A Kosher Christmas: 'Tis the Season to Be Jewish

By Joshua Eli Plaut | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1 COMING TO THE
NEW WORLD:
CAN THE AMERICAN JEW
KEEP CHRISTMAS?

Every Christmas Eve, Samuel and Joel Rothmann unlock the door of their great-great grandparents’ house at 2007 Franklin Street in San Francisco and feel as though they are coming home. On Christmas Eve the direct fourth- and fifth-generation descendants of William and Bertha Haas gather for their annual family reunion. Even though the family donated the house to the San Francisco Architectural Heritage in 1974, they have retained the right to gather at the house every Christmas Eve, just as they have every year since 1886. Forty family members attended the Haas-Lilienthal gathering in 2010. John Rothmann, Samuel and Joel’s father and a fourth-generation scion of the Haas-Lilienthal family, reflected: “None of the third generation is still living, so the torch has been passed to the fourth and the fifth generations to keep the tradition alive…. For the Haas family, Christmas Eve at the Haas-Lilienthal House evokes and creates wonderful memories and reaffirms the strength of our tradition from generation to generation.”1

Alice (1885–1972) and her sister Florine (1881–1973), daughters of Bavarian-born William and Bertha Haas, hosted annual holiday parties for the elite Jewish families of San Francisco. The socialite sisters celebrated Easter and Christmas rather than Passover and Hanukkah. Though they had reserved seats and attended High Holy Day services at Temple Emanuel, Alice’s niece Frances Bransten Rothmann recollects that her mother and aunt had little knowledge about Jewish rites: “The menorahs, the beautiful lights adorning their Franklin Street homes, were merely artifacts ornamenting their dining and living rooms.”2

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