Please do not stop by my house tomorrow: I am not a Cohen or a Mason, and it’s yom tov. 🙂
Mayer did not live to see his six grandchildren grow up or his great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren attend Jewish day schools. But I know that he would be very proud to see the way they are continuing their Jewish heritage, as we have seen this morning. The donation of a Sefer Torah in his memory is part of our pay-back to him and pay-forward to future generations. The tribute to Mayer Quain, our patriarch, is richly deserved. When one passes, we traditionally say, “May his or her memory be for a blessing.” With this new Torah, we pass this blessing on to the shul.
After services, you are invited to a Kiddush lunch in our downstairs Social Hall. It will feature several Sephardic food delicacies in honor of my grandfather. A very special thank-you to my dear wife Laura and to Sonya Okin who were the chief caterers for this event, and to all those who helped in the kitchen. Also, much appreciation to Edgar Rendon, Marni Corsaro, and Marcy Burka who worked so hard on the arrangements for this larger than usual gathering. Very special thanks too to Laura Naide and Alexis Joyce and their staffs for preparing the children who added so much to this event. Last, and most, we thank Rabbi Bass for helping to organize all that occurred today, for the beautiful Torah mantle and yad which adorn our new addition, and for her unending friendship and spiritual leadership.
I close with my grandfather’s farewell blessing: “Saludozo y hechos buenos” — “May you have good health, good business, and successful good deeds.”